It's not every decade that cable operators make major changes to their access networks, and yet this is one of those hallmark eras. And while all eyes have been trained on Comcast and Charter of late, the privately owned operator Cox Communications has been steadily working away on its own plans for upgrading the infrastructure that supports its broadband and video delivery.
Cox Communications Inc. CTO Kevin Hart recently opened up about the company's roadmap for network transformation. Like many others, he's pushing toward a fiber-deep architecture, with the goal of getting to a node-plus-zero (N+0) configuration in as many markets as possible. Why take fiber so deep into the network? It creates smaller service group sizes, which means fewer subscribers share the same bandwidth.
On a more macro level, N+0 also sets the stage for Cox to raise broadband speeds by laying the groundwork for the deployment of new DOCSIS 3.1 technology. And in the future, deep fiber should prove valuable for any wireless plans that Cox chooses to execute on. (See Analysts More Than Bullish on Comcast MVNO.)
"We're also taking fiber deeper as a part of our multi-year network transformation plan, working towards a node-plus-zero architecture that allows us to take fiber to the home, and allows us to bring gigabit speeds on demand. And of course we're aligning around DOCSIS 3.1," says Hart.
In the US market, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has been particularly vocal about its infrastructure plans, leading the way with an N+0 architecture and with technologies like D3.1 and the Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP). (See Comcast Goes N+0 in Gigabit Markets.)
Cox isn't that far behind, however.
Hart explains that Cox will launch its first DOCSIS 3.1 commercial trial later this year, and will ramp up deployments between 2017 and 2020. The first trial will likely take place in the fourth quarter in one of the company's smaller markets, and then Hart says that Cox will move on to bigger markets like Phoenix and San Diego. The company is currently in the final stages of selecting vendors for its D3.1 rollout, which should also create a significant revenue boost for the lucky contract winners. Two of the the likely contenders for the modem side of the business are market leaders Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH).
Speaking of vendor selections, Hart also acknowledges that Cox will choose its CCAP suppliers very soon. Arris, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Casa Systems Inc. lead that market and are likely candidates for the business.
"We made a decision two or three years ago to skip the first iteration CCAP... and now we're in the process of selecting the next-generation of the integrated CCAP... so we're in the final stages here over the next couple months," says Hart.
Early on in the cable industry's deployment of CCAP devices, it was unclear whether operators would make use of the converged part of the CCAP platform. By and large, cablecos were taking advantage of the new ultra-dense DOCSIS framework in the CCAP design, but not the part that combined data and video on a single piece of hardware. Now, however, the trend is moving decidedly toward convergence. Despite a greater emphasis on IP and the decline of QAM, operators are increasingly choosing the integrated CCAP platform for video. (See Don't Give Up on Converged Cable Access Yet.)
It's time to add Cox to that list.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading