Placing Bets on DOCSIS 3.1

Which cable equipment vendors will win the DOCSIS 3.1 certification race?

With CableLabs now preparing to test and approve the first products under the new DOCSIS gigabit spec and such major MSOs as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) gearing up to roll out D3.1 en masse, that's still anybody's guess. But one fairly new entrant, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , is bidding to join Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Casa Systems Inc. , Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) and the other usual suspects as major players in the swiftly emerging market for D3.1 products. (See Clock Starts on DOCSIS 3.1.)

Huawei has captured scant North American MSO business for its broadband products so far, mainly because of U.S. and Canadian government security concerns about the company. It is trying to remedy that situation by positioning itself as a CableLabs preferred vendor for the new DOCSIS spec. Indeed, even in the face of stiff competition, the big Chinese equipment supplier is hoping to become one of the main players in the upcoming D3.1 certification waves, which could start to unfold as early as later this month. (See CEO Chat With Eric Xu, Huawei .)

So far, Huawei has made its biggest push on the Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) front, a rapidly developing market now controlled by Arris, Casa and Cisco. CCAP is designed for two important functions. One is to support the greater bandwidth demands of the DOCSIS 3.1 spec. The other is to combine the separate broadband and video functions performed by CMTSs (cable modem termination systems) and QAMs (quadrature amplitude modulators) on a common (converged) platform that can handle data and video flexibly. This represents another, closely related opportunity for newer players to crack the cable equipment market, as Casa has already shown with its initial MSO CCAP contract gains.

Hoping to follow in Casa's footsteps, Huawei anchored two demos of its CCAP equipment and D3.1's vast potential at the DOCSIS 3.1 technology demonstrations that CableLabs staged at its Louisville, Colo., headquarters last month. The first showed off the use of orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) technology to deliver upstream data signals, while the second focused on the use of highly efficient 16K QAM technology for DOCSIS 3.1 signals. Both OFDMA and 16K QAM are components for making the D3.1 spec more spectrally efficient than its predecessors. (See DOCSIS 3.1 Is Right on Schedule.)

The DOCSIS 3.1 demonstration day came after the D3.1 "dry run" program that CableLabs quietly launched in June. In those dry runs, the cable industry R & D group enabled vendors to test D3.1 products informally and prepare them for submission to the more formal certification waves that will start later this fall. CableLabs has also conducted six equipment interops, or "plugfests," for its new DOCSIS spec over the past year, with one more interop wave still slated to come.

With the tech demonstrations largely behind them, Huawei officials hope to have their distributed CCAP (D-CCAP) platform play a big role in the testing of new DOCSIS 3.1 modems in the upcoming equipment certification waves. They also hope to gain early CableLabs certification of their own D3.1 cable modems, as well as qualification of their D-CCAP product, which shifts many of the traditional CMTS and edge QAM (EQAM) processing functions from the cable headend to the access network. But, of course, they are far from alone as dozens of other vendors are jousting for similar attention.

All of this vendor maneuvering comes as U.S. and Canadian cable operators gear up to enter the Gigabit Era and compete against the likes of Google Fiber Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and the other major gigabit providers. So, with the big gigabit rollouts by MSOs like Comcast and Cox Communications Inc. already getting underway, it's no wonder that equipment suppliers are placing their bets on DOCSIS 3.1 right now.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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