Sorting Out Cable's Gigabit Strategy
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
Although the Gigabit Era has clearly begun, most cable operators are still trying to figure out the best way to compete successfully with their fiber-based rivals. As a result, they are likely to introduce gigabit-enabling technologies such as DOCSIS 3.1 and CCAP on an incremental basis over the next few years, rather than roll them out all at once.
So while we've seen headline-grabbing D3.1 rollout plans already announced by such giant US and international MSOs as Comcast Corp.(Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) and a few smaller ones like Atlantic Broadband and General Communication Inc. (GCI)(Nasdaq: GNCMA), much of the change will be more gradual.
That much was clear at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show in New Orleans two weeks ago. Teams of MSO technologists trooped from booth to booth on the crowded exhibit floor, seeking to find the right combination of equipment and software to start offering gigabit speeds as soon as comfortably possible. Engineers kicked the tires on new cable modems, wireless gateways, cable modem termination systems (CMTSs), Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) devices, testing products and more, hoping to come up with the magic formula.
Naturally, the vendors were more than happy to accommodate the MSO engineers, serving up plenty of DOCSIS 3.1 (D3.1) and CCAP gear to entice the operators. Major equipment suppliers like Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Hitron Technologies Inc. showed off brand new D3.1 modems, while such other prominent players as Casa Systems Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Gainspeed and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. demonstrated their versions of either integrated or distributed CCAP systems with D3.1 capabilities. (See Hitron Demos DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem at SCTE 2015 and Progress of DOCSIS 3.1 in the Cable Industry.)
For instance, Huawei's large "Gigaband Network" booth featured displays of a range of D3.1-enabling equipment, including the vendor's new 3.1 modem and its distributed CCAP solution, known as D-CCAP. Like the other major vendors, Huawei is now seeking certification of its modem and qualification of its D-CCAP system by CableLabs , which began formal testing of D3.1-related gear in late August. Similar to its rivals, Huawei is also seeking to sign up North American, European and Asian cable operators for field trials and pilot deployments of its D3.1 equipment over the next year. (See Ericsson Buys Cloud Video Firm for $95M.)
While few, if any, firm equipment purchase decisions were likely made at the show, an industry consensus for rolling out both D3.1 and CCAP seems to be emerging. It looks like most cable operators will introduce both gigabit-enabling technologies on an incremental, system-by-system basis over the next few years, just as they have done before with other nex-gen technologies. (See Clock Starts on DOCSIS 3.1.)
In an informal poll conducted during a BTR morning panel on D3.1, for instance, most operators in the room indicated that they do not intend to follow the bold examples of Comcast and Liberty Global and launch D3.1 across their regions next year. Instead, most said they wouldn't begin D3.1 rollouts until 2017 or possibly even later. So don't expect DOCSIS 3.0, or even DOCSIS 2.0, to disappear from the cable landscape any time soon.
Reflecting this careful, incremental approach, the first wave of D3.1 modems coming off the assembly line for testing and approval by CableLabs are hybrid models capable of supporting both the D3.1 and D3.0 specs. Specifically, the new, pricier modems will support both the bonding of 32 downstream and eight upstream channels under the D3.0 spec, as well as the use of subcarrier blocs based on orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) technology under the new D3.1 spec. "DOCSIS 3.1 modems will operate like the best DOCSIS 3.0 modems you can buy," said Jorge Salinger, VP of Access Network Architecture at Comcast, speaking on the BTR panel.
As cable providers begin introducing D3.1, they will roll out CCAP along with it to support the surging bandwidth demands of gigabit services, IP video, Ultra HD video, WiFi, business services and other popular offerings. The only question is which type of CCAP architecture they will choose. As a result, the debate is already heating up over the various versions of CCAP available, including the already established integrated CCAP chassis and several new remote or D-CCAP architectures, such as the D-CCAP approach promoted by Huawei.
We'll have much more to say about CCAP, particularly D-CCAP, in our next post in this series. But for now suffice it to say that, as cable operators grapple with their gigabit plans, the various flavors of CCAP will undoubtedly play a large role in that discussion.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.