Cable is adding a new weapon to its arsenal of business services: software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN). SD-WAN is one of the hottest new technologies in business circles, surrounded by great expectations as a transformative way for enterprises to connect their business locations and provide a foundation for new virtualized functions.
For cable providers, SD-WAN represents a golden opportunity to add a cutting-edge product to their business services and support strategies to move up market by serving larger companies and multi-site enterprises, according to a new Heavy Reading report, "Cable Looks to SD-WAN to Boost Business Services." The report explores SD-WAN options for cable providers and the opportunities and challenges as organizations embrace the WAN technology that is heralded as being more affordable and flexible than current Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).
Comcast is first out of the gate with an SD-WAN product that is in beta tests using Versa Networks’ Cloud IP Platform and slated for full market deployment later this year. Heavy Reading has identified nine SD-WAN technology suppliers that are playing or appear to be positioned to play a role with US cable providers.
Among the deployment options identified by Heavy Reading is an "SD-WAN lite" approach where cable providers position themselves as reliable carriers. A middle option is to become a reseller of multiple SD-WAN products, while a more extensive route is to develop a customized SD-WAN solution and bundle it with business products, including Gigabit Internet, security and virtual network functions (VNFs).
SD-WAN also represents a way for cable providers to demonstrate that they can use their existing coaxial connections for Gigabit Internet speeds, not just fiber alone. Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and Mediacom Communications are among the U.S. multiple system operators (MSOs) that are adopting DOCSIS 3.1 (D3.1) technology to deliver Gigabit speeds over existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) plant. While most enterprises likely will insist on fiber connections for primary connections with SD-WAN, D3.1 provides an option to quickly connect sites that already are passed by HFC plant.
Even if MSOs aren’t ready to deliver an SD-WAN product themselves, they can benefit from the SD-WAN trend. The market is expected to be flooded with SD-WAN products and related VNFs that cable can support with its high-speed business Internet services. While each MSO obviously would prefer to be an enterprise’s primary service provider, they still can benefit by serving as secondary carriers.
However, the report says, all service providers and SD-WAN suppliers face a market where competition is becoming fierce and the pace of SD-WAN adoption is unclear. Many foresee a period of hybrid solutions and approaches before many enterprises migrate to a full SD-WAN environment. The market will be clouded by efforts to dazzle customers with differentiated products. Cable providers must prove they can deliver a high quality of service and customer support -- areas where they currently are not perceived as leaders in rankings by business customers.
— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading