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Cable SD-WAN: A Generational Moment

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy
2/1/2018

Although it's trite for writers to herald that this is "the year of" a particular technology, clearly 2018 is the year of software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) for cable business services. Prospects for providing SD-WAN services are a primary focus for US cable providers. Comcast and Charter are moving into the marketplace with SD-WAN products while other cable companies are exploring product plans.

The combination of Gigabit Internet and SD-WAN creates "a generational moment" for cable and its customers, a fundamental milestone in broadband telecommunications, said Jeff Lewis, vice president of product management for Comcast Business , during Light Reading's Future of Cable Business Services conference in late November.

Borrowing from that phrase, SD-WAN is the catalyst for a fundamental shift in cable's relationship with business customers and its marketplace strategy, according to a new Heavy Reading report, Heavy Reading report, "SD-WAN Creating A Generational Moment for Cable." The report reviews US MSO plans to offer SD-WAN, the state of cable business services, key market challenges and SD-WAN technologies. An analysis of the supplier market identifies nine SD-WAN technology suppliers that are positioned to play a role with cable providers.

According to the report, SD-WAN represents the first major software-defined networking (SDN)-based product offering by cable providers. It is poised to become a leading-edge product in cable's effort to move up-market to attract large companies and multi-site enterprises. SD-WAN provides a platform to layer virtual network functions (VNFs) that cable providers are exploring.

Additionally, cable providers plan to offer SD-WAN across their footprints in essentially an over-the-top (OTT) manner. Heavy Reading said SD-WAN could become the most significant product that cable providers widely deploy outside of their franchised service territories, raising the prospect that cablecos could compete against each other for SD-WAN customers or join in wholesale relationships and other new types of partnerships. (See Will SD-WANs Spark Cable Competition?)

Comcast, through Comcast Enterprise Services, is focusing on SD-WAN and Gigabit Internet service, either through fiber or DOCSIS 3.1 (D3.1) hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) connections. Charter Communications Inc. 's Spectrum Enterprise is leveraging its existing Ethernet footprint -- it is the fourth-largest US Ethernet provider -- and a cloud-based SD-WAN overlay that it calls Hybrid Software-Defined Wide Area Network. Charter is in trials to determine the best use cases, said Satya Parimi, group vice president of data and cloud products at Spectrum Enterprise.

Cox Communications Inc. is in trials with an SD-WAN product, said Dan Estes, executive director, technology, Cox Business. Altice USA is focusing first on a hosted voice solution and its announced all-fiber buildout, but SD-WAN is on its roadmap as well, according to Kevin Stephens, executive vice president at Altice Business. (See Cox Is Trialing SD-WAN Too.

Cable faces SD-WAN competition from large telecom competitors, small providers and OTT upstarts offering SD-WAN products directly to businesses, the report says. All the providers face an unclear rate of adoption by businesses that are relying on traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) for WANs. Cable providers are seeking to create a migratory path for businesses instead of a "rip and replace" upheaval, as well as self-management tools with easy-to-use user interfaces (UIs).

Business services continue to increase in importance for cable providers' bottom lines. SD-WAN represents the latest weapon in their arsenal.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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