CMAP Vs. CESAR: Cable Clash in the Making?

TORONTO -- SCTE Canadian Summit 2011 -- Behind the scenes there are concerns about potentially key technical differences between Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s new convergence edge project and another that was originally launched by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), but, when the topic comes up for public discussion, it's getting treated with political care and hope that the two sides will be closely aligned at a product level.

"We prefer to see things of this nature to be industry-wide," Comcast EVP and CTO Tony Werner said here at a Wednesday morning panel, noting that Comcast has been able to secure "pretty good buy-in" among vendors and MSOs for the Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) initiative. (See TW Cable Hails CESAR, Not CMAP and Comcast Proposes Its God Box .)

Virtually all cable modem termination system (CMTS), edge QAM vendors and even router suppliers such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) are expected to make products for CMAP's integrated or modular implementations. Additionally, several cable operators, including Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) have thrown their weight behind CMAP, as well. (See CMAP Heads to CableLabs and More MSOs Back Comcast's Big Box Project .)

TW Cable, meanwhile, is starting to ramp its own project, dubbed Converged Edge Services Access Router (CESAR), that appears to share many of the same goals as CMAP. Both, for example, aim to produce super-dense edge devices that will save headend space and power, handle all cable services and help MSOs make the leap to IP video.

Among some of the understood differences: TW Cable may look to deploy smaller chassis than some of the maximum product footprints that CMAP has in mind for systems that feed off of large headends and hubs. There are also indications that the two sides may have different ideas in mind when it comes down to integrating or separating important elements such as video encryption.

Werner, meanwhile, is hopeful that the work tied to CESAR will result in "another profile of CMAP" for vendors to shoot for.

Fellow panelist Dermot O'Carroll, SVP of access networks at Rogers, also hopes the two projects end up following the same technical vein for the sake of achieving economic scale.

In private discussions over the last few weeks, several industry sources have grumbled about "not invented here" attitudes of influential MSOs, and wondered why the CMAP and CESAR camps can't just settle on a uniform approach. To be fair, both sides also say they are in regular discussions to prevent bifurcating the market and driving the vendors crazy.

Vendors are hopeful that they won't have to develop two entirely different sets of products. "Our goal is to come up with a single architecture that works for both," said John Ulm, fellow of the technical staff for the CTO office at Motorola Mobility LLC , during the Q&A session of a CMAP panel at an afternoon session. "We are looking at the different features and hope it will be limited to software differences."

CMAP 'lite'
Technology debates aside, operators such as Cox are already developing strategies on how to migrate to the CMAP architecture without having to forklift CMTSs and edge QAM capacity that will need to be purchased before making the switch.

Cox is looking at a CMAP "lite" approach that would start off by replacing the edge QAM functions with an initial, downstream-only implementation of the CMAP, said Cox Senior Director of Network Architecture Jeff Finkelstein, during the CMAP panel.

That work is already well underway, led by the idea of allowing the use of an Access Shelf that starts off in downstream mode, but could be upgraded to include the upstream component later with the addition of new upstream blades and the right CMAP code. (See Cable Bridging CMAP's Migration Gap .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:10:40 PM
re: CMAP Vs. CESAR: Cable Clash in the Making?

...that differences between the two will fragment the product market a bit and cause some frustration for suppliers as they decide how much to invest into this market. The encryption build in or build out differences seems to be one of the more potentially troubling differences between how the products will be built. More research on it is needed, but it sounds like cmap will look to integrate where cesar will look to keep it  separate. The question is how modular that difference will be... can it just  be dropped in or taken out? JB

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