Cox Adds Weight to Comcast's Big Box Project
Cox had initiated a similar development of its own as it sought ways to support a larger swath of IP-based services. However, once it learned that Comcast's work was further advanced, it decided to join in with that effort, says Cox director of network architecture Jeff Finkelstein, who participated in a Webcast panel hosted Thursday by Communications Technology.
The particular product Comcast is developing -- the Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) -- is being designed to significantly cut down headend space and power consumption requirements, as well as overall costs per bit. The resulting chassis will do that by combining edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) functions, and pave the way for a product that can more efficiently handle an increasing deluge of narrowcast services, including IPTV, voice, and high-speed data.
As the keynoter at a Light Reading Cable event held in Denver in February, Comcast VP of access architecture Jorge Salinger stressed that his company intends to create a unified product specification for the CMAP by seeking and implementing technical requirements from other operators. (See Comcast Proposes Its God Box and Vendors Plan for Comcast's 'God' Box .)
Cox is the first other operator to publicly acknowledge its backing and involvement in Comcast's big box project. However, Salinger said yesterday that Comcast is already receiving input and help from a number of other yet-to-be-disclosed operators in the US and abroad, which will help CMAP evolve into a much broader, truly cross-MSO product specification.
And that work is well underway. Salinger confirmed that Comcast completed the hardware and "functional" specs last month, and has work under way for a more modular interface specification that will break out the CMAP's Access Shelf and Packet Shelf functions. Comcast's specs will also support a more integrated product approach that more closely integrates those two shelf components.
He said Comcast has more than 100 of its own employees working on the project in some capacity, with another 50 engineers from a dozen other companies chipping in. Of that group, he said, three silicon companies are already involved. BroadLogic Network Technologies Inc. and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) are already known to be helping out.
Comcast and its array of partners are tackling the project as the MSO looks to cram more capacity and capabilities into a smaller physical footprint, share capacity among services, and reduce power consumption requirements by about 50 percent, while boosting QAM capacity by 400 percent.
The problem Comcast is trying to solve with the CMAP is already evident. Comcast uses about 10 QAMs for Docsis high-speed Internet services and video-on-demand (VoD) per service group now, and Salinger believes capacity needs will cause the MSO to require about 30 QAMs per service group in the next year or two, with even more needed in the future. Given that Comcast operates "thousands and thousands" of service groups, the problem will intensify over time if better densities and efficiencies aren't achieved quickly.
In addition to saving on space and power, Comcast also expects its vision for the CMAP to lower overall costs per bit. The fear among cable operators has been that Docsis costs would remain static even as their need for capacity for IP video and other services grows.
Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) chief strategy officer Tom Cloonan believes those fears are unsubstantiated, because cost curves will drop significantly in the coming years thanks to the stream densities envisioned by CMAP and the debut of processors that support more and more cores.
By way of example, he noted that the cost per 1 Mbit/s using a "vintage" 2008-era CMTS is around $125. Assuming anticipated declines, he predicts those per-Mbit/s costs could drop as low as $5 by 2016.
CableLabs director of Docsis specifications Matt Schmitt tried to clear up any confusion regarding how the CMAP developments relate to CableLabs's growing stable of interface specs. Because CMAP references several CableLabs projects -- including Docsis 3.0, the video stream interface, and the Docsis Set-Top Gateway (DSG), among others -- Comcast's project could be viewed as a "superset of Docsis," Schmitt said.
CableLabs and Cable Europe Labs are serving as consultants to the CMAP project, but "Docsis is not altered by what's being done with the CMAP work," Salinger added.
And in case you missed it, here's what Salinger had to say about CMAP at our event in February:
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable