AlcaLu Undecided on Cable Gear Opportunity
The opportunity involves two projects: Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s Converged Edge Services Access Router (CESAR). Either project would give AlcaLu a crack at gaining a presence in North America's largest cable access networks.
Alcatel-Lucent is one of three suppliers identified as candidates to develop the Packet Shelf component of the modular implementation to CMAP, a product that aims to conserve headend space while supporting more IP multicast and simulcast traffic through the fusion of edge QAM and cable modem termination system (CMTS) functions.
The modular side of CMAP is expected to use a CableLabs -specified interface that links the platform's Packet Shelf (for packet processing) and Access Shelf (for the downstream and upstream PHY and MAC layer) elements. (See CMAP Heads to CableLabs .)
By most accounts, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) is already considered a lock for a CMAP Packet Shelf product. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has also been referenced, but some cable engineering execs question whether the China-based giant is serious about it.
So that could leave AlcaLu as the only viable vendor to keep Juniper's side of the CMAP market in check. Plenty of vendors are expected to compete for CMAP's Access Shelf business, including Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) and RGB Networks Inc. .
Traditional CMTS makers, includingArris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), will likely build integrated CMAP products. (See Comcast, Moto Invest in CMAP Startup .)
Weighing the cable opportunity
AlcaLu doesn't make any cable-specific products that touch the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant, but it is considering how to might adapt its flagship 7750 Service Router for the CMAP world and formally enter the market, according to its director of cable solutions, Clayton Wagar.
In fact, MSOs have asked AlcaLu to join the budding multi-vendor ecosystem for CMAP, but the company has yet to make its final decision because it's still evaluating how to spread its R&D dollars and how CMAP might fit into its next major release cycle. But it comes up a lot.
CMAP "is a very important topic within the IP division," Wagar says. "It's not a casual effort for us."
Alcatel-Lucent's hesitancy is understandable because there are some inherent risks. For starters, the size of the CMAP market is unknown. Infonetics Research Inc. hasn't published its CMAP forecast, but it does have the annual CMTS-plus-edge QAM market at $1.6 billion, ramping up to $2.4 billion in 2015.
But the density of CMAP, by its very nature, will call on suppliers to reduce port costs significantly, so that leaves some of its financial attraction in question, particularly for newcomers. Cable's CMTS market is mature, and it has trouble sustaining its three primary incumbent suppliers. (See Cisco Reclaims CMTS Lead.)
Another big question is timing -- when will MSOs actually need CMAP and start to deploy those products in any scale? Some initial CMAP field trials could start this year, with deployments popping up in late 2011 or early 2012. "It's still a little bit unclear," Wagar says of the deployment timing.
Additionally, there's no guarantee that Comcast or any other MSO will go with the modular version of CMAP, which is where Alcatel-Lucent will fit in. Although integrated CMAP may factor at large systems, interest for the modular play better in smaller properties and with some European operators.
But Alcatel-Lucent remains optimistic as it continues to evaluate its cable and CMAP product strategy. "We see a very interesting market there that plays to our strengths," Wagar says. "We want to participate in the cable market to the same degree that we do in others."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable