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ATX opens next chapter in its cable network story

Pushing ahead with a plan to become a key supplier of outside cable plant equipment, ATX Networks has introduced a new lineup of outside plant products designed to take aim at next-gen hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks that will be outfitted with vastly beefed-up bandwidth.

ATX claims its new portfolio of nodes, amplifiers, taps and passives, developed under the GigaXtend brand, supports cable plant built out to 1.2GHz and 1.8GHz in the near term and will be easily upgradable to 3GHz several years into the future.

ATX believes its approach, part of a long-range strategic initiative the company calls the "2050 Project," will also set it up to follow the evolutionary path that could extend the life of the HFC network for another 25 years, and possibly longer.

Today's most advanced DOCSIS 3.1 networks support bandwidth up to 1.2GHz. DOCSIS 4.0 will bump that ceiling up to 1.8GHz. Work on 3GHz technology is already underway.

1.2GHz and beyond
When those bandwidth bumps are paired with Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD), a technique favored by the vast majority of cable operators (with Comcast being the major exception), MSOs would be in position to alter the splits for spectrum being dedicated to upstream and downstream traffic and evolve the network to deliver increasingly symmetrical data services.

While most of today's HFC networks use splits that allocate a mere 5MHz-42MHz to the upstream (5MHz-65MHz for many European cable networks), a "mid-split" would raise the upstream to 85MHz and a "high-split" would elevate it to 204MHz. Down the road, operators will have options to raise that upstream split even higher while also allocating plenty of bandwidth to the downstream as they extend to the full capability of the network, first to 1.2GHz or 1.8GHz and then, much later, 3GHz.

ATX says it's among the first to launch a 1.2GHz amplifier portfolio with next-gen chips as it continues to build out its 1.8GHz product roadmaps. That 1.8GHz-facing work includes core housings that could allow 3GHz technology to be snapped in without requiring cable operators to cut out and replace those housings from the underlying network, Charlie Vogt, ATX's CEO, explained.

The general idea is to set up the network for future enhancements without major forklift upgrades. "A 3GHz housing will most likely stay in the network for 30-plus years," Vogt suggests.

Moving into position
ATX is launching the product line tied to a broader strategy to become a major player in the cable outside plant market and compete more directly with players such as CommScope, Technetix and Teleste. The launch also follows a recent move by ATX to essentially take over Cisco Systems' outside plant portfolio and develop products that are compatible with Cisco's. ATX also hired several former Cisco engineers last year to assist with its broader cable network initiatives.

Initially, ATX is using its Cisco license to bring to market newly branded 1.2GHz taps and passives for the legacy market, with availability expected in September. Independent of the Cisco deal, ATX has developed its own 3GHz-ready taps and passives that will initially support 1.8GHz technology, with certification work already completed with Charter Communications and Cox Communications and tests underway with unnamed Canadian operators, according to the vendor.

"We see that rolling out this year," Vogt said. "We've had strong interest already."

On the amplifier end, ATX is rolling out a 1.2GHz amp and system line extender, with a phase two product line that will introduce a 3GHz-capable amp portfolio that will also support 1.8GHz out of the chute.

"We're entering the outside plant world and we're doing it with a next-generation portfolio," Vogt said. He added that there's a "high probability" that ATX will also look to evolve its product set even further with PON gear, as well as remote PHY and remote MACPHY devices that could support cable migration toward a distributed access architecture (DAA).

ATX is tying this plan together with a new technology and manufacturing agreement with Applied Optoelectronics (AOI). Under the deal, AOI will manufacture ATX's GigaXtend amps and the companies will collaborate on a range of DAA and HFC technologies and products.

Even before the deal, ATX and AOI had already been co-developing ATX's 1.2GHz line extenders and system amps. They were also part of a group of vendors that collaborated on a prototype of a Generic Access Platform (GAP) node shown off at last fall's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans. The GAP effort underway at SCTE/ISBE centers on standardizing node housings and interfaces for a range of service modules that can be plugged in like Lego bricks.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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