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What's next for MoCA?

The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) has tapped a new president, with Dr. Leonard Dauphinee taking the helm at a challenging time for an organization and a technology that will be fighting for relevancy in the home and on the access network in the years to come.

Dauphinee, whose day job is vice president and CTO of broadband products at MaxLinear, succeeds Charlie Cerino, a former Comcast exec who had been at the helm of MoCA since 2004. Cerino officially stepped down from MoCA at the end of April.

In written response to questions, Dauphinee said his top priorities are building a new executive officer team, creating a marketing working group that serves the needs of MoCA's members and "fostering rapid adoption" of various MoCA standards, including MoCA Home 2.5, MoCA Access 2.5 and a next-gen platform called MoCA 3.0 Home.

MoCA 3.0 is targeting coax-based home networking speeds of 10 Gbit/s. That's seemingly a good fit in the home to link up to the cable industry's "10G" initiative, which is pursuing symmetrical 10-gig speeds over a mixture of wired and wireless access network technologies.

The MoCA 3.0 specs are done, and current estimates see silicon emerging within the next two or three years. Dauphinee said it will be up to service providers, not chipmakers and other vendors, to determine MoCA 3.0's commercial timeframe.

"The commitments needed are actually from the operator and service providers who ultimately use the technology," he explained. "MoCA 2.5 silicon was driven by demand and commitments from Tier 1 operators. The same will be true for MoCA 3.0. The MoCA Home 3.0 specification is complete and Tier 1 operators are asking for assurances that silicon will appear in the 2022-2023 timeframe. The successful deployment and performance of MoCA Home 2.5 is creating demand for MoCA 3.0. Our goal is to continue to outpace wireless home connectivity performance while keeping pace with fiber access speeds."

Meanwhile, wireless home technologies, namely Wi-Fi, are starting to encroach on MoCA's turf with respect to interconnected set-top boxes that support apps such as whole-home DVRs. In fact, connecting set-tops, video clients, access points, gateways and modems is one of the major use cases being considered for Wi-Fi 6 as 6GHz spectrum is freed up for unlicensed use. That scenario has the potential to obviate the need for MoCA in some situations.

Meanwhile, Comcast, itself a contributing member of MoCA, has begun to introduce wireless client devices for its X1 and Xfinity Flex platforms that are connected and provisioned to the main gateway using Wi-Fi rather than MoCA.

According to an exec with a US-based cable gateway maker, MoCA is now an option, rather than a mainstay, in some new product designs. However, sales of products that use the technology, such as MoCA adaptors, remain strong, a person familiar with the market said.

Adoption also varies by service provider. For example, Comcast's new XB7 DOCSIS 3.1 gateway supports both Wi-Fi 6 and MoCA 2.0, a version of MoCA that supports speeds up to 1 Gbit/s. Cox Communications and Dish Network (no longer a listed member of MoCA) are among other major service providers using MoCA 2.0. Verizon has bumped up to MoCA 2.5 for Fios, a source said. However, "MoCA is a four-letter word" at Charter Communications, another vendor exec said.

Update: MoCA's ability to grow and advance is being curtailed by factors that include a general decline of the pay-TV market along with new cloud DVR services that are starting to obsolete more traditional whole-home DVR setups that rely on MoCA, Jeff Heynen, research director for the broadband access and home networking unit with Dell'Oro Group, said.

"It's not a growing market, let's be honest," he said, noting that Wi-Fi 6's move into access points and other types of consumer premises equipment will curb MoCA's future.

He also isn't convinced there will be enough demand to create a market for MoCA 3.0 Home. "I think MoCA 2.5 might be the last version of MoCA we'll see," he said.

MoCA's strong backbone
Although Wi-Fi technology continues to improve, Dauphinee believes MoCA will have a key role to play as a wired backbone in home networks as bandwidth and speed requirements continue to rise.

"Wi-Fi technology has continued to improve performance with each generation; however, true whole home multi-Gigabit speeds are not yet possible without wired backhaul," he explained, noting that about 200 million MoCA-capable products have been shipped worldwide, according to ABI Research. "In that regard, MoCA is a key technology to improve whole home Wi-Fi coverage, speed and robustness."

Dauphinee's company, MaxLinear, is in an interesting spot as it is banking on the success of both MoCA and Wi-Fi. MaxLinear entered the MoCA game in 2015 via its acquisition of Entropic Communications, and Wi-Fi is a centerpiece of its pending deal to acquire Intel Corp.'s home connectivity unit. MaxLinear also makes products for G.hn, a MoCA competitor.

HomeGrid connection
Update: Dauphinee is also the president of HomeGrid Forum, an industry group that supports the development and deployment of G.hn technology.

In response to questions about how he intends to balance his duties as president of both MoCA and HomeGrid, Dauphinee said, "There is no conflict between the organizations," noting that he has served on the MoCA board for the last five years and as Home Grid Forum's president for almost three years. "My responsibilities will be to continue to improve and promote both organizations in their technology leadership," he added.

Dauphinee, who also manages MaxLinear Connectivity business, which which includes both MoCA and G.hn products, said the company has vested interest in the success of both technologies. He acknowledged that MoCA and G.hn have "some overlapping applications," but stressed that "the mechanics of their deployments are quite different and even complementary."

He said several vendors and operators use both technologies, referring to G.hn as baseband "Ethernet over Any Wire" technology with applications beyond coaxial cable access and connectivity, including automotive, industrial, Li-Fi, powerline, phone line, smart grid and IoT. MoCA, by comparison, is a "frequency agile RF coaxial cable technology ... designed to be compatible with terrestrial, cable, and satellite services."

Notably, MaxLinear did see an uptick in MoCA activity in the first quarter of 2020. "Wired connectivity remains an important growth driver to relieve in-home connectivity bottlenecks and our MoCA and G.hn solutions will benefit from that market dynamic," Steve Litchfield, MaxLinear's CFO and chief corporate strategy officer, said on the company's April 29 earnings call. MoCA, he said, "actually picked up quite a bit more than what our original expectations were."

Action as an access technology
Beyond the home, MoCA has also developed technology for access networks for commercial buildings, apartments and other types of multiple dwelling units using a point-to-multipoint architecture. Using in-building coaxial cabling and operating in the frequency range of 400MHz to 1675MHz, MoCA Access 2.5 delivers data rates up to 2.5 Gbps and latency of less than 5 milliseconds.

MoCA Access 2.5, a technology introduced in June 2017, "is gaining traction in Europe, North America and Asia with several lab evaluations and field trials at Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators planned or in progress for 2020," Dauphinee said.

As a recent example, Sweden's InCoax announced last month that a yet-unnamed US operator is lab-testing the vendor's MoCA Access 2.5 platform gigabit service and determining if it's a technical fit with the op's fiber network architecture.

Vodafone, another organization member, is also helping to define some of the usage parameters for MoCA Access 2.5, according to a MoCA spokesperson.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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