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Cable upstream channel purchases almost doubled in Q4 2020 – Dell'Oro

Reflecting data demands seen during the pandemic, cable operator spending on upstream channel purchases climbed 96% in Q4 2020 versus 2019, according to fresh data from Jeff Heynen, VP, broadband access and home networking, at Dell'Oro Group. By comparison, global spending on cable network downstream channel purchases climbed just 3% during the period.

For all of 2020, upstream channel purchases by cable operators rose 43%, while downstream channel purchases actually dipped 8%.

Heynen said those purchasing trends are a "clear sign" that operators are starting to push ahead with "mid-split" and "high-split" network upgrades that expand the amount of spectrum being dedicated to the upstream.

He also believes it's an indicator that cable operators are starting to add Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) capabilities to their hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks to help get a handle on the upstream pressure. OFDMA, an advanced and more efficient modulation scheme for the upstream, is supported in the DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.1 specs, but trials and deployments have been limited because cable operators have not had much upstream capacity to spare for OFDMA.

But Heynen also stresses that a rise in upstream channel purchases does not necessarily mean that deployments of mid-split and high-split are going gangbusters just yet. That activity is ramping up from near zero, so any increase is going to appear sizable.

Upstream spectrum upgrade projects are underway, "but I don't think it's widespread yet," Heynen said of mid-split and high-split upgrades. "You didn't need much activity to move the needle in the upstream. Even a few projects will move the numbers into those kind of percentages."

Operator deployments of a new distributed access architecture (DAA) have fallen below expectations during the pandemic as MSOs have focused on more traditional network moves, such as adding new line cards to cable modem termination systems, purchasing more channel licenses and implementing node splits. But Heynen does expect to see strategic deployments of remote PHY and remote MACPHY devices perk up a bit in 2021, particularly in the second half of the year.

Total broadband access revenues climb in Q4, despite cable dip

For Q4 2020, total cable access concentrator revenue (a category that includes DOCSIS infrastructure elements such as converged cable access platform cores and chassis, virtual CCAP licensing and DAA nodes and modules) dropped 1%, to $252 million.

Total global revenue for the overall broadband access equipment market climbed 3%, to $3.5 billion, in Q4 2020, thanks to a rise in sales of DOCSIS 3.1 consumer premises equipment (CPE) and sustained spending on 10-Gig PON OLT ports, according to Dell'Oro.

DSL access concentrator revenue fell 44% in Q4 2020 versus year-ago numbers, but XGS-PON OLT port shipments notched a new record, as port shipments climbed an astounding 433% year-over-year, and jumped 77% when compared to Q3 2020.

Among cable access network vendors, CommScope still led the market with a share of about 50%, versus 23% for Cisco, a vendor that's been slowly de-emphasizing its cable access business. Casa Systems followed with a share of 13%, just ahead of 12% for Harmonic, which is gaining ground thanks to deployments of its "CableOS" network virtualization technology at Comcast.

On the CPE side, unit sales of DOCSIS 3.1 modems and gateways clocked in at about 26 million, up from 21 million in 2019, Heynen said.

The bulk of those 2020 DOCSIS 3.1 CPE sales, some 21 million units, came in North America. However, European markets are starting to catch up as operators there start to push forward with D3.1 rollouts, Heynen said. He also saw an increase in D3.1 CPE sales in Latin America in 2020 as operators in that region moved forward with upgrades in response to fiber competition.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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