Cisco Tips its Integrated CCAP

We’ve known for some time that Cisco Systems has an integrated Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) on the roadmap called the cBR-8, and that the vendor anticipates unleashing it to the world sometime in 2014.

Cisco has been showing the cBR-8 to a select group in its “whisper suite” at recent events, and this week’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C., was no exception. The only difference this time is that they allowed me to poke my head in and take a gander.

And… it’s a big box, and has some curves and contours that make it a bit prettier to look at than the company’s flagship cable modem termination system (CMTS), the uBR10012. Cisco woudn't let me take any pictures, but I can report that the cBR-8 appears to be operational. Electricity was pumping through it, lights were flashing, fans were whirring, and it was sending traffic to a cable modem.

Like other CCAPs already on the market or soon to be from vendors such as Casa Systems, Arris, Harmonic and CommScope, the cBR-8 will consider the CCAP requirements to be table stakes. “The CCAP specs are not a goal, but a starting point,” one Cisco engineer in the suite said, noting that the cBR-8 essentially fits the density of a uBR10012 on one blade.

But the technology demo here this week did show that Cisco appears to be cruising along with what it calls Phase 3 of its strategy for CCAP, a superdense architecture that combines the functions of the CMTS and the edge QAM and allows cable to put all services under one roof.

From a deployment-readiness standpoint, it’s already at Phase Two, which takes a more modular approach by pairing a uBR10012 CMTS outfitted with denser cards faster routing capabilities with the RF Gateway-10, Cisco’s high-density edge QAM. Cox Communications is among the MSOs that will be kicking the tires on that set-up.

While that approach will help MSOs avoid a forklift upgrade for a while, the tricky part for operators will be when to remove (or redeploy) those legacy CMTS and edge QAMs for the new class of integrated device.

Cisco sees that “tipping point” to be a 1 Gigabit per second downstream, which comes into play once cable operators start to bond at least 24 downstream channels using DOCSIS 3.0 (a new D3 chip from Broadcom chipset will be capable of bonding up to 32 channels).

That’s definitely a long-term view of the market, and every vendor is at a different spot in their CCAP development. While Casa just launched its own integrated CCAP, Arris is pitching its CCAP-pointing device, the E6000 Converged Edge Router, as a high-density CMTS, with plans to add the edge QAM pieces later.

There's still time for everyone to catchup and be ready, since most operators won’t really need true CCAP densities for a while yet. But it’s already been interesting to see the vendors jockey for position now as they get ready to chase a market that’s expected to be worth more than $1 billion by 2017.