Cable Industry Preps Push to Next-Gen Access Networks, Virtualization

Denver – Whether it involves technical specifications or plans involving trials or deployments, the cable industry continues to push ahead with next-generation, distributed access network architectures that will help to pave the way to the virtualization.

But there’s still some uncertainty in terms of the speed at which those transitions will get under way as MSOs look to distributed access architectures (DAA) to push fiber deeper into their networks and enable higher fidelity digital optics, while also reducing the space and power requirements of their headend and hub sites.

While 34% of operators surveyed last year expected to have preparations for distributed access architectures (DAA) underway in 2018, the expectation now is that bigger deployments will likely get pushed into 2019, Jeff Heynen, consulting director at SNL Kagan, said here Wednesday at Light Reading’s Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies event.

Still, “it’s very clear…that distributed access is going to be a major factor in terms of the revenue tie” for cable access network technology,” he said.

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CableLabs, meanwhile, has been moving forward with specs for DAA and Distributed CCAP Architectures (DCA) that aim to ensure interoperability between suppliers. Taken together, CableLabs’s DAA-facing efforts include several areas such as Remote PHY, Remote MACPHY, and Full Duplex DOCSIS, and its work with coherent optics.

Jon Schnoor, lead engineer, wired technologies at CableLabs, said the specs for Remote PHY are nearing an end, with 11 interop events already completed, and have already moved into the qualification stage. Spec writing for Remote MACPHY, which introduced a new component called the MAC Manager, is underway.

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In addition to Remote PHY devices (RPD), CableLabs’s work also extends to include a new device called a Remote MAC Device (RMD) that moves the CCAP functionality into the node.

As part of some phase II work, CableLabs and its constituents are also working on something called the Remote MAC Core, which can be put in the node, headend or hub. That, Schnoor explained, will give operators the flexibility to put that functionality wherever they need it on depending on their power and space limitations.

Phase III, with a 2019 timeframe, will aim to virtualize the DCA portion of DAA, and utilize a software-powered control plane.

These approaches should enable operators to distribute more functions toward the edges of the network over time and free up space in headends and hubs, or possibly eliminate the need for them altogether.

MSOs, meanwhile, are also moving ahead with DAA and virtualization plans as that work at CableLabs continues.

WideOpenWest, for example, has teamed with Nokia on a Remote MACPHY initiative that is initially focused in Cleveland and Chicago.

Cash Hagan, WOW’s chief operating officer, said new nodes are going in today, with an initial focus on saturated parts of the network. Later this year, WOW will expand that work into additional markets, and will also start to install a distributed access node anytime one needs to be cracked open, he added.

Hagan said a key driver is to build more capacity into the network while achieving other capex and opex benefits that it gets as it cuts down on space and power needs in headends and hubs. “The only way to get there is by distributing the network,” Hagan said.

Comcast is also pursuing a DAA initiative with a focus on Remote PHY, which it says can add value in a number of different architectural models currently in place in its network.

In addition to the power and space benefits, it will also simplify the network and enable Comcast to get a real-time view into the performance of its network.

With service reliability being a paramount factor, having that instant visibility into the network “is critical to everything we want to do going forward,” Elad Nafshi, Comcast’s senior vice president, next generation access network, said here during a keynote later in the day.

Nafshi, who sees the access network becoming an epicenter of cable innovation, also confirmed that Comcast’s DAA activities will focus on Remote PHY.