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CCAP Recap: The Paths to Convergence

For vendors in the cable headend equipment market, all roads lead to CCAP.

The industry’s Converged Cable Access Platform was a big topic at the SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo show last week, but today CCAP remains an elusive target for all the players. That was expected -- especially given that the CableLabs spec defines an integrated headend device that provides capabilities well beyond what MSOs would need in the near future, such as 64 narrowcast QAMs per port. CCAP is supposed to provide operators the capacities and densities they’ll need well into the next decade.

Here’s an overview of several vendors’ CCAP strategies. Arris and Casa Systems are approaching from the cable-modem termination system (CMTS) side, with Harmonic and CommScope coming at it from the QAM side. Cisco and Motorola have not fully shown their hands yet but appear to be basing their CCAP devices on CMTS architectures.

Arris Group: The E6000 Converged Edge Router is essentially a huge CMTS in its first iteration, with support for up to 1,792 downstream DOCSIS channels in a 16-rack-unit chassis. The company said over time, it will integrate universal edge QAM support and other features required by CCAP into the E6000, with the QAM technology and engineering expertise Arris obtained through the BigBand Networks acquisitions.

The E6000 will support 168 QAMs (72 narrowcast, 96 broadcast) per port, with support for up to 56 service groups per chassis, Arris director of product management Steve Krapp said. He didn’t have a timeframe for when the edge QAM support would be available on the E6000; the product is slated for general availability in the first quarter of 2013.

The E6000 includes a 3RU air-vent for maximum air intake, and has an “elbow guard” plastic shield on the front panel to protect against somebody accidentally knocking a connection loose. “Data is a lifeline business for these guys,” Krapp said. Arris is not disclosed the backplane switching speed for the E6000.

For what it’s worth, Comcast gave a shout-out for Arris's CCAP strategy: "Arris has been a strong contributor to the development of next-generation access platforms such as CCAP, and we are excited to help them bring this to market," Sam Chernak, Comcast Cable senior vice president of access technology, said in a statement.

Casa Systems: This summer, the CMTS vendor showed off a high-density module for its C10G CMTS. The DS8x96 module is designed to deliver 96 channels per port including 32 channels of narrowcast and 64 channels of broadcast, for a total of 768 channels per module. With support for up to 11 primary DS8x96 modules in a 13RU chassis, the C10G would be able to deliver 8,448 narrowcast and broadcast QAMs. The company had been aiming to ship the product in the second half of 2012.

Cisco Systems: The vendor is not providing any public details of its CCAP device except the name: the cBR-8, which stands for “Converged Broadband Router.” The cBR-8 will show up in the 2014 timeframe, said Mark Palazzo, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Access Network business unit, and it will be a fully integrated CMTS with universal edge QAMs with massive capacity.

Until then, Cisco’s uBR 10K cable-modem termination system has lots of legs left, Palazzo claimed. In the first quarter of 2013, Cisco plans to release a 72 downstream channel 3-Gig SPA (service port adapter) line card. Eight of those can fit into the uBR, doubling the downstream capacity available to 1,400 channels (combined with the 3G60 72-channel line cards). "Every time we've done an analysis, by far the first thing that comes out is 'more downstream,'" Palazzo said.

On the QAM side, the DS384 universal edge QAM eight-port line card for Cisco’s RF Gateway 10 edge QAM platform provides 48 narrowcast QAMs per port that can support a mix of DOCSIS 3.0, SDV and VOD services. That provides up to 3,840 narrowcast downstream QAMs in a 14RU chassis.

CommScope: The vendor’s CCAP platform is based on the edge QAM solution obtained through its acquisition of LiquidXStream Systems last year. But while the CSP (Converged Services Platform) beats targets for QAM channel density it lacks DOCSIS features today.

The CommScope CCAP system will be available in two versions: the CSP 640, a 9RU model with support for a maximum of 9,600 downstream QAMs and aggregate throughput of 640 Gigabits per second; and the CSP 1280, a 14RU chassis with up to 19,200 downstream QAMs and throughput of 1.28 Terabits per second.

“We designed it as a very dense universal edge QAM,” Shane Eleniak, CommScope’s vice president of advanced broadband solutions, said.

Harmonic: The vendor claimed its NSG Pro is the first “true” CCAP solution, but the system doesn’t provide upstream DOCSIS support in the first iteration. The NSG Pro -- representing Harmonic’s sixth-generation edge QAM platform -- is a 9RU device that will support more than 10,000 universal edge QAMs when fully populated.

The seven key CCAP features the NSG Pro meets are: QAM densities, port densities, integrated DOCSIS, universal edge QAM, redundancy, low power per rack unit and QAM replication, said Asaf Matatyaou, director of cable edge and access solutions at Harmonic.

With the next-generation DOCSIS 3.1 spec, which CableLabs expects to publish next year, there is a “strong possibility” that the NSG Pro’s DOCSIS cards would be software-upgradeable, Matatyaou said: “We believe our cards are future-proof.” He declined to provide details on backplane switching speeds for the NSG Pro.

The NSG Pro is not expected to generate material revenue until the second half of 2013, Raymond James analyst Simon Leopold wrote in a note. However, he added, "from a strategic standpoint we believe Harmonic is positioning itself well to adapt to the changing cable network equipment landscape."

Motorola Mobility: The company said last week it has successfully completed a number of deployments and field trials of its high-density, “CCAP-compatible” APEX3000 universal edge QAM platform. The APEX3000 supports 384 QAM channels per rack-unit or a total of 1,536 QAM channels per 4RU chassis.

Separately, Motorola has been developing a full CCAP device, the Video Services Platform (VSP), which execs said had been targeting 96 QAM channels per downstream blade, but there have been no signs of the VSP to date.