Cisco Access Chief Welch: ‘Don’t Wait’ to Transform Network Infrastructure

As the cable industry moseys on down to New Orleans for this year’s Cable-Tec Expo event, darkness has warshed over its access technology business. Darker than a steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night.

Sean Welch, VP and GM of Cisco's cable access business

Sean Welch, VP and GM of Cisco's cable access business

Sales were off 40% in the second quarter, according to research company Dell’Oro Group, as operators mull of range of innovative, transformative—yet highly disruptive—new network infrastructure tech—everything from Distributed Access Architecture to virtualization to a number of next-generation DOCSIS flavors. And this is not to mention all the capacity expansion they still haven’t grown into following the migration to DOCSIS 3.1.

Before getting on our plane, we caught up with Sean Welch, VP and GM of Cisco’s cable access business, to get some idea of how vendors are going to loosen the currently tight purse strings of operator CTOs at this year’s show.

MCN: What makes the transition to Distributed Access Archtecture so complex?

Sean Welch: The migration from CAA (centralized) to DAA (distributed) has certainly proven to be more complex when compared to prior upgrade cycles. The most recent shift from second-generation CMTS to CCAP required very minor changes to operational support systems and the back office elements to realize the benefits of the new technology.

With DAA, elements of the complete end-to-end system need to tested, verified and put into operation. Remember, we’re separating the physical RF interface from the physical chassis and relocating this “port” to a remote location in the outside plant – connected over a new layer of IP connectivity. It sounds relatively simple, but in practice many devices in the system need to be upgraded or completely changed out to support this new deployment model. This includes elements supporting legacy out-of-band control and HFC operations.

Finally, this new system needs to be provisioned, monitored and managed with a view to automating deployments, streamlining, troubleshooting and maximizing reliability of the service.

Beyond DAA, there is so much innovation happening in cable right now —virtualization, FDX, Extended Spectrum DOCSIS, etc.? Can you briefly explain how all these so called "10G" technologies fit together? What's the priority?

All of the technologies cited are relevant for the cable access market and support the broader initiative of modernizing infrastructure and delivering higher levels of capacity and performance to align with the industry’s “north star” of 10G. Cisco believes that all of these technologies will play a role in achieving that vision, but timing and sequencing is critical. Each of these technologies requires a substantial investment in order to translate innovation to product. The cable access market has historically benefited from broad economies of scale based on an aligned view around architectural and technology evolution. We remain confident that the industry view will consolidate as operators and vendors (system and silicon) work together to define requirements and timing of deployments.

What do you see as being the business outlook for the cable access biz for the next 18 months?

We remain bullish about the market opportunity over the next 18 months and beyond. Over 180 million broadband subscribers around the world depend on DOCSIS/HFC based infrastructure to deliver connectivity and experience based services that impact their daily lives. The demand for bandwidth remains strong and we’re starting to see the demand for high performance, low latency bandwidth emerge.

How will Cisco craft its marketing message at Cable-Tec Expo? What are the central themes?

Our central theme is that Cisco is uniquely positioned to help operators transform their cable access infrastructure with technology that is available now—“don’t wait.” Our broad portfolio of solutions touch every aspect required to modernize an end-to-end cable access system. The core of our value proposition starts with our Remote PHY technology (core, edge and provisioning). R-PHY is supported by the industry’s very best physical CCAP and routing technology, complemented by our network automation and management solutions. As customers move to cloud native, Cisco’s virtualized CCAP software running on our world-class data center servers is a powerful combination. Couple that with our expertise in data center networking and add app dynamics into the mix, and all the pieces for real transformation fall into place. A critical part of the story is security. As the industry moves from a central to distributed architecture, the threat surface of the network grows and must be protected—who better than Cisco, the leading security vendor for enterprise, to provide security and trust to your critical infrastructure? Finally, when it comes to tying this all together, Cisco’s customer experience services organization offers “reduce risk and speed time to revenue.”

And finally, how do you define "DOCSIS 4.0" and "10G"?

DOCSIS 4.0 is a set of technical specifications defining the evolution of the infrastructure. This includes Full-Duplex DOCSIS and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS and other elements of the system. 10G is the industry’s vision for the evolution of wireline broadband access, including HFC/DOCSIS, to deliver 10 Gigabit symmetrical services. That’s how we see it. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!