The SCTE’s CableTec Expo wrapped up late last week in New Orleans, LA, and although cliche, it is safe to say that it proved to be one of the best cable technology shows in history. The cable industry is seeing remarkable growth in network demand, as a result of Moore’s Law bringing about better, faster, and cheaper devices and the advent of higher quality over the top content and apps available online. This increased demand is rallying the cable industry’s best and brightest to find ways to future-proof their networks and make services easier to provision, troubleshoot, and maintain. SDN, NFV, DOCSIS3.1, and FTTH technologies including EPON and XGS-PON all made the highlight reel last week as important tools to tackle the increasing demand in light of the slower increase in overall revenue.
SDN and NFV are Gaining Momentum in Cable
SDN and NFV have been a significant topic of discussion at several service providers over the last 18 months, and cable MSOs are now looking seriously at utilizing this new technology as a way to automate, improve OpEx, and reduce network complexity. Jeff Finkelstein, Executive Director of Network Strategy at Cox, said on a panel during the show that Cox is seeing a 53% growth in network demand each year, and that SDN and NFV is one of the only ways to effectively manage that demand (more here). He sighted bringing functionality into the core of the network from the access and subscriber edge as two areas of interest. The panel also discussed virtualization of residential gateways and cloud DVR as important objectives that will allow for reduced operational expenditures, easier troubleshooting, and additional service offerings. Craig Cowden of Bright House Networks indicated that his MSO has SDN technology in the lab this year, and is planning on rolling it out sometime in 2016.
DOCSIS 3.1 is on the Horizon
It’s no surprise that improved speeds and feeds facilitated by the next revision of DOCSIS technology was one of the
highlights of the Expo. With gigabit services cropping up throughout telecommunications footprints worldwide, cable operators and vendors alike have been hard at work on the implementation of new technologies to offer competitive connectivity. Vendors displayed the latest DOCSIS 3.1 capable modems and CMTSs, which are scheduled to be available en masse sometime next year. DOCSIS 3.1 is the latest specification in an evolving suite of technologies that facilitate high speed Internet and data connectivity to homes and businesses and boasts up to 10 gigabits per second downstream and 1 gigabit per second upstream capacity. To fully realize these speeds, operators must make changes to the passive devices in their networks, including the optical nodes, filters, and splitters in their networks; a task that involves the significant use of human capital and will likely cause service interruption during the upgrade process.
EPON, XGS-PON Emerging as viable alternative to DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades
In addition to the DOCSIS 3.1 fanfare, several access vendors showcased the latest in FTTH technology at the CableTec Expo last week. Speeds from 1 to 10 Gbps downstream and 1 to 10 Gbps upstream were demonstrated on the floor by technologies including EPON and FSAN’s latest, XGS-PON . Deployment of Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology offers MSOs the flexibility to upgrade their network to a more future-proof medium without impacting existing subscribers. The downside of deploying FTTH comes in the construction costs associated with bringing fiber to each home in a neighborhood or the entire footprint. However, many cable operators are exploring plans to deploy fiber in new developments and in areas where demand justifies its use. Because many MSOs already have fiber to nodes in each neighborhood, commonly known as a hybrid fiber-coax network (HFC), the use of wavelength multiplexing technologies such as CWDM or DWDM, and other fiber management tools allow them to deploy fiber access without completely overbuilding their footprint.
To conclude, increased network demand is driving a transformation in cable, and the industry came together last week in New Orleans to share ideas, strategies, and tools for rising to the challenge. SDN and NFV will simplify the edge, reduce OpEx, and automate delivery of new service offerings. DOCSIS 3.1 and FTTH technologies such as EPON, GPON, and XGS-PON will compete for network upgrade dollars in 2016, and each offer their own benefits and drawbacks. With the above in mind, it is always great to see our industry’s best minds come together and collaborate on ways to offer better services for the consumer.