If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it… Wait, Not So Fast!

By: Tom Kennedy, Sr. Director, Product Management, Cable Access

Since 1997, the cable industry has been capitalizing on DOCSIS technology and integrated cable modem termination systems (CMTS) to serve its customer base.  These systems have evolved through the progression of DOCSIS 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0 and 3.1, resulting in today’s integrated converged cable access platforms (iCCAP).  Through these progressions, cable operators have been able to respond to the ever-growing consumer demand for bandwidth and new service offerings—delivering high-speed data, primary voice, broadcast, narrowcast and multicast video and business service offerings—and creating a converged service offering that is unmatched.

With these advancements in CMTS technology over the years and the success operators have had with iCCAP technology, some might think that the window of innovation is beginning to close.  Well, the cable industry disagreed, decided it was time for another advancement, and the birth of Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) arrived on the scene.  DAA is the most significant cable architectural evolution in two decades. It breaks apart the iCCAP, separates the CMTS core functionality from the PHY and/or MAC/PHY functions, and moves them into the digital node, closer to the consumer—allowing operators to deliver even more bandwidth capacity.  While this advancement was and is significant, DAA also introduced the unintended benefit and potential for CCAP virtualization.

How is this done?

Disaggregating the CCAP and moving the PHY and/or MAC-PHY functionality into the digital node creates the ability to virtualize the CMTS core and all the opportunities that come with it.  By doing this, cable operators can leverage the latest cloud and data center technologies, breaking down the core software into a series of loosely coupled microservices deployed and managed across a containerized infrastructure on top of common off the shelf (COTS), x86 servers.  The virtualized CMTS can then be deployed in a central location, distributed across multiple data centers, or a combination of the two.

Why is this important?

Once the CMTS core is virtualized and implemented with the latest web-scale technologies, a number of benefits can be realized:

  • Accelerated path for platform capacity by leveraging x86 COTS servers
  • Reduced hardware vendor lock in
  • Improved platform and service resiliency and disaster recovery
  • Reduced environmental requirements – power, space, cooling
  • Increased service and feature velocity, achieved through individual microservices
  • Reduced operational complexity through newer, simplified management and operational interfaces and tools

When should I make the move?

There is no single answer to the question, “When should I move to a cloud-based CMTS?”  This decision is and will continue to be operator specific.  Today’s CCAPs, either integrated or deployed in a DAA architecture, will continue to service consumers for years to come.  Critical to the transition to a cloud-based CMTS however, is the transition to DAA.  Once an operator makes the decision to transition their network to a future-proof DAA, they can then begin to look at this next step on the DOCSIS network evolution.

Do I have to choose?

A transition to a cloud-based CMTS does not have to be an all or nothing decision.  One of the key benefits of a cloud-based CMTS is the flexibility it offers.  The introduction of a cloud-based CMTS can be made gradually and/or in a number of different scenarios and stages:

  • Geographic areas of operator service footprint
  • CCAP capacity expansion
  • Designated customer service groups
  • Specific service offerings – i.e. 5Gbs data, Business Services over DOCSIS (BSOD), mobile backhaul, etc.

In any scenario, a cloud-based CMTS should and can be deployed as a complement to today’s CCAP and gradually transition over time. 

The DOCSIS journey since 1997 has been incredible and highly successful.  It’s been an amazing progression, and we’re not close to being done.  Introducing cloud technologies and virtualized functionality into the DOCSIS networks will only continue to help operators deliver new and compelling services to consumers and unlock new business opportunities.  This technology strategy has worked for the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon, and it certainly brings the hopes and promise of greater things to come for cable operators.

Cisco can help cable operators capitalize on these opportunities, with capabilities such as Layer 3 software and hardware solutions, extensive data center experience, automation software, orchestration software, Converged Interconnect Network (CIN) capability and network security expertise, in addition to cloud native CCAP and Remote PHY solutions.

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”…maybe so, but our digitized world means more content, faster, on more devices, and cable operators are in the perfect position with their installed base to answer those demands.

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This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.