The cable industry developed in two waves: Video, and, then everything else. For years, cable operators were solely purveyors of programming. About 15 years ago, they very successfully entered the data business with broadband and IP-based telephony offerings.
The timeline is important. The staggered nature of technical development meant that operators in essence built parallel systems. While some functions were shared, by and large, operators ran two systems. Such an approach is highly inefficient. It wastes energy and takes up too much space in headends. Many of the older facilities are small because they were built with only video in mind.
One industry response is the development of the converged cable access platform (CCAP). There are many variations, but the basic idea is to condense the video and data functions in a single chassis. Indeed, this is a response to both parts of the challenge: A consolidated approach uses less energy than each would use separately (since some non-specialized functions such as cooling can be combined) and reduces space requirements.
The cable technology universe converged this week in Philadelphia for the Cable-Tec Expo 2016, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers annual conference. Announcements featuring the virtualization of CCAP were a theme:
- Casa Systems used the conference to introduce the Virtual CCAP (vCCAP). The company says the Axyom software architecture enables independent scaling of control and data plane functions. vCCAP is a network functions virtualization (NFV)-based platform that provides virtual media access control (MAC)-layer data processing control and management functions, the press release says. Put more simply, Casa claims that vCCAP is capable of providing CCAP functions on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware through emerging virtualization techniques.
- In a similar announcement – but one made in Espoo, Finland, not Philadelphia -- Nokia introduced Gainspeed. The system, Nokia says, leverages software-defined networks (SDNs) to virtualize CCAP functionality. Distributed Access Architecture (DAS) is used to deliver functions to access nodes close to subscriber locations, the company said.
- Harmonic announced the CableOS. The company says that it is the first software-based CCAP platform, though Nokia and Casa would not agree. The release says that the CableOS offers gigabit capacity and alleviates “space and power constraints in the headend and hub.” Though the press release doesn’t use the SDN or NFV buzz phrases, Harmonic clearly is going down the same (virtual) path.
In a non-introduction but interesting announcement, Cisco said that its cBR-8, which it describes as a converged broadband access platform, is being rolled out by Cablevision Argentina.
It’s not surprising that vendors are virtualizing CCAP. Indeed, it is the logical next step in their efforts to cut power use and save space.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.