2019 was a transition year for the cable industry as market dynamics have started to shift. Traditional CCAP vendors, whose solutions are largely hardware-based, saw their revenue come under pressure. While some of the revenue softness was attributed to operators deploying equipment they already purchased, more is afoot. Some operators have taken a step back to ponder whether the traditional playbook they have used to meet capacity demand and to support current and future services is optimal, while others have wholeheartedly embraced the future by deploying software-based solutions. This has resulted in more momentum towards software-based solutions. Indeed, while legacy CCAP revenue declined in 2019, revenue from software-based solutions saw notable growth. This momentum will accelerate in 2020.
The move to software will accelerate
The move from hardware towards software CMTS will continue to gain momentum in 2020. Some forward-looking operators have already deployed Harmonic’s CableOS® software-based solutions over the past few years and have committed to DAA as they continue to ramp up deployments. Industry-wide, operators have begun to realize how traditional, hardware-based solutions can limit growth. The true benefits of the software solutions are inherently linked to cost savings, operational efficiency, software upgradability to future services, and improved customer experience. Numerous field deployments are proof, and as operators gain confidence in the reliability and field-readiness of software-based solutions, we are seeing more operators make the switch.
Software-based solutions deliver significant benefits in live deployments
Many articles and papers have been written about the theoretical benefits of software-based solutions for cable access. Yet there is no greater proof than real-world deployments. As more operators deploy these software-based solutions, actual, field-measured benefits have started to be reported, and the reliability and scalability of these solutions have been proven, encouraging more operators to consider these solutions, and emboldening those who made the early deployments to scale them across their footprints. Here are some of these benefits:
- Improved customer experience: Improved and timely monitoring capabilities, combined with predictive analytics, have enabled MSOs to pre-emptively address potential failures before the customer experiences a problem.
- Reliability and resilience: A software-based solution runs on COTS servers, rather than hardware racks. This significantly reduces the size of the operating domains, thereby limiting the potential failure impact to significantly fewer subscribers and for much less time.
- Optimized operational efficiency: The operator can more accurately track and predict utilization and node splits, resulting in more optimal deployment of resources.
- Flexibility: MSOs are taking advantage of the inherent flexibility of the software-based CMTS to add capacity. In a software environment, RU servers are added as capacity needs grow, or spare CPU resources are elastically turned up to support the needs of additional service groups. This dynamic allocation of resources is significantly more advantageous than in the hardware environment where specialized racks and associated equipment need to be added to meet growing demand.
The momentum behind R-PHY will grow
Distributed access architecture deployments, particularly in a remote-PHY (R-PHY) configuration (which complies with the CableLabs specifications issued in 2015), will gain meaningful traction. There will still be deployments of software CMTS in centralized or traditional HFC architectures. However, as R-PHY deployments are now proven on a large scale by tier 1 operators, more operators will start to actively consider DAA for broad field deployments.
The industry will make progress on DOCSIS 4.0
CableLabs will release the DOCSIS 4.0 specifications, which will include full-duplex DOCSIS (FDX), and extended spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) for spectrum up to 1.8GHz, enabling MSOs to significantly increase upstream bandwidth. While it will take some time for D4.0 products and deployments to materialize, it is worth noting that having a software-based solution is an investment in delivering D4.0 in the future with a software upgrade on the CMTS Core.
Low latency will become a must-have
Gaming and other low latency applications in the residential and business markets such as AR/VR will make “low latency” a key MSO requirement. Meeting the needs for low latency in these sectors gives MSOs who can offer it a competitive advantage, and they will increasingly demand these capabilities from their vendors.
Virtualization and increasing capacity will be a main industry focus
Cable operators will continue to aggressively expand capacity. For that reason, work is ongoing to make it possible to deliver symmetric gigabit speeds. The needs of existing and emerging applications are a driving force and operators will likely aim to wring more spectral capacity with OFDM. Furthermore, operators, particularly in Europe, will increasingly use virtual segmentation with network-wide QoS capabilities to increase bandwidth on existing coaxial cable to feed remote PHY devices without deploying fiber to the new segmentation site.
The future of cable access is shaping today’s focus
2020 will be the year where the cable market will broadly shift towards software-based CMTS, and towards DAA, with a stronger focus on R-PHY as more operators recognize that these technologies are best suited to meet market needs in terms of feature velocity, agility, superior customer experience, and of course, lower cost. Cable operators will continue to evolve their networks to meet the needs of services today and tomorrow, and they will make progress on developing the capabilities needed to support 5G backhaul, a market opportunity with significant promise for cable operators.
Are you looking for more information on cable access solutions? Harmonic is the leading provider of virtualized cable access network technologies and solutions. Our CableOS technologies are an industry reference for both centralized and distributed architectures allowing over 1 million homes to receive CableOS-powered Internet services worldwide. Contact us today to start a discussion, and let’s see how Harmonic can help put your 2020 plans into action.