Cable MSOs Look to Virtualization for Smarter HFC Access Networks

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Thursday, May 18, 2017 with No comments

Moving past a quarter-century of reliance on hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC)essentially a dumb pipethe cable MSO industry is now looking at other technologies to transform their access networks to make them more efficient and intelligent, noted Heavy Reading blogger Craig Leddy in a recent article.

Cable providers are considering and adopting ten technologies in support of their strategy to make last-mile plant changes for more network edge functionality, Leddy elaborated: DOCSIS 3.1, deep fiber, distributed access architecture, remote PHY, full-duplex DOCSIS, passive networks, wireless, gateways, big data analytics, and virtualization.

"This next-generation architecture is designed to meet the ever-increasing demand for broadband capacity and the proliferation of more IP devices and interactive applications in homes and businesses," Leddy explained. "While a primary focus is to increase overall bandwidth capacity, the next-generation architecture is designed to support more efficient routing by tailoring capacity to meet high-density usage and peak traffic demands, a concept similar to cable's earlier development of switched digital video."

In that list of ten technologies, it's the last one—virtualization—that cable industry R&D organization CableLabs is increasingly focused on these days as they branch out from DOCSIS and wireless technologiesreported Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey, 

CableLabs first kicked off its virtualization project in 2015, with a report on SDN architectures for cable access networks, and recently released a second report with more detail on virtual provisioning interfaces, Silbey explained. Acknowledging that not all network parts will be virtualized in the near term, CableLabs identified identified three new components for next-generation cable access networks: a service orchestrator, an NFV orchestrator, and a master SDN controller.

Silbey added that "The cable trend toward access network virtualization goes hand in hand with the trend toward distributed access architectures (DAA)." 

One example of an operator focused on using newer technologies to enhance existing infrastructure is Australian national broadband network organization nbn. The company recently gained CableLabs membership, noted The Register's APAC Editor, Simon Sharwood, a move that makes sense given CableLabs helps operators deploy broadband services using HFC networks, and that's what nbn plans to do using a network built by Telstra. 

Joining Cable Labs is also evidence that nbn (like some other cable operators) "is thinking about future upgrades to existing plant and doesn't think it will be installing any more fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) any time soon," Sharwood concluded.

With regard to virtualization, CenturyLink is an example of a cable MSO focused on a software-centric future for access networks. The company is on track to realize a $200 million or more annual capex reduction "tied to the build-out of its virtualized network, with the full build-out still scheduled for 2019," reported SDxCentral Senior Editor Dan Meyer.

CenturyLink's product lineup now includes a software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) platform, and the company earlier this year "launched a virtualized Broadband Network Gateway (vBNG) to support services using a unique design based on the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) model," Meyer added.

CenturyLink also recently:
  • Shared details about planned transformations to the company after completing its merger with Level 3, a process expected to be wrapped up in September. It has ambitions to become a global leader in enterprise services.
  • Rolled out a new SAP-specific managed offering for enterprises, developed using resources from its NetApp acquisition and through partnering with both Cisco and SAP. 

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