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2019 Broadband Access Market Outlook: Part 2 of 4

2019 is expected to be the year that Comcast, Mediacom, and others in the North American market move from lab and field trials of their remote PHY and remote MACPHY or RPD and RMD platforms to general availability. Equipment vendors are ramping up production of their node units to meet what is expected to be a major year of deployments in 2019. We expect Comcast to pursue its goal of using distributed access architecture, or DAA, to dramatically reduce service group sizes from an average of 300 to 400 homes to less than 100. Other operators, including Cox and Spectrum, will quickly follow suit.

We’ve already seen a number of deployments in Europe, particularly at Com Hem and Stofa, designed to help these cable operators roll out DOCSIS 3.1 services, while simultaneously moving away from their traditional, integrated CCAP platforms. Both operators face significant competition from fiber providers, so they view R-PHY as a stepping stone to either full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 or FTTH.

The move to DAAs sets the stage for cable operators not only to expand the bandwidth they can offer end customers by reducing service group sizes, but also to push more edge computing capabilities closer to subscribers. Current optical nodes are nothing more than layer 1 and layer 2 platforms focused primarily on converting radio frequency signals to optical and vice versa. RPD and RMD nodes introduce layer 3 capabilities, as well as a road map to edge computing for more localized media processing and decision-making for applications beyond high-speed internet. With these more intelligent nodes, cable operators can better deliver IoT and wireless services.

Managing an expanded network of intelligent nodes, however, will introduce new challenges, which cable operators hope to address by virtualizing their existing cable modem termination system, or CMTS, functions. By centralizing service orchestration and control, cable operators can potentially reduce the time to deployment for their new distributed infrastructure, as well as the operational costs associated with these new architectures.

For cable operators, virtualization brings scale. By virtualizing and distributing the data and control planes from previously centralized and self-contained hardware platforms, operators can ultimately rely on more generic equipment, while also preparing their networks for the anticipated deluge of traffic from IoT and 5G services.

In Part 3, I discuss operators’ implementation of early use cases for artificial intelligence and network automation.

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