CCAP: Taking Cable Operators to an IP Video & Gigabit Future

Erik Keith
Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

  • Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) solutions, which consolidate formerly discrete CMTS (data) and EdgeQAM (video) cable headend hardware, will pave the way for cable operators to deliver mass-market Gigabit broadband and IP video services.
  • Current Analysis will provide in-depth, qualitative analysis of CCAP solutions from five different vendors in the coming months, specifically, Cisco, ARRIS, Casa Systems, Harmonic and Huawei.

As video services become more sophisticated and bandwidth-hungry, Gigabit connectivity to every home is getting a lot of hype these days. The problem is that very few consumers in the U.S. and worldwide actually subscribe (or have access) to Gigabit services at present. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable sense that the Gigabit future is now. Just this week, U.S. cable giant Comcast announced that its 2 Gbps GigaPro service will be available in several new markets, while AT&T announced that its GigaPower service will be offered in additional major metro markets (17 total) and the operator will expand its target GigaPower customer based to include multifamily residences – i.e., apartments and condominiums – known as multi-dwelling units (MDUs) in industry jargon.

Will the State-of-the-Art Suffice?

In North America, cable operators have dominated the consumer broadband market since its inception. However, just as satellite TV operators have taken a substantial portion of the pay TV market at cable’s expense, telcos have had similar success in winning wireline broadband customers, most notably with triple-play bundles, led by AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. But, the impact of U-verse and FiOS has not been a major factor in the drive toward Gigabit broadband, so far. In fact, it has been Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators, electric utilities, municipalities and, most notably, Google Fiber that have spurred the cable MSOs to step up to the Gigabit game.

One of the cable industry’s biggest strengths is its cooperative approach to technology development through the CableLabs organization. CableLabs’ data over cable standard interface specification (DOCSIS) has evolved over the years to address escalating requirements for higher throughput/lower latency. DOCSIS 3.1, the most recently approved standard, supports 10 Gbps/node downstream and 1 Gbps/node upstream and enables MSOs to deliver Gigabit speeds to end users.

The caveat with cable networks is that the bandwidth per node is shared, or split, to serve hundreds of users (typically 500, 250 or 125). So, 10 Gbps shared by 500 users – even with statistical multiplexing, the gift that keeps on giving – is not optimal for MSOs, especially if they want to deliver on touted “billboard” (advertised) speeds. Splitting nodes – doubling fiber capacity and replacing one node with two in the network – is one avenue for cable operators to double their bandwidth per subscriber.

CCAP to the Rescue

However, node splits by themselves will only take cable operators so far. Ultimately, what MSOs need in terms of headend technology is a solution that provides both near-term CapEx and OpEx efficiency gains and a longer-term path to an all-IP future (especially with 4K and 8K TV in the pipeline). Here is where CCAP comes in, but what, exactly, does CCAP do? Within cable headends (the equivalent of telco central offices), data services have been (and still are) enabled by cable modem termination systems (CMTS), while video services have been (and still are) delivered by EdgeQAM platforms. CCAP combines these two formerly discrete solutions into one system, but more importantly, provides cable operators with the foundation for transitioning legacy (QAM) video streams to all-IP, with corresponding, massive efficiency gains.

While the latest generation of CMTS platforms support DOCSIS 3.1, some cable operators are already transitioning to CCAP headend implementations, despite the fact that replacement of CMTS and EdgeQAM platforms is a major forklift upgrade for MSOs.

The first wave of CCAP solutions is already being deployed in multiple geographies, including North America, Europe and APAC (including Australia), with ARRIS and Casa Systems being first-to-market and Cisco launching its formidable cBR-8 platform this past May (please see: Cisco Launches the Battlestar: Going Where No CCAP Has Gone Before, May 7, 2015).

So, what does the future of CCAP look like? Will CCAP technology be sufficiently “future proof” to sustain cable operator dominance of the North American broadband/triple-play market and enable cable operators in other global markets to poach large numbers of broadband/triple-play customers away from telcos? Or, is CCAP just a “bridge” technology that delays the inevitability of cable operators moving to full-fiber (FTTH) networks?

The answers to these questions and more will be provided in the coming months, as Current Analysis turns up formal coverage of the CCAP space with the addition of a CCAP Product Assessment class. This class will include systems from the following vendors: Cisco, ARRIS, Casa Systems, Harmonic and Huawei. These assessments will highlight key Buying Criteria employed by operators as they evaluate CCAP solutions, as well as our analysis of other important factors that enable vendors to establish competitive separation and differentiation from one another.

So, be sure to watch this space for the formal launch of our CCAP coverage!

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