GCI taps CommScope for DAA push on road to 10 Gbps

Anchorage Alaska
GCI's interest in DAA reflects a broader industry trend among cable operators. (Getty Images)

Alaskan operator GCI sought to reap the benefits of distributed access architecture (DAA), deploying CommScope’s Remote MAC-PHY product as part of a network upgrade plan it is executing to deliver 2-gig and eventually 10-gig broadband to customers.

There are two main approaches to DAA – Remote PHY and Remote MAC-PHY – both of which are designed to move key functions out of the headend and closer to customers at the edge of a hybrid fiber coaxial network. While the former focuses on pushing the physical layer further out, the latter also includes the media access control layer. The CommScope product GCI is using can be deployed as either a Remote PHY or Remote MAC-PHY device.

Victor Esposito, GCI’s VP of Engineering, told Fierce Remote MAC-PHY is particularly attractive for a rural operator like itself.

“Because we have areas that are spread out over great distances, with varying connectivity between them, not having to deploy dedicated CMTS [cable modem termination system] infrastructure is very appealing. This allows us to provide cutting edge technology to our customers without having to perform a major facility upgrade or overhaul,” he explained.

He added the ability to centrally manage its deployments offers benefits in terms of monitoring, configuration and management which allow its teams to react swiftly to remote issues. Additionally, he noted Remote MAC-PHY offers major space and power savings inside its facilities. “In one location, we are looking at moving from roughly 30+ racks of equipment down to just two racks. This frees up space, power and cooling capacity for us to launch new and exciting products,” he said.

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Esposito said GCI’s initial deployment of Remote MAC-PHY offered an ideal opportunity to upgrade its plant, boosting the available spectrum from anywhere between 450 MHz and 860 MHz to 1.2 GHz. That in turn set it up to move to a mid-split in the near term and a high-split starting in 2022, he added.

DAA trends

The operator’s move comes as it works to rollout 2-gig service to a majority of Alaskans next year and 10 Gbps within the next five years. However, its interest in DAA reflects a broader industry trend among cable operators.

Jeff Heynen, VP of Broadband Access and Home Networking at Dell'Oro Group, told Fierce DAA spending on Remote PHY and Remote MAC-PHY devices in the first half of 2021 was up 62% compared to the first half of last year, jumping from $43 million to $69 million. He added spending for the full year is expected to reach $180 million, up 78% from 2020.

Heynen said Remote PHY “still dominates the overall spending, with Comcast, Cox, Vodafone, and others being the primary deployers.” However, he tipped Remote MAC-PHY to gain more traction in 2022 and see “more substantial increases in 2023 as operators upgrade their networks for DOCSIS 4.0.”