This year could be the demarcation point for the cable industry's move into virtualization, according to Arris' Chris Busch.
Busch, an engineering fellow at Arris, said there are various paths toward virtualization such as remote PHY for distributed access architecture (DAA), MAC PHY and fabric overlays.
According to research released this week by the Dell'Oro Group, sales of cable broadband access equipment will increase from $1.5 billion this year to $2 billion in 2023, largely driven by spending on Remote PHY and MAC PHY devices, as well as virtual CCAP platforms. In particular distributed, virtualized architectures are set to transform the cable broadband networks, according to Dell'Oro.
“Global cable operators are investing heavily in distributed access architectures to make their networks more efficient, offer premium bandwidth, and stay ahead of fiber-based competitors,” said Jeff Heynen, research director at Dell’Oro Group, in a prepared statement. “Today’s investments in DAAs will prepare cable operators for a future of 10 Gbps services using a combination of extended spectrum DOCSIS, full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 and, ultimately, fiber-to-the-home."
Busch said that while cable operators will have different approaches, the cable industry as a whole is moving toward virtualization.
"I think this year will probably be an important year for DOCSIS virtualization," Busch said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We have virtual evolved packet cores that are now providing data plane and control plane services that are being instantiated for latency reasons, and other reasons, that are valuable to the mobile world that can be deployed really close to the edge. Wouldn't it just make a whole lot of sense for us as the cable industry to think about edge computing for our DOCSIS MAC cores and our virtual network functions for DOCSIS services as those begin to emerge?
"So what's the union there? How do we support those systems as we think about this automation, this orchestration, and maybe even fabric networks that hope to tie it all together?"
Busch said there were various topologies that are happening at the digital transmission layer in cable right now, which "end up all coming back to dependencies in software systems from management to even control plane in some cases."
"We obviously have what DAA brings in terms of dependencies in backoffice," Busch said. "We need to help the field technicians be able to efficiently and quickly onboard these remote PHY devices and in the future remote MAC PHY devices and even remote PON LT devices.
"But there are also these new investments that come along at the same time with these new all digital edge architectures where we're bringing 10 gigabit Ethernet optics all the way into these nodes. Sometimes its point-to-point, sometimes its hub and spoke, and sometimes its daisy-chained."
Busch said a fabric overlay at the network edge would unify both wireless and wireline services for cable. He said CableLab's Flexible Mac Architecture (FMA) working group was currently defining the standard models that allow for remote devices to be onboarded, to be managed and to be operationally controlled.
""There is the idea that there is a MAC manager, this component of the architecture, that has the ability not just to deal with the edge device, remote PHY, remote MAC or PON, but also with the digital transmission service, meaning a thin leaf/spine type of device," Busch said.
"How would Charter do something? How would Liberty Global do something? I think it goes back to they could maybe leverage something from FMA from CableLabs that says 'Well, we want to keep using our switch router vendors features in the switch router boxes along the path. From the core network to the DAA service edge, but we just need to automate and orchestrate for the management of those devices and take the humans' involvement basically out of the critical path.' That's a totally valid approach."
For orchestration and automation, the cable industry can tap into SDN and TOSCA, which is a topology orchestration service scheme. The cable industry could also take a page out of the telco industry's playbook by using ONAP for automation and orchestration.
Busch said that he thinks fabric networks at the edge could become more of a topic at FMA as the year progresses. He also said the call for white papers for this year's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo hints that multiple operators are thinking about fabric-based networks.
"Does that mean that (fabrics) becomes an expansion on what the FMA folks in the that working group at CableLabs are doing? That's a good question," Busch said. "Outside of CableLabs, there is Broadband Forum folks that are trying to look at this as part of their Cloud Central Office standards and architecture group. I think there will be a union here. How that exactly manifests itself is a page that isn't quite written yet."