Arris' Mike Emmendorfer: Next step for cable access network is splitting up distributed CCAP

CableLabs' Flexible MAC Architecture will move the industry towards virtualization in access networks. (FierceTelecom)

ATLANTA—One of the roads that will lead the cable industry to virtualization nirvana is CableLabs' Flexible MAC Architecture (FMA), according to a presentation by Arris' Mike Emmendorfer.

Along with Cox Communications' Jeff Finkelstein and CableLabs' John Schnoor, Emmendorfer is one of the leaders of CableLab's FMA team. As is the case for other types of virtualization—think white box routers, gateways and servers—FMA seeks to break apart the distributed CCAP architecture in order to enable virtualization.

"Some of the goals and objectives of the FMA initiative is to enable the standardization of the complete disaggregation of the CCAP management control and data planes to help you enable SDN, NFV, and physical network functions," said Emmendorfer during Monday's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo preconference distributed access architecture session. "We're going to define interfaces for legacy and new OSS, NFS and orchestration with FMA's management and control plane infrastructure, as well as (the) standard interface abstraction layer for cable access equipment."

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Emmendorfer said the FMA working group is going to define an open, standard interface based on a data modeling language for a single abstraction layer that can then be used by all FMA access equipment.

RELATED: CableLabs' Doug Jones says DOCSIS has a long life ahead

"This is a bit different than other standard organizations that are defining, essentially, abstraction layers," Emmendorfer said. "We're not defining individual system vendor or chip vendor abstraction layers. We are defining a single abstraction layer based on YANG that all vendors will build to us, so a single abstraction layer. This will enable the project and MSOs to have interoperability among the vendors."

While cable spent the last 20 years aggregating network devices, it will spend the next two years, if not more, disaggregating CCAP components.

"As we look at going to FMA, we're going to be pushing out the MAC, perhaps to the node location, and then having a router, a Layer 3 device in the head end or data center location." Emmendorfer said. "Then we'll have a MAC manager. That management plane now is going to be removed from the CCAP architecture and placed on a server to create an SDN- style infrastructure.

"We could even look at removing other control plane functions to create essentially a sense of elasticity and east/west traffic uploads."

Emmendorfer said the MAC manager will play a key role within the FMA architecture by providing interfaces to legacy OSS systems as well as future northbound interfaces for orchestration.

"We are defining the next generation cable access network of the future, which is the disaggregation of the CCAP, " Emmendorfer said in his closing remarks.

Cox's Finkelstein, executive director, advanced technologies, said during the same preconference DAA session that one of cable's biggest challenges was in the access network because that's where the bulk of the capacity is. Instead of thinking about adding more "lanes" for bandwidth, the cable industry would be better served by thinking about next generation of services, he said.

By instituting "fiber deeper" initiatives, Finkelstein said, the cable industry can be anywhere from 150 feet to 1,500 feet from the customer. Fiber closer to the customer becomes even more meaningful when coupled with gigabit services to subscribers.

"That's a lot of fiber close to the customer," he said. "It gives us great functionality as we move forward to make the logical choices for each of our individual clients.

"What we're doing with fiber deeper, what we're doing with flexible MAC, is going to start with the access network virtualization."

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