Cisco's Davidson: Cable at a crossroads with DAA and Remote PHY

Cisco's John Davidson, shown speaking to service providers during a Tuesday session at Cisco Live, says the cable industry is split on deploying DAA and Remote PHY. (FierceTelecom)

SAN DIEGO, California—Cisco Live—While some of cable industry's top executives talked up distributed access architecture (DAA) at last year's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, there hasn't been much movement this year.

Fresh off of last week's ANGA COM 2019 in Germany, Cisco's Jonathan Davidson said a split has emerged among cable operators, such as Comcast, that are actively pursuing DAA and Remote PHY and those that aren't. Davidson, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Service Provider Business, in a nod to Charles Dickens, referred to the split as "A tale of two cities," during an interview at Cisco Live.

"We've got customers who are totally bought in and moving pretty quickly around Remote PHY and the whole disaggregated DAA architecture, and then you have a bunch of people sitting on the sidelines watching," said Davidson, who noted that every major division within Cisco has embraced disaggregation. "For the first time in my 20 plus years of being involved in the cable broadband space, I'm seeing a architectural split that normally CableLabs would have come in and helped drive back to commonality, but I'm not seeing that right now. So, I think time will bring everyone back together, but right now we're seeing a bit of an architectural split.

"There are people who are sitting on the sidelines for longer than I think people would have expected."

Among other features, DAA will give the cable industry a better starting point for virtualized networks and software-defined networking. DAA drives cable operators' transition to all IP services, which in turn helps them orchestrate and activate all of the services from a converged infrastructure.

While Comcast has the resources to throw at DAA and virtual CMTS deployments, it can be a complex route to navigate for others, especially with multiple vendor offerings. Generational changes on architectures that serve millions of subscribers can are rarely easy. (For further proof, look at NFV.)

At last year's SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, a preconference session on DAA featured a record number of 615 attendees who were there to hear some of the industry's leaders talk about the importance of DAA.

During an opening keynote panel at Expo, the leaders of CableLabs, the SCTE and NCTA also spoke about the importance of DAA.

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"So, this (DAA) architecture really needs to be defined by the community so we can launch it to scale," said SCTE President and CEO Mark Dzuban during the keynote panel. "That's our job."

While DAA has been defined, it has yet to scale. When asked why CableLabs hasn't been able to push the cable operators off of the sidelines and onto the DAA/Remote PHY field, Davidson said: "That I couldn't tell you."

CommScope/Arris, Cisco Harmonic, Nokia and Casa Systems have DAA solutions available, a larger number of cable operators aren't buying them. According to this week's Dell'Oro Group's Q1 2019 Broadband Access Quarterly Report, total cable access concentrator revenue was down 38% year over year to $275 million, driven by the slowdown in CCAP channel purchases in North America and EMEA.

Nokia announced last week that it had notched a DAA customer win with Altibox, which is a regional telecommunication operator in Norway and Denmark. Altibox is deploying Nokia's Gainspeed Unified Cable Access solution, which is based on a fully virtualized distributed access architecture (vDAA).

On the plus side for Cisco, Davidson said Cisco's cloud-native router, which was first announced a year ago, had a good reception at ANGA. The router, which is called cnBR, has been deployed in Mobridge, South Dakota by Midco.

"We showcased basically the cloud-native broadband router, but extending that out into the far edge, into a MEC-based deployment." Davidson said. "I got tremendous amount of feedback on that. The customers who have decided to go down the Remote PHY path, they obviously need a good cloud-native broadband router, so that is continuing."