CommScope targets pole position in DOCSIS 4.0 market, but has a fight ahead

CommScope is perhaps the largest vendor in the cable market and it’s looking to stay on top as operators future-proof their networks, with a company executive telling Fierce it plans to be a “big player” in the DOCSIS 4.0 space. But Dell’Oro Group VP Jeff Heynen warned the company faces key hurdles in maintaining its incumbency, including a changing competitive landscape and a wider variety of paths for network evolution.

CableLabs finalized the specifications for DOCSIS 4.0 back in early 2020 and over the past year or so operators have become more vocal about their plans to upgrade. However, Guy Sucharczuk, CommScope SVP and segment leader for Access Network Solutions, explained DOCSIS 4.0 is still a nascent technology and from a technical perspective “it’s still too early to operationalize it yet.”

“There is a significant amount of both hardware and software that needs to be developed for full D4.0 deployment,” he stated, adding CommScope is “in the middle of all the product development.” It’s working on solutions for both the full duplex (FDX) and frequency division duplex (FDD, also known as extended spectrum DOCSIS or ESD) flavors of the technology in addition to the Remote PHY and Remote MAC PHY products it already offers.

While Sucharczuk provided little detail beyond this, Heynen told Fierce it is almost certainly working on software related to flexible MAC architecture as well as a MAC manager, SDN controller, DOCSIS controller and all the other “piece parts that essentially are a disaggregation of the traditional CCAP [Converged Cable Access Platform] and virtual CCAP.” It is also probably working on refreshed versions of its Remote PHY and Remote MAC PHY devices, he added.

Addressing a report from LightReading, Heynen said he believes Commscope was previously working to develop DOCSIS 4.0 silicon with MaxLinear and Xilinx but is now expected to use Broadcom’s wares instead. Sucharczuk declined to touch on the subject of its silicon collaboration, telling Fierce it “does not share details on internal matters or comment on rumors and speculation.”

Rocky road

CommScope is clearly working to position itself as a leader in the DOCSIS 4.0 market, but Heynen noted it faces several hurdles. The first of these is the fragmented nature of DOCSIS 4.0, which offers multiple upgrade paths for operators. That, coupled with increased interest among cable players in fiber overbuilds, threatens CommScope’s historic business model.

“For vendors who have for years – and especially a vendor like CommScope – developed a product and then watched that product generate incremental revenue in the form of additional hardware shipments and DOCSIS license shipments, that’s the model they’ve followed for decades. And that model is gone because of this split in how operators are going to move forward with their access networks,” he explained. “It’s going to be very difficult to navigate.”

Heynen added CommScope is also up against competitors like Harmonic, which are eager to steal some of its market share. While CommScope’s large installed base and history of providing products which help operators generate revenue work in its favor, there’s no room to rest on its laurels, he said.

“Over the last couple of years it hasn’t served them well because they rested on the incumbency and missed opportunities to develop products that customers were asking for. Of course the danger is if you do that a couple more times, then that incumbency won’t last,” he concluded.