CCAP Headed for a Virtual Future?

April 16, 2014
Cable operators are looking for ways to add capacity to meet demand in ways that do not add to th...
Cable operators are looking for ways to add capacity to meet demand in ways that do not add to their space or power requirements and further them on the road to delivery of IP video.

Designed with these requirements in mind, Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) is based on the idea of combining CMTS and edge QAM functionality in the headend. The concept of Remote PHY perhaps takes things a step further and moves the PHY layer from the headend to the node, which will allow for a shrinking of service group size.

CableLabs spelled out the requirements for CCAP in 2011, combining the more or less parallel efforts of Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) CMAP and Time Warner Cable's (NYSE:TWC) CESAR projects, and deployments began last year. Remote PHY specifications are expected by the end of this year, with devices coming on the market in 2015.

Even as all of this is happening, however, something else is in the works. Called Virtual CCAP, the idea is to move both the DOCSIS MAC and PHY layers out of the headend and into the node. In this scenario, the physical CMTS would be eliminated, with the router taking on Layer 3 IP/MPLS functionality. Less expensive Ethernet optics would replace analog optics.

"By going digital to the node using Ethernet vs. analog, you get more capacity out of the fiber," said Jeff White, chief strategy officer of Gainspeed. "By not generating the RF signal until you get to the node, you get dramatically better performance."

Samir Parikh, Gainspeed's director of product management, added: "This will have an impact on what the customer experiences in the home .... You minimize the length the RF signal (travels) to maximize performance."

Another component to virtual CCAP is the centralization of the cable control plane that would then reside in the cloud as a virtual controller. Software defined networking (SDN) techniques are used to break up the headend, so to speak, and create an abstraction of the different devices - the router, node, video engine.

"(Virtual CCAP) splits what is traditionally a monolithic system ... and wraps (the components) in an SDN umbrella to manage them as a unified device," Parikh said.

Gainspeed talks about the virtual CCAP architecture, but is not ready to give specific product information. However, the company is working with the likes of Juniper Networks (NYSE:JNPR) on disaggregating the CMTS, CommScope (NASDAQ:COMM) on delivering an all-digital hub, NETGEAR (NASDAQGM:NTGR) on DOCSIS bonding capabilities, and JDSU (NASDAQ:JDSU) on service management solutions.

When all is said and done, Gainspeed says a virtual CCAP solution could utilize less than 10% of the power and 15% of the space that a traditional CCAP architecture uses, while generating 30% lower capital and operating expenditures.

"Over 10 years, there will be a 32 times growth in demand driven by IP video," White said. "We can't come up with a way with current equipment to grow half that rate .... CCAP addresses space, power, and cost, but it does nothing to address the analog optics side .... (Virtual CCAP) will address the monolithic CCAP, drive to IP and eliminate analog optics by pushing Ethernet out closer to the network."

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].