You Say You Want a Revolution?

New Gainspeed CEO Hopes to Shake Up Cable Tech

Disruption and change are historically not high on the cable industry’s to-do list, but those are two things Gainspeed is offering as the startup pitches a “virtualized” form of the Converged Cable Access Platform that, it promises, will help operators boost capacities, simplify their networks, and drive down costs.

Gainspeed, a company by started Shlomo Rakib, a DOCSIS pioneer and a co-founder of Terayon Communications Systems (sold to Motorola in 2007) that has raised about $33 million, is still being coy about when it will launch its first products, but it is moving ahead with its go-to-market phase under a new CEO, Krishnan Padmanabhan, who took over on Sept. 2.

Padmanabhan, late of Gainspeed competitor Harmonic, recently connected with Multichannel News technology editor Jeff Baumgartner to discuss what drew him to the upstart and to outline his priorities as the company looks to gain traction with MSOs. An edited transcript follows.

SCTE Daily: Why is now the right time to take the helm of Gainspeed?

Krishnan Padmanabhan: I’m a huge believer in the explosion of [Internet protocol] and IP video, particularly in into people’s homes. It quickly became apparent to me as I did some due diligence that while the MSOs  have been very intelligent in developing their networks, the IP explosion that’s coming their way … is going to be monumental.

They [Gainspeed] had taken the product, the distributed architecture, to the point now where we’re working closely with the MSOs and moving into lab trials.  There was huge progress made on a very difficult and innovative challenge.

SCTE Daily: What are your top three priorities coming into the new job?

KP: The first is really around communicating to our customers. We’ve been doing a great job, but we need to take it to the next level of getting our message out there across these very large organizations of what we can do for them.

The second one is really building trust with the MSO organizations. If we’re honest, we are proposing a fairly radical change to the network. Nobody buys something with that much change from someone if they don’t feel a great degree of trust.

The third one, even though we can’t tell you where we are with lab trials, MSOs don’t buy anything without first testing it. Each of these MSOs has fairly rigorous procedures for doing that, so we need to be sure that we as a company successfully engage with the MSOs and navigate those lab trials in a way that is most helpful to them.

SCTE Daily: The notion of a virtual CCAP can be hard to fathom, so what is the Gainspeed’s elevator pitch?

KP: The one that is uncontroversial is that you guys [the cable operators] are facing a tsunami of demand growth for IP traffic. No one argues with that.

Given that reality, we offer two things. First, using the existing fiber in the ground, we can insert into their network at the node point [to] digitize the fiber, which dramatically increases the bandwidth potential of that existing fiber investment. And the second thing, by pushing Ethernet out to the node, the headend dramatically simplifies.

Instead of all of these expensive CMTSs [cable-modem termination systems] and CCAP [converged cable access platform] equipment floating around, it becomes an edge router, which is certainly a very high-tech piece of equipment, but a standardized piece of equipment that has much better economics and more simplicity and uses a lot less heating and cooling.

SCTE Daily: What’s the business opportunity for Gainspeed? MSOs are already pushing forward aggressively with more centralized versions of the CCAP.

KP: We take the view that, no, no one is going to rip out their entire network and start from scratch. This is about identifying with our MSO partners areas where the business pressures are so large in terms of demand for IP traffic.

It’s most likely a cap-and-grow strategy, meaning in a given headend or a city where they already have significant investments of edge QAMs and CCAPs in there.  We would say, leave that in place, let it do its thing and sweat the asset, but take some of those fibers … and use them to push the intelligence out to the node and all of your growth will occur on the Gainspeed solution.

SCTE Daily: Your competitors are also starting to talk up virtualized CCAP approaches. How do you view that and how much of a lead do you have on them?

KP:  We view that very positively. We and some of our largest competitors are now coming around to the view that we all agree that the solution here is to dramatically simplify the headend and to push the intelligence into the network. What’s under debate here is about how to go about doing that.

Our approach of distributing the MAC and the PHY out on the network … doesn’t bode well for how much money you’re spending on CCAP and CMTS in the headend. A test for our competition is to what degree are they prepared to embrace disruption that would significantly challenge their existing money machine.

SCTE Daily: So, when can we expect to see a product?

KP:  We’re not yet ready to discuss the specifics. What I can tell you is we’re working very closely with all of the major MSOs and there’s tremendous energy and excitement on their side.

SCTE Daily: MSOs rarely place big bets on products from startups. How does Gainspeed expect to overcome that historic obstacle?

KP:  If we were walking in selling some commodity and we’re the fourth supplier and the other three are big companies, I think it would be a very difficult task. The reality is, we’re not walking in offering a commodity. We’re walking in helping them solve a massive and pressing business problem with this IP traffic explosion.

People are willing to buy from upstarts or young companies when the problem being solved is that severe, and in this case, it is. But that doesn’t absolve us from earning trust.