Cable Ops Poised for Push Into Virtualization, Distributed Architectures

61% of MSOs plan to kick off efforts by end of 2018, Kagan Research survey says (Updated)

Facing demands for more bandwidth coupled with competitive threats, the majority of cable operators, or 61%, plan to start virtualizing their Converged Cable Access Platforms (CCAPs) or begin the shift to a distributed access architecture (DAA) by the end of 2018, a new survey says.

Citing a survey of 35 cable operators around the world representing 82 million broadband subscribers, Kagan Research also found that 54% of MSOs expect to deliver average downstream speeds of between 101 Mbps and 500 Mbps by the end of 2018, with another 25% expected to deliver averages of  501 Mbps to 1 Gbps-plus by then. From a geographic standpoint, 60% of the survey results came way of MSOs in Europe, 26% from North America, 3% from the Middle East and Africa and 11% from the Asia Pacific region.

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While the move to a virtual CCAP will allow MSOs to use off-the-shelf hardware in tandem with software-powered systems, DAA will boost spectral efficiency by distributing the CCAP electronics closer to subscribers at the edge of the HFC network. About 34% of the MSOs surveyed said they plan to pursue a (DAA) strategy in 2018, with another 26% planning to do so in 2019 or later, the study found.

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SNL Kagan expects virtual CCAP revenues to reach $13.8 million this year, and rise to about $671 million by 2021.

Cable operators will also be looking add capacity. By the end of 2018, 66% of MSOs surveyed said they expect to have either 1.2  GHz or more of spectral capacity in their cable plant. While some MSOs, like Cox Communications, have already built out plan to 1 GHz, many others are built out to 750 MHz or 860 MHz. Kagan Research said 49% of MSOs currently average 860 MHz of spectrum.

The additional capacity afforded by a move to 1 GHz or more could be used toward other services and spectrum for the next-gen DOCSIS 3.1 platform, which will enable multi-gigabit speeds.  A Full Duplex enhancement will support symmetrical multi-gigabit broadband speeds on the HFC plant.

RELATED: ‘Full Duplex’ DOCSIS Speeds Ahead

“Cable operators, by and large, will rely on their existing HFC plant and DOCSIS to increase the bandwidth and broadband services they offer their subscribers over the next few years, Jeff Heynen, senior research analyst at Kagan, said in a statement. “With DOCSIS 3.1, distributed access, and full duplex, MSOs have a number of technology options to remain broadband leaders without having to move to full FTTH.”

Update: In an interview, Heynen said 50% of respondents planned to start deploying Full Duplex by 2020, and 10% said they had no plans yet to roll it out.

While most MSOs intend to deploy FTTH in a targeted way, one exception is Altice USA, which has an aggressive plan underway to deploy an all-fiber access network across the bulk of its domestic footprint.

RELATED: Altice USA In a ‘Unique Spot’ For FTTP Upgrade

Heynen agreed that Altice is an outlier in that respect, in that only a small percentage of MSO respondents indicated having significant interest in FTTP, with 91% saying that 20% or less of their residential base was being served by the technology. Most MSOs, he said, are more focused on extending the life of their HFC plant.