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21 November 2019

DAA certification scrutinized; GAP approached with caution

Throwing together a panel of operators and vendors is always a recipe for a well-balanced discussion, but nothing beats a vendor telling an operator how it is. Tempers were close to boiling over on the topic of certification during a session at Cable Congress 2019, as a vendor – which by its own admission was out of place at a cable event – declared “stop buying uncertified products.”

As highlighted in last week’s issue, convergence between cable and mobile was an important topic in Berlin. It was therefore fitting for US telco equipment supplier Ciena to have a place on a distributed access architecture (DAA) panel and it was even more appropriate that the vendor had the loudest voice. Ciena’s Chief Architect of MSO Practice, Fernando Villarruel, previously of Cisco, criticized cable operators directly for contributing to the slower than expected progress of DAA deployments by buying into uncertified products.

“You need a certified CMTS (cable modem termination system) in the network, right. Certification adds value and this forces interoperability,” he commented, raising one of the most poignant points of the entire event. And that’s before the discussion moved onto the contentious topic of Generic Access Platform (GAP), which we’ll touch on further down.

For the past few years, cable industry insiders have been saying next year will be the year DAA deployments will ramp up, and the same story was true at this year’s Cable Congress – pointing to 2020 as DAA’s year. That said, broadband equipment vendors are reluctant to give away their position in the market despite the “great work being done by CableLabs”.

In fact, Danish operator Stofa, which began its DAA roll out three and a half years ago, declared that anything other than CommScope equipment was “simply not good enough” after testing DAA technologies from a variety of vendors. That may have been the case in 2016 and even 2017 but others are catching up, notably Harmonic and Teleste to name just two.

Stofa is due to complete its DAA roll out by 2021 but admitted in some regions fiber will replace cable. Today it has 600 Arris E6000 R-PHY nodes in the field, targeting 1,300 by 2021, as well as three CCAP sites from CommScope, supported by Teleste amplifiers.

“There is an issue with interoperability, particularly in North America,” bemoaned Stofa’s Head of Network Technology, Kjeld Blamer. He talked about Stofa’s ambitious triple rollout comprising DAA, DOCSIS 3.1 and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD).

ESD is one technique on the road to Full Duplex DOCSIS (10 Gbps up, 10 Gbps down), along with Ultra-High-Split technology and continued development of fundamental 20-year old data transmission techniques. ESD allows for 600 MHz more spectrum on existing HFC networks, boosting from 1.2 GHz available under the current DOCSIS 3.1 standard, up to 1.8 GHz. CableLabs assures that adding ESD requirements to DOCSIS 4.0 specifications is a priority for 4.0 working groups – paving the way for Gigabit symmetrical services.

“Prices will go down when products are standardized and it’s important to do the right thing by getting CableLabs certification on DAA DOCSIS 3.1, but as a small Danish operator we don’t have much influence,” he added, in a comment directed at the larger beasts in the room like Vodafone.

Stofa said it currently has 205,000 subscribers on DOCSIS lines and a further 400,000 on FTTH.

Elsewhere on the panel, Swedish operator Tele2, which recently engulfed Com Hem, kicked off its DAA project in early 2017 when it switched from Cisco to Harmonic and now claims to have nearly completed its full migration to DAA. Vodafone came a bit later, laying out plans and testing options around mid-2017 and then selecting a vendor in late 2018, before commencing field trials this year. Vodafone Germany’s Architect of Fixed Access Network Engineering, Tino Muders, said Vodafone is planning to deploy a “substantial” distributed cable access architecture early next year.

Time constraints meant we had to rush over the fledgling GAP topic in just a couple of minutes, the network access platform concept created by the SCTE together with the ISBE in mid-2018 to ease node deployments through a common interface framework.

Panelists at Cable Congress 2019 conveyed a mixed bag of opinions. Tele2 and Stofa were both quick to dismiss their interest in the technology, declaring the industry should not standardize the size and shape of technologies – referring to GAP’s focus on developing physical, thermal, mechanical and electrical interfaces for node housings.

Vodafone Germany, meanwhile, is on the fence. “GAP is North American centric, so the technology is less applicable here than in Europe, but we see some attractive proposition,” noted Muders.

From the vendor perspective, there are concerns that GAP could hinder innovation rather than encourage it as the joint SCTE-ISBE initiative claims it will. GAP working groups – led by Charter, Cox, Liberty Global and Shaw Communications – aim to improve time to market for HFC technologies including DOCSIS, WiFi, PON and 5G.

Expect more controversy around GAP in the coming years as our initial observations are that European operators and even US vendors are approaching the standardized platform with extreme caution.