As with almost every network on the planet, these growing demands place enormous pressure on every part of the cable infrastructure, from the connected home and access network to the edge, data center and cloud. As a result, MSOs, like Comcast, are evolving existing networks from core to home, and Intel and its ecosystem are assisting with technologies that deliver exponential performance improvement at a lower cost. In other words, MSOs are focusing on service innovation, getting flexibility from their network infrastructure and automating that infrastructure.
One of the key questions is, “where to start?” Like the classic scene in “Lady and the Tramp,” both dogs begin munching spaghetti from opposite ends of the plate, meeting in the middle. Do MSOs tackle network transformation from opposite ends, in the home and the data center? Are there investments that can ease the pressure in other areas of the network?
Let’s ask Intel advisors how they would tackle the question: “how to transform a cable network?” Keith Wehmeyer, GM of Cable Business Line, Connected Home Division, joins me for a Q&A talk about industry-wide virtualization efforts and Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1.
Q: Why do MSOs need to consider virtualization?
Dan Rodriguez: In order to meet bandwidth and service demands, we believe MSOs must transform their infrastructure into multigigabit, distributed, symmetrical, virtualized, and converged networks. This means that networks will be able to handle many different types of traffic over several access technologies and manage these streams and resulting services in a cost-effective manner.
While these next-generation networks must do more, MSOs will have to simplify the architecture and use open platforms and technologies. Virtualization supports the distribution of network functions closer to the customer, putting intelligence and high-powered computing where it’s needed most.
Virtualizing your network also helps to reduce power and footprint by leveraging the latest data center technologies and economies of scale. MSOs can flexibly add new software-based services in response to real time conditions on top of standard server platforms. And these software based services are being built more quickly on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) on open network elements delivered by a broad ecosystem.
Q: How should companies get started with virtualization in the cable infrastructure?
Dan Rodriguez: As the industry starts to implement a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA), it essentially involves migrating legacy centralized architecture, such as DOCSIS MAC and DOCSIS PHY, to a remote PHY and a Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) core. This in turn paves a path to virtualizing other parts of the CCAP.
We believe the immediate virtualization opportunities are virtualized CCAP (vCCAP) and Remote PHY due to the CapEx savings potential.
By adding intelligence, computing power and virtualized network functions (VNFs) at the cable head end, MSOs can deploy Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) servers to reduce network footprint, power consumption and CapEx costs. Once they have this NFV infrastructure in place, MSOs can add new types of access capabilities (ex. WiFi, CBRS, etc.) or deliver new services, content, games, retail, home automation and more, by simply running new types of VNFs from a large and growing ecosystem.
In parallel to the virtualization efforts at the head end, Remote PHY at the nodes offers a path to DAA and increases bandwidth by pushing programmable, digital nodes to within a few hundred meters of the home, which sets the stage for Full Duplex (FDX) DOCSIS.
Will virtualization deliver benefits for cable companies regardless of size?
Dan Rodriguez: Virtualization offers equal opportunities for every network operator. The industry is focused on open standards that allow operators to tap into best-of-breed technologies from a broad ecosystem of suppliers. Virtualization also gives cable operators the ability to deliver new services to their customers while maintaining the flexibility to manage the network and the ability to automate the network.
Q: Dan mentioned that virtualization sets the stage for Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX DOCSIS). Why is it important that the cable industry invests in this technology?
Keith Wehmeyer: As I shared in a previous blog, Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 is the next major advancement in cable technology that makes it possible to deliver more bandwidth for more services to the home and to enterprises.
It enables simultaneous gigabit upstream and multigigabit downstream, all over the same frequency spectrum, and Intel is playing a key role in its specification and development.
It’s also important to note that an FPGA-based Remote PHY makes it possible to evolve to a highly distributed network and support FDX DOCSIS to its fullest extent. At the ANGA COM conference in May 2017, Intel and Cisco showcased the first FDX DOCSIS demonstration from cloud to client to illustrate the exciting possibilities of this new technology.
Q: What new FDX DOCSIS features have Intel and Cisco showcased?
Keith Wehmeyer: At the recent SCTE CABLE-TEC conference, Intel and Cisco demonstrated how FDX DOCSIS Specifications enable smart scheduling of FDX Cable Modem traffic to avoid co-channel interference between neighboring modems. Specifically, Interference Groups (IG) are automatically identified using the new isolation sounding methods to measure and predict the interference.
These are important advancements because co-channel interference would otherwise disrupt FDX DOCSIS traffic, which uses simultaneous, bi-directional transmissions across the same spectrum at the same time.
Inference Group Discovery protocol is a new capability introduced in FDX DOCSIS that enables the CCAP to use Continuous Wave sounding to measure cable modem to cable modem interference (or RF insolation) and then group neighboring modems into Interference Groups. The CCAP orchestrates the procedure where cable modems transmit sounding signals that are received and measured by other modems, with the results being aggregated in the CCAP to enable smart scheduling.
FDX DOCSIS requires modems in each IG to transmit/receive along the same direction at any given frequency and time. Cable modems from different IGs have enough “RF isolation” to allow simultaneous upstream and downstream transmissions at the same frequency.
The Continuous Wave sounding method and Interference Group concepts support the simultaneous operation of DOCSIS 3.1 and FDX DOCSIS cable modems on same downstream spectrum. Given the growing number of DOCSIS 3.1 modems deployed, this is another important step toward making FDX DOCSIS operational. MSOs can extend existing investments while deploying new FDX DOCSIS modems over time.
Q: How can people learn more about these advancements?
Keith Wehmeyer: Read the whitepaper "Multigigabit Speed and Symmetrical Data Service with Full Duplex DOCSIS"
Watch a video about how Intel and Cisco are collaborating on Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1.
Read the virtual CMTS whitepaper: “Maximizing the Performance of DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 Processing on Intel® Xeon® Processors”