Cisco exec says too many DOCSIS options are clouding cable’s future

Cable has its work cut out fending off advances from fiber overbuilders, but Cisco CTO of Broadband Technologies John Chapman warned a long list of DOCSIS options could slow operator decision-making and, ultimately, deployments of next generation technology.

Operators looking to upgrade their networks currently have a fairly wide range of DOCSIS flavors to choose from. In addition to DOCSIS 3.1, there are variations of DOCSIS 4.0, including extended spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) and full duplex DOCSIS (FDX). And beyond that, either 4.0 version can be delivered using a Remote PHY or Remote MAC-PHY distributed access architecture (DAA) setup.   

While it might seem counterintuitive that more choice would be a problem, Chapman explained the cable operator base is divided over how to move forward. That’s an issue in a market that is much smaller than it used to be and now only big enough to support “probably one solution,” he argued.

“It used to be when you upgraded DOCSIS, all you did was upgrade DOCSIS,” he said. “Now, you’ve got a coupling of a DOCSIS technology combined with a coupling of a DAA technology combined with an upgraded HFC plant and, by the way, combined with a choice of silicon. So all four of those things have to line up for something to happen. And I think that’s really a formula for a slowdown in the cable marketplace.”

RELATED: Fiber is all the rage but DOCSIS isn’t dead: CableLabs

Chapman continued “If you line up all those variables, all the different technologies and all the people that are attached to it and the money and the operational challenges, you can see how it slows down the decision-making.”

From a vendor perspective, Chapman said a lack of consensus from cable operators about how they plan to move forward means “investment decisions are very hard.” While there used to be a clear direction on where things were headed with DOCSIS so everyone could invest in the same thing, now it’s “very easy to pick the wrong thing.” On top of that, there’s also less of a market for each of the technologies, he said.

He added these challenges around DOCSIS deployments are cropping up right as the industry is seeing an acceleration in adoption of passive optical network (PON) technology. Chapman pointed to decisions from operators in Asia, Europe and North America to migrate to PON.

Even for operators who do decide to shift to PON, “DOCSIS probably has another 10 years left in it, if not longer, because you don’t overbuild overnight.” But in order to solve for the current challenges around DOCSIS, he argued operators need to form a consensus on the path ahead or risk both delays and losing vendors which have decided they’re unwilling to sink money into products that may not pay off.

“I think the bottom line is the secret to success for DOCSIS has been a very robust vendor community. Vendors who are able to weather the storm and make investments and always invest in what the next best thing is so it’ll be there for the operators. And that today is a challenge,” he concluded.