Comcast says SDN network could allow businesses to control bandwidth

Now that it deployed an SDN network, Comcast Business says it sees an opportunity to enable its customers to automatically scale up and down the bandwidth they need.

While the service provider had not laid out a timeline yet, Comcast is confident that it could equip customers with universal customer premises equipment (CPE) that could support any speed.

Jeff Lewis, vice president for data product management at Comcast Business, told FierceTelecom that such a configuration is something the company is looking at as the next evolution of how it serves business customers.

RELATED: Comcast Business pairs new SD-WAN offering with 1 Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 business data services

Lewis Comcast Business Image: Comcast
Jeff Lewis

“If you put a gig interface against a universal CPE, you can throttle that universal CPE Ethernet port to whatever speed Comcast Business wants,” Lewis said. “I can allow the customer through software to adjust that speed.”

Lewis added that while the service provider does not characterize it so much as bandwidth on demand, the capability would effectively enable customers to have necessary speeds when they want them.

“We need the customers to tell us how they want to experience this,” Lewis said. “That’s the part we need to get our arms around, but you can envision a network where a customer does not run out of speed and through software you can always sense when you’re at a threshold.”

At the heart of the service is Comcast Business' ActiveCore SDN platform, which the cable MSO is touting as one of the first cable-delivered, gigabit-ready SDN platforms.

Leveraging an SDN construct, Comcast said that ActiveCore delivers new services and network changes via software rather than through individually-managed and customized hardware.

This development comes on the heels of the service provider’s recent expansion of its DOCSIS 3.1-enabled business services in the Western U.S., including California, Colorado, Houston, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

By completing this latest rollout of its gigabit-speed network, Comcast’s “Business Internet 1 Gig” and “Business Internet 500” speed tiers are now available to business customers in the West, Central, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast service areas using the company’s existing DOCSIS-based network.

The service tiers complement existing gigabit and multi-gigabit options already available to Comcast Business customers, including Comcast Business Ethernet, which the company launched in, and has been expanding nationally since 2011. Ethernet services can support speeds of up to 100 Gbps over fiber.

Lewis said that Comcast Business has gigabit speeds across most of its footprint, but it needs to expand its cable modem termination system (CMTS) deeper into its markets.

“We’re gig-capable almost everywhere across our footprint, but our CMTS depth needs to grow,” Lewis said. “By the end of the first quarter of 2018, we will be substantially covered across our footprint.”

Revamping business CPE

In tandem with enabling business customers to control their bandwidth experience, Comcast Business is also adjusting its CPE device design.

In the business segment, Comcast Business has traditionally equipped its business customers with its business wireless gateway (BWG).

While the BWG supports several features, including a cable modem, 2-line voice, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi for businesses, Lewis said that the device was an evolution of the device it uses for residential DOCSIS customers.

“The BWG was a residential product we adjusted through software enhancements to fit the business customer’s needs like adding static IP capability,” Lewis said.

When Comcast’s residential team began developing the XV6 device for DOCSIS 3.1 deployments, the business services team recognized that its needs were quite different.

“What was being looked at for use in for a resident’s home was no longer looking like what we wanted to deliver to a business,” Lewis said. “We rationalized our own set of requirements, worked with the exact same development team, which brought the CBR to market.”

Along with having different features, the CBR also includes an industrial design that that can be either wall mounted or put in a telecom closet with brackets.

Lewis said that the goal is to have a common device to accommodate any business customer’s DOCSIS 3.1 speed profile.

“What we’re looking forward to with this device is for any customer that wants to avail themselves of DOCSIS 3.1 we want to standardize as quickly where we use the exact same device regardless of speed for an enterprise customer,” Lewis said. “It will also enable easier troubleshooting because if we’re dealing with only one box it makes troubleshooting a lot easier.”

Right-sizing speeds

By having a broader set of CPE options, the service provider is looking for opportunities to match customers with the right-sized bandwidth and price options.

Although there’s a lot of talk in the broadband community about symmetrical speeds, Comcast Business is finding that some smaller business customers are happy with a 1 Gbps/35 Mbps offering.

The more likely customer profile that needs symmetrical speeds would be a large business customer that would purchase a fiber-based Ethernet product.

“What we’re finding is an awful lot of customers like our product because of the way DOCSIS is delivered today is 1 Gbps over 35 Mbps,” Lewis said. “A 35 Mbps upstream speed is working for a lot of customers who are very happy with it.”

Lewis added “that we’re satisfying what a lot of small business customers are looking for.”

However, Comcast Business envisions the idea of providing SMBs with a universal device that would allow the customer to increase bandwidth remotely.

“I want to get to a point where a customer that orders 150 Mbps gets a CBR device,” Lewis said. “As we build up our volume and start pushing it further out lower in the speed tier lineup, these customers can grow with us and you never need to disrupt what the customer is doing.”