CommScope ships 1M amps, foreshadowing DOCSIS 4.0 upgrade wave

Cable vendor CommScope revealed it shipped more than 1 million radio frequency amplifiers in 2022. While that might not sound like a lot in an industry with billions in revenue and tens of millions of subscribers, Dell'Oro Group VP Jeff Heynen said it’s likely one-and-a-half to two times what CommScope would ship in a normal year and is just a foretaste of what’s to come as DOCSIS 4.0 upgrade work begins to ramp.

“That’s a significant jump over what you normally would see in a traditional year of just normal plant expansion and upgrades and usual replacements of failing amplifiers,” Heynen told Fierce. “We all know what Comcast and Charter’s plans are, but this must mean that there’s a ton of other work going on with respect to node splits and also operators upgrading from 850 [MHz] to 1.2 [GHz] without necessarily doing full duplex or extended spectrum [DOCSIS 4.0]” in order to fend off competition from fiber providers and lay the groundwork for future upgrades.

CommScope didn’t provide a regional breakdown for its shipment tally and doesn’t report Q4 2022 earnings until next week. But if its reports from the first three quarters of the year are any indication, the majority of those amplifiers likely went to U.S. customers. From Q1 to Q3, U.S. sales accounted for around 60% of CommScope’s quarterly revenue.

It’s worth noting that CommScope’s shipments don’t appear to have included any DOCSIS 4.0 amplifiers, with the company stating in a release it is “currently evolving” its product lines to support both the extended spectrum and full duplex variants of DOCSIS 4.0. In September, CommScope VP of Product and Strategy Craig Coogan told Fierce it planned to launch a 1.8 GHz amp sometime this year and confirmed work on a full duplex amp was underway.

Given CommScope’s Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) business is starting to stall as operators increasingly move to virtualized CCAPs, Heynen said the likely motivation behind the vendor’s announcement is to position itself as a strong contender in the amplifier space ahead of a massive upgrade cycle. Indeed, he noted CommScope is already likely the largest amplifier provider in the world.

In the extended spectrum realm, Heynen tipped CommScope to be up against ATX and Teleste. But its likely competitors in the full duplex space are less clear and Heynen said it will be interesting to see who emerges as a challenger on that front.

“This is a lot of amplifiers for a single vendor but I really think we’re just in the early stages of this massive outside plant upgrade cycle for DOCSIS 4.0,” Heynen concluded. “So this is really just a precursor to what’s about to happen.”