Converged cable, wireless networks inch closer to reality

DENVER — After more than decade of discussions about the promise of convergence, panelists at a Light Reading breakfast event held in conjunction with the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2023 conference say the truly converged cable and wireless network is finally inching closer to reality.  

Steve Williams, group VP, access network operations at Charter Communications, opened the session by talking about the benefits of convergence, such as having a more complete view of the customer experience across all managed elements and networks and being able to launch unique and differentiated services that aren’t available over disparate networks.

However, Williams added that there are a lot of factors to consider first. For example, will your services transfer well between the disparate networks and technologies? And, perhaps more importantly, what is the customer experience like when the networks are converged?

Nevertheless, Williams said that he believes there are some early success stories for convergence, including Charter’s mobile speed boost, which allows Spectrum Mobile customers to receive speeds up to 1 Gbps on their Spectrum Mobile smartphones when inside their homes, even when their provisioned wireline internet speed is less than a gigabit.

More operators are experimenting with converged workloads, according to Robert Wilmoth, chief architect, North America service provider team for Red Hat. “We’ve seen an uptick in service providers wanting to run converged workloads whenever they want,” he said.

But there is still a lot to learn about how converged networks handle network performance issues such as latency. Jhuli Takahara, product and innovation manager at Incognito said that her company is working on a solution that would allow converged fiber and wireless networks to manage latency between one access network and the other and also allow operators to measure usage on one network vs the other network.

Plus, operators still need to be able to have a converged view of the network so they can see what is happening with the applications as well as the network usage. “The role of the application provider is to ride on these converged networks and create a good customer experience,” said Victor Esposito, SVP engineering and network operations at Ritter Communications.

Converged 5G network core?

Currently, U.S. cable mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) do not converge with the 5G network core of the underlying mobile network operator. However, according to Randy Levensalor, principal architect with Cablelabs, the R&D facility is looking at ways to merge  with the mobile operator 5G network core because that type of sharing will allow for better management of the radio assets the MVNOs are deploying in their CBRS spectrum. In addition, a converged 5G core may be necessary so MVNOs can learn key information about their mobile customers that can’t be found by monitoring the subscriber management system alone.

This will be a choice that cable MVNOs will have to make at some point, Levensalor added.

Another key question is whether cable operators will always need an MVNO relationship with a mobile network operator or will they at some point be able to just have convergence with the in-home Wi-Fi network and small cells riding on their CBRS spectrum. Levensalor said he believes that the cable MVNOs will always need to have partnerships with mobile network operators and/or satellite providers. Although he thinks cable MVNOs will be able to one day offload the majority of their traffic onto small cells and the Wi-Fi network, he said there will always be large open areas where small cells won’t make sense and there won’t be any network coverage except for cellular or satellite.