How DOCSIS 3.1 is Changing the Cable MSO Market

DOCSIS 3.1 is helping cable MSOs expand the services they offer.

Now that DOCSIS 3.1 has been out for a few years, it’s becoming more clear how this latest-generation cable modem specification is changing the multiple-system operator (MSO) market. Mainly, of course, the technology allows cable MSOs to to deliver gigabit broadband using existing hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) infrastructure with relatively minimal upgrade investment. Here’s how that’s playing out in the marketplace.

New capabilities lead to new business opportunities

Oddly enough, enthusiasm around DOCSIS 3.1 is more muted than it was for 3.0, given that it’s a major upgrade involving changes that enable 10 times increase in bandwidth. Perhaps not with that much fanfare, however, this capability is nonetheless allowing cable MSOs to expand up-market with sophisticated business and residential services. Support for up to 10 Gbit/s downstream and 1 Gbit/s upstream open up some some pretty interesting business opportunities, such as cloud-based services, enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS), high-bandwidth branch access to data centers, and over-the-top (OTT) managed services to remote locations.

And that’s not the only benefit touted by founding developer CableLabs, which also include the ability to transmit up to 50 percent more data over the same spectrum on existing HFC networks, and increased modem energy efficiency using advanced management protocols. Together, these and other features have the potential to help cable MSOs position themselves as providers of choice for high-speed internet connections and applications.

The effect of these capabilities will only deepen when a ‘full duplex’ version of the specification—announced last February and still in innovation-project mode—is eventually released. That upgrade allow use of the full cable plant spectrum upstream and downstream simultaneously.

QoE features increase the need for service monitoring and assurance

Another notable feature of DOCSIS 3.1 is its use of software-defined (SD-WAN), paired with software-defined networking (SDN) and new quality of service (QoS) capabilities—most notably, its use of active queue management to reduce delay and improve responsiveness for bandwidth-intensive, latency-sensitive applications. These enable new cloud- and software-based managed service opportunities. For example, firewall-secured branch internet connectivity to a public cloud can reduce cost and accelerate performance to corporate data centers. Such services are also the final straw to poach entry-level fiber-based services and legacy MPLS offerings and make MSOs a bigger competitor in the premium business services market.

The trick is, MSOs must be able to commit to guaranteed uptime, bandwidth availability, and rapid mean time to repair (MTTR) if they hope to succeed in the enterprise market. Sophisticated performance assurance visibility is necessary to meet business service level agreements (SLAs), and make the most of the QoS specification. Because cloud connectivity and software-as-a-service applications are operationally crucial, businesses are more concerned about performance and reliability than pure bandwidth. Therefore GbE services must be on par with fiber-based offerings.

But, as great as DOCSIS 3.1 is, cable modems still don’t offer integrated performance monitoring, service turn-up testing, and operations and maintenance (OAM) demarcation. Today, services require a multi-box solution to deliver network services and service OAM (SOAM). Such features must somehow be added, without also piling on a burdensome level of CapEx and OpEx to the equation.

Accedian can help in this area; we’ve been very successful working with MSOs on the use of network functions virtualization (NFV) to deliver network interface device (NID) functionality in a small, programmable module that adds the missing assurance features mentioned above. It’s a lightweight, quickly deployed way to assure the full business services over DOCSIS (BSoD) lifecycle.