By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Marketing
A couple of weeks have passed since this year’s SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia, so now is a good time to reflect on the show, the major themes in the conference tracks and the progress this industry has made over the last 12 months. The city of Atlanta did an excellent job of smoothly hosting the 10,000+ attendees, taking a major event like this in its stride. While it’s too early yet for the official figures from the organizers, the event this year felt even bigger than in previous years, and the excitement around Distributed Access Architectures (DAA) seemed to be even higher.
With the cable industry on the cusp of a move to fiber deep networks, DAA was understandably the major topic of discussion at SCTE, as well as the main theme in Infinera’s presence at the expo and conference. As cable multiple-systems operators (MSOs) have progressed their DAA plans over the last 12 months and vendors have pushed forward product development, the focus this year was on the deeper details of DAA. With this focus, alongside our usual range of demos, Infinera demonstrated solutions to overcome key cable MSO challenges that must be addressed for DAA to achieve its potential as a game-changing architecture. Three of the main challenges that need to be addressed are:
- Operational simplicity and scale: We chose SCTE as the launch venue for our new High-Density Ethernet Aggregator (HDEA) as the platform brings considerable advantages to DAA aggregation nodes where hundreds of 10 gigabits per second (10G) circuits from Remote PHY devices (RPDs) or Remote MAC/PHY devices (RMDs) will need to be efficiently aggregated. With an innovative mechanical design that gives up to 20-fold savings in intra-rack fibers, combined with double the density and half the power consumption per gigabit of competitive solutions, the live HDEA demo was a real draw.
- The proliferation of dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) in the access network: Fiber deep DAA brings many advantages but pushes DWDM out to hundreds of RPD/RMDs from each secondary hub or aggregation node, resulting in significantly more installation complexity and the potential for a huge logistical and planning nightmare. Our Auto-Lambda technology brings autotuneability to DWDM optics and enables installers and maintenance teams to treat these optics as if they were uncolored grey optics with a single product code for every site, with no need for any knowledge of wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) or specific WDM installation procedures. Our Auto-Lambda demo showed dual-ended operation with both ends in third-party switches with automatic tuning to any wavelength. On the surface it was quite a simple demo, which to be honest wasn’t that exciting to watch – but that is exactly what people want: a simple solution that takes away all the usual complexity and risk. You plug the optics into any chosen WDM filter port, stand back and chat about how the technology works and the benefits it can bring and hey presto, within a few minutes the link is up, fully automatically. The main reaction to this zero-touch provisioning of tuneable DWDM optics was, “Wow, why didn’t we have this a few years ago?!”. We can only apologize for not having thought up the solution to this problem even earlier.
- Advanced network control: DAA will require advanced network control options. Specific operator strategies vary, but many are looking at spine-and-leaf switching and the Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter (CORD) or Headend Re-Architected as a Datacenter (HERD) initiatives. Our HDEA and other XTM Series packet-optical switches all have an OpenFlow management option, which we utilized along with Open Network Operating System (ONOS) open source controller software to create a demo spine-and-leaf CORD network from virtual RPDs, through the switched transport network to the virtual Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP). This network showed how a Layer 2 packet-optical network can perform higher-layer routing functions such as segment routing in a spine-and-leaf architecture, while maintaining all the performance benefits of Layer 2 packet-optical, such as optimized space and power, low latency and 5G-quality timing and synchronization delivery.
The conference side of the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo was also extremely active, with a lot of discussion around DAA and up-and-coming trends that will impact the cable community. We were highly engaged here, with four speaking slots addressing network automation and artificial intelligence, network programmability, the challenges and opportunities of 5G for cable MSOs and optical networking innovation for DAA.
Overall, it was another busy week at SCTE, with lots of engagement with current and prospective customers. It will be very interesting to see the progress the industry will have made over the next 12 months when we all reconvene in New Orleans for what will be the 50th anniversary of the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. There are very few industry events that can claim a 50th anniversary, so it should be quite a party!