Fresh off numerous product and deployment announcements at SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo, and following results from our survey of 35 global cable operators, it is becoming clear that 2018 will be an inflection-point year for distributed access architectures, or DAAs, including remote physical layer, and remote media access control physical layer.
In a survey fielded earlier this year by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, we asked cable operators when they planned to deploy a DAA. We found that 17% plan to begin deploying by the end of this year, and that 34% would begin doing so in 2018. An additional 26% said they would begin deploying in 2019 or later. All of these time frames are perfectly feasible and currently in line with early deployment announcements, as well as publicly announced plans for future deployments.
The idea of distributing headend or hub site network elements closer to subscribers has been around for a number of years. Beginning with the modular cable modem termination system architecture as defined by CableLabs in 2005, separation of the MAC and PHY elements of a CMTS were proposed, ostensibly to help reduce overall system cost, but also to provide cable operators with architectural flexibility with the location of their network elements. Now, with cable operators looking to improve the efficiency of their hybrid fiber coaxial, or HFC, networks while increasing the amount of bandwidth they can provide through node segmentation or upgrading, moving to DAA becomes a critical tool in improving the overall efficiency of HFC plants.
No matter the proposed technology, the primary goal of moving to a DAA is to allow the HFC plant to become digital. Historically, the forward path (downstream) in HFC networks used analog optics, while the reverse path (upstream) used a mix of analog and digital. Moving to digital optics becomes part of the equation when cable operators are weighing the costs of segmenting or splitting their optical nodes. Currently, the average HFC architecture is node + 5, meaning an optical node followed by five separate amplifiers. Over time, operators are pushing fiber deeper into their access networks, reducing the number of amplifiers from five all the way down to one or even zero.Indeed, operators do see deployment of DAA technologies being part of long-term, deep fiber strategies. Our survey results clearly show the connection, with 61% of respondents saying that one important business factor impacting their decision to deploy DAA is it being part of their deep fiber strategy.
There is no question that cable operators will have to push fiber closer to end customers to improve bandwidth by reducing the number of amplifiers required and improving the signal-to-noise ratio, or SNR, along their spans. Ultimately, the end goal for most cable operators is to push fiber as close to the premises as possible, either using full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 technology for the last 250 feet, or moving to full fiber-to-the-home. DAA starts them on that path while providing the benefits of improved HFC efficiency and more space in their headends for data center equipment.