CableLabs and the Cloud

Cloud technology was front and center at the CableLabs Winter Conference.

CableLabs Winter Conference — one of the cable industry’s biggest events in North America — is over for another year. While a number of topics dominated the event, this year the biggest eye-opener for me was the prevalence of “the cloud” in vendor discussions. No matter where you looked, cloud-based technology seemed to be front and center, with some 20 vendors discussing the cloud, software-defined networking (SDN), or network-functions virtualization (NFV). There was cloud gaming, cloud-based intelligence solutions, cloud app development, cloud delivery of services (video and voice), cloud-based virtual home networking, cloud TV solutions, cloud DVR, and even talk of cloud-based CMTS solutions… you get the picture.

Out of these discussions, I thought CableLabs President and CTO Phil McKinney touched on one of the more interesting ideas during his keynote address. He discussed a “proof of concept” activity that CableLabs had recently undertaken, whereby a typical DOCSIS device with embedded home gateway functionality was broken down into separate cloud-based appliances. This experiment essentially moved pure software functionality from the device in the home — where it is today — into the cloud.

As my colleague Ladi commented at the time, it would be interesting to know what customer-premises equipment (CPE) vendors thought about this concept. But Mr. McKinney’s discussion highlights a wider trend and disruption that’s already happening in the software world. If vendors don’t embrace the shift towards cloud technology, they may be left behind. It’s quite possible that many of these cloud-based innovations will not happen any time soon — and in fact, some may never see the light of day — but it’s clear that CableLabs, its members, and the vendor community are already investing a lot of thought and time into this area.

WiFi was another key topic at the conference. CableLabs dedicated two of their four tables to teams addressing WiFi and many other vendors also discussed WiFi-based solutions. Community WiFi solutions, video delivery over WiFi, and several WiFi access point solutions were among the concepts that stood out. And combining the two most pervasive conference topics, there were a couple of vendors talking about cloud-based WiFi systems that allow operators visibility and management in the home network.

Finally, TR-069 was the topic du jour at our table and the subject of many conversations. There was a lot of interest in how this Broadband Forum family of protocols — once the domain of the telco world — can be applied to the cable industry to allow for greater visibility and control over CPEs. I think Ladi, our demo presenter extraordinaire, will be reciting his demo speech in his sleep for while yet — I know I am still hearing it in mine!

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