DOCSIS 4.0—touted as the foundation to 10G and next-generation cable services—is real, it's coming, and, like all innovations, it brings opportunities and challenges.
To help you understand how these challenges and opportunities could affect your business, we asked Incognito's Director of Product Lifecycle Management, Patrick Kinnerk, what it means to have a DOCSIS 4.0-enabled network and how Incognito's DOCSIS provisioning and management solution can help.
With over 25 years of cable engineering and telecommunications experience, Patrick is responsible for engineering, quality assurance, and product management for a suite of Incognito products, including our Broadband Command Center (BCC) device provisioning platform. Below, Patrick shares his thoughts on the following topics:
- DOCSIS 4.0 pains and drivers
- Consumer demands—upstream needs and latency
- The needs of operators—system impacts
- Full Duplex DOCSIS and Node+0
- Extended Spectrum DOCSIS
- Incognito's solution—Broadband Command Center (BCC)
- BCC customer benefits
DOCSIS 4.0 pains and drivers
DOCSIS 4.0 is really about bandwidth. Cable companies need to remain competitive, and their competitors often are telco companies running either fiber or fixed wireless solutions. So to stay competitive, CableLabs came up with their 10G campaign, meaning 10-Gigabit bandwidth.
With DOCSIS 4.0 mainly focused on ensuring low latency and improving bandwidth both upstream and downstream, this is future-proofing the DOCSIS technology so operators can remain competitive on their existing access network, which is a combination of fiber and coax.
Consumer demands—upstream needs and latency
Today, residential Internet use is almost a 10:1 factor downstream over upstream. So, upstream winds up being very little. However, gaming is a good example of something that's symmetrical to a certain extent—it makes more demands on the upstream. And there's a vision of the future with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) that, when those technologies reach us in a broad way, may significantly increase the upstream. So, part of what DOCSIS 4.0 does is focus on new technology to increase upstream bandwidth to get to the true 10G type of service that a fiber connection could provide.
Another aspect is low latency. Again, for consumers like gamers, the typical DOCSIS latency—approximately 30 milliseconds—is too much, and gamers don't like it and will specifically use something other than DOCSIS. So, the cable industry also wanted to focus on that problem—that image they have—of not providing good latency to people like the gaming community. That's why DOCSIS 4.0 includes a low latency mechanism that will apply to other technologies similar to gaming—future technologies like AR and VR where latency might be very important to have a good service over DOCSIS.
The needs of operators—system impacts
Like every major version of DOCSIS, this involves both hardware and software systems at the cable operators. They've got a combination of fiber and coaxial cable outside the plant to take care of. The DOCSIS 4.0 specification impacts the outside plant. It impacts the access network devices—the cable modems and the CMTS—which is the infrastructure piece. I should really say it impacts hardware, firmware, and software—all three things.
It's a big impact on their system. Some operators won't take on DOCSIS 4.0 just yet. They'll be happy to stay where they are for a little while longer, and they'll let the larger, Tier 1 operators do the initial trials, get their systems upgraded. There's a lot of lessons learned that come out of these activities, and it generally tends to be the larger companies that undertake the initial rollouts, and the rest of the industry watches them and learns from them about the best ways to make that change.
Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDX) and Node+0
There's something in DOCSIS 4.0 called Full Duplex DOCSIS. It's part of the change that allows for an increased amount of available upstream bandwidth.
Full Duplex DOCSIS moves to a flexible type of system where you can have certain parts of the frequency spectrum shared between upstream and downstream and have this kind of dynamic—to assign frequencies to be either or upstream or downstream, depending on upon need—so it greatly increases the amount of bandwidth that could be available for upstream.
Implementing it is a lot of effort, though. Full Duplex DOCSIS requires no amplifiers in the actives in the system, which is an architecture they call Node+0. This means there's a fiber node and there are zero amplifiers, and that's typically not how cable systems are built today. It's a huge expense to move from node plus, let's say five or something, where they are today—five amplifiers after the node—to Node+0. It pushes the node way deeper into the plant. There are a lot more fiber nodes, and there's a special kind of fiber node required for that, so it's a big expense for the cable operators.
What that means is it's mainly the big guys—the Tier 1s in North America—who will be the initial ones to choose certain areas to go out and do trials. They tend to get the initial equipment from the vendors so they can do their lab trials and plan a field trial.
Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD)
Because Full Duplex DOCSIS is very expensive, there are other parts of the spec that operators may turn to, like Extended Spectrum DOCSIS, which opens up additional downstream frequencies. This lets them use some of the old downstream frequencies that are lower in frequency for upstream. For some companies in some geographic areas, they may choose to do that instead of Full Duplex DOCSIS.
Incognito's solution: Broadband Command Center (BCC)
Broadband Command Center (BCC), our DOCSIS device provisioning solution, provisions the access devices—the cable modems. By "provision," I mean it creates the configuration files that those devices use to configure themselves. It includes quality of service and a whole bunch of things; a typical DOCSIS configuration for a cable modem might have many dozens—maybe upwards of 100 different—parameters included in the file.
We have an engine that builds those files for our operator customers that looks at the versions of DOCSIS that are in use on the network, both on the CMTS infrastructure side and on the access device that goes in the home—the CP equipment, which is the cable modem.
We look at the versions of these devices, and we know what they are inside our application, BCC, and at the time of provisioning, when that cable modem gets rebooted and comes online, we'll detect its DOCSIS version. We know which CMTS it's on. And we'll automatically build a configuration file that's appropriate for the version of DOCSIS in use.
That means we need to support DOCSIS 4.0 and support the kinds of configurations that DOCSIS 4.0 devices need. Most important is what I like to call our intelligent file provisioning system, which automatically detects these versions of DOCSIS and ensures the configuration is accurate for the device that's in use—we have to support that in the field.
We have to support a real scenario of there being maybe DOCSIS 3.0 CMTSs because they haven't upgraded those yet, but they're starting to deploy DOCSIS 4.0 CMs, and still delivering the right configuration file. When they start upgrading their CMTSs to DOCSIS 4.0, then we need to automatically start delivering the correct configurations for the entire DOCSIS 4.0 end-to-end network. So, our system needs to be able to live in that kind of an environment where there's a mixture of devices, old devices, new devices, old infrastructure, new infrastructure, and be able to deliver accurate files every time we're configuring it. That's the really important aspect of it for Incognito.
BCC customer benefits
Our Incognito operators want us to stay on top of these changes to the specification; they don't want us to be a barrier to them rolling out a service. They don't need to come to us and ask, "Can you support DOCSIS 4.0?" They can trust that we're staying on top of it for them.
Also, with our main competitor, customers must repurchase licensing with every major version upgrade, so there's a commercial impact to upgrading major versions of their solution. To the operator, that means if they want to support DOCSIS 4.0, there needs to be a big capital expenditure for them to upgrade on the competitor's solution. This is a driver to a lot of operators to look at other solutions, and this is an advantage Incognito offers because we don't require that additional licensing repurchase.
Another aspect of BCC 8.0 where we have some operators testing is MAP-T—mapping of address and port translation. The exhaustion of IPv4 addresses is a problem that everyone is having around the world, and MAP-T is a cost-effective alternative to CG-NAT that helps operators deal with that problem of running out of IPV 4.
With DOCSIS 4.0 on the horizon, promising the delivery of symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds while supporting high reliability, high security, and low latency, it's great to know that Incognito's BCC 8.0 solution can help you move forward on your DOCSIS journey. Its ability to work with all models, firmware versions, vendors, and whatever version of DOCSIS you're running, makes Incognito's BCC the ideal choice to support your network growth.