Growth Architectures: Built to Last, Built to Launch (2014)

By Dr. Robert L. Howald, Vice President of Network Architecture, Comcast

Since the introduction of DOCSIS in the late 90’s, cable operators have embarked on an aggressive phase of enhancing existing services and adding new ones. The triple play and the tipping point of mass HD soon followed DOCSIS, and bigger and better service offerings continue today with the addition of whole-home services, multi-screen video, vast on-demand libraries, Wi-Fi access points, and cloud DVR (cDVR). Ironically, while the transparent nature of better services is testimony to the tremendous flexibility of the HFC architecture, it can be perceived by customers as a lack of attention to investment in network upgrades – i.e. out-of-sight, out-of-mind – whereby other would-be service providers announce network installations often with extensive media fanfare. Of course, this perception of cable system evolution is far from the reality. Referencing the launch of DOCSIS means that this renewed phase of investment has been going on for about 15 years. In many cases, upgrades are required simply to keep pace with uninterrupted traffic growth. While today’s incremental upgrade approach has been effective, the trend of needing to deliver even more and at an accelerated pace makes this approach less cost effective and less practical going forward. In essence, the necessary pace of service evolution exceeds that of conventional network evolution. Instead, an even more aggressive response aligned with the pace of technology change and service demand is required – and it must take place with at least the same transparency to the end user achieved today. Operators have cost effectively evolved HFC since its inception, relying on a proven, robust, and flexible architecture able to adroitly match architecture and technology to service evolution and are evaluating the avenues and timing for the next phase of network investment. A key objective going forward is to address evolution comprehensively, synergistically, and proactively in anticipation of next-generation service and customer expectations. Alignment across all impacted areas – Headend/Hub, access network, CPE, and cloud/software – will maximize ROI, create agility and service velocity, and optimize the customer experience. There are many simultaneous and interdependent parts to assess given the pace of consumer demand and technology change. In this paper, operator guidance reflecting key areas around services, technology, architecture and system engineering will be discussed. Operators have important bets to place to be prepared for the future, and will team with key industry partners to help drive the continuous improvement of the customer experience enabled by sound investment strategies. This paper will outline operator thinking around future network evolution paths, and offer insight to solution partners in order to fulfill this mission.

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