Cisco's exec: DOCSIS 3.1's many 'knobs' create flexibility and potential trouble

NEW ORLEANS -- Vendors and operators alike have raved about the technological flexibility that the new DOCSIS 3.1 standard for cable networks affords cable operators. However, that level of control adds a level of complexity that could create challenges for engineers as they adapt to the new standard, said Ron Hranac, technical leader of Cisco Systems' cable access business unit.

"There are a lot of knobs for optimizing configuration that can be turned the wrong way," he said.

Hranac's word of caution stood out amid enthusiastic support expressed by members of a DOCSIS 3.1 breakfast panel conducted today at the SCTE Cable-Tec trade show here. Both operators and vendors praised CableLabs' new cable network standard for its speed, flexibility and backwards compatibility.

"You don't have to have a lot of spectrum to [start converting to DOCSIS 3.1]," said Jorge Salinger, VP of access architecture for Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA). "You can start buying modems today and they'll operate like the best DOCSIS 3.0 modem you can buy on your DOCSIS 3.0 network. In fact, you don't have to change the plant in any way. But if you do, the benefits DOCSIS 3.1 brings are far greater than anything we've had before."

Salinger confirmed his MSO's earlier declaration to enable its entire footprint with DOCSIS 3.1 by 2018. "The speed with which this technology has been developed is unprecedented," he said. "We're ready to put it into the field, and that's what we're going to do in the coming months."

Asked if Comcast's aggressive deployment of gigabit-speed-capable DOCSIS 3.1 services would cause it to end buildout of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, Salinger said the two technologies are "complimentary."

"I don't think one is the alternative to the other, we're expanding on both," he said, adding that any extensions of Comcast's network built into new residential or business construction would still be FTTP.

Hranac called DOCSIS 3.1 "just another tool" for operators, allowing them to keep existing HFC networks in place, instead of ripping them out in favor of FTTP.

Meanwhile, noting the significant difference between DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1, one engineer in the audience asked why the new technology standard wasn't given a new name.

"We did change the physical layer from 3.0, but the mac layers were inherited from 3.0," said Belal Hamzeh, director of network technologies for CableLabs. "We didn't change everything."

Special Report: From Comcast to Arris: Winners and losers in the cable industry's move to DOCSIS 3.1 and 1 Gbps speeds

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