Optical Networking, Redefined.
October 27, 2023

It’s a Wrap! 5 Key Takeaways from Cable-Tec Expo 2023

Cable-Tec Expo 2023

A Forum for Collaboration and Innovation 

SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2023 celebrated 40 years of collaboration and innovation.  Precision OT opened the week at the 57th Annual Cable TV Pioneers Banquet honoring 25 new inductees who reflect the changing and expanding areas of the cable industry.  In a special designation, an additional 10 members were inducted to represent the numerous behind-the-scenes individuals who often go unrecognized for their innovations and standardizations.     

Steps away from Precision OT’s booth was the Technical Training Theater, or T3 which hosted The International SCTE Cable-Tec Games.  T3 represents the 3 pillars of technical excellence:  training, teamwork, and talent.  The Cable-Tec games highlight the abilities of field operations experts who engage in a variety of technical challenges emphasizing the proficiency required for tasks related to cable network installations, maintenance, and optimization.   

Maximizing the HFC network / DOCSIS 4.0 

Light Reading hosted “Maxing Out the Cable HFC Network”, a breakfast/special panelist forum covering the increasing competition from all-fiber and wireless providers leading cable operators to upgrade their hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) networks with various next-gen technologies.   These technologies include DOCSIS 4.0, distributed access architecture (DAA), spectrum mid-splits, high-splits, network virtualization, AI network automation and the latest versions of PON. This transformation poses significant challenges, such as network reliability, scalability, power management, equipment replacement, and high costs.   

Regarding DOCSIS 4.0 and optics, panelist Keith Habberfield of Precision OT commented that the move to DOCSIS 4.0 represents a sizable tasking of the optical network, especially for dense deployments.  A fully loaded, Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (1.8 GHz) device will need as much as 25 Gbps going to it to support the bandwidth demand from end-customers.  “We think 25 Gbps addresses this and have been working on a solution for a couple of years that will be ready in 2024.  We’ve brought a demo of this optic to the show, and hope to get feedback on how it helps solve not only the added congestion,  but also the increased billboard speeds we see operators offering.” 

Also shared at the breakfast panel were success stories such as the great strides being made by Charter in preparing to deploy DAA (Distributed Access Architecture).  Panelist John Williams made a point of thanking Charter’s partners in the vendor community who are helping the company execute their plan.  “We’re able to do things with velocity because we’re not re-spacing,  we’re not re-splicing,  everything is pretty much a drop-in.  And that has helped us make the progress that we’ve made so far.”  He mentioned that Charter is well positioned in 2024 to deploy DAA at the same time they’re doing network upgrades.   

The breakfast panel, orchestrated by Light Reading’s Alan Breznick and emcee’d by Comcast Fellow Robert Howald, featured the following panelists in addition to Keith Habberfield and John Williams: 

  • Colin Howlett – CTO Vecima 
  • Jaimie Lenderman – Research Manager and Principal Analyst, Omdia 
  • Pao Lo – VP Network Engineering, Midco 
  • Todd McCrum – SVP & General Manager, Broadband Access, AOI 
  • Damian Poltz – Senior VP, Wireline Networks, Rogers Communications 
  • Jay Lee – Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, ATX 

Open RAN / Interoperability  

Despite the Cable-Tec Expo being a primarily cable-focused event, it was both interesting and exciting to see a dedicated Open RAN Technical Summit.  This new addition was likely influenced by SCTE parent organization CableLabs’ role as a host lab and testing center for Open RAN efforts.  As both an expert and  proponent of O-RAN and interoperability,  Precision OT was eager to participate in the summit.   Among the items discussed were the current state of the interoperability ecosystem and how O-RAN differs from mainstream 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) .  3GPP is an established organization responsible for creating standardized mobile network technologies, while O-RAN is a newer approach that seeks to make radio access networks more open, flexible and vendor-agnostic by disaggregating and virtualizing network components. Forward-looking trends indicate more and more cable operators will embrace O-RAN components as they integrate mobile services into their networks, aligning with ongoing interoperability efforts at CableLabs.   

Advancing Technology to Move Beyond 10G 

One of five Super Tracks offered during the conference was Wireline Networks: 10G and Beyond.  A myriad of topics were presented and discussed in this track including challenges and strategies for broadband build-out in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) or other government programs.  Also discussed was the cable industry’s path to 25-50G passive optical networks (PON), and this general challenge was posed: How do multiple-system operators (MSOs) win back a perceived broadband leadership position in the industry?    

Precision OT is well-versed in the challenges preventing networks from moving beyond 10G architectures, particularly in the access space.  “While commercially available 25G and tunable 25G DWDM optics meet today’s data rate requirements, they suffer from a nonlinear fiber impairment called chromatic dispersion,” explains David Calhoun, Technical Director of POT’s Advanced Engineering Group(AEG).  “This limits their ability to serve fiber deployments over 15km without additional specialized equipment.”  Precision OT gave a live demo of their GeneseeTM Dispersion Compensation Asic Technology at the Expo and also accepted a Four Diamond designation award for the technology from BTR (Broadband Technology Report).   By all indications, the industry is ripe for such technology as companies are eager to deploy 25G TSFP technology in R-OLTs, R-PHY nodes and 25G PON applications.   We see this technology quickly going from demonstration to interoperability testing and anticipate that 2025 will be the year of 25G Tunable SFP.  “There is a considerable gap between the ubiquitous low cost 10G DWDM and the more expensive 100G and beyond Coherent technologies,” reflected Harj Ghuman, VP of Strategic Products at Precision OT.  “Our 25G DWDM optic, with a reach of 40+km, bridges this gap and is a perfect fit for many access applications not requiring higher capacity coherent solutions.”    

PON on the Rise 

One of the most notable trends at the Cable-Tec Expo was the increased focus on PON and the general embracing of fiber in operator strategies.  Traditional MSOs are increasingly deploying fiber as a compliment to the existing HFC networks.   In a session titled “25GS-PON: Continuing MSO Broadband Dominance” it was discussed how MSOs have been the dominant force of broadband services for decades, yet could fall behind if they don’t adapt to high-speed PON technology.  In a forecast released in July, the Dell’Oro Group increased cumulative 25GS-PON equipment revenue between 2022 and 2025 from $315M to $588M worldwide.  Recently,  CableLabs announced 2 working groups to accelerate FTTH and PON technology. 

Precision OT was right in the fray of all the PON buzz at Cable-Tec Expo, giving a live demo on Wednesday of OPENPathTM our turn-key and extensible PON Solution.  “Fortunately, our customers pushed us here,” said Kenton Weigold, Technical Director of Software Engineering at Precision OT.  “We constantly poll for ways to help, and this kept coming up–either due to lock-in scenarios that limit competition, or simple understanding of link budgets and performance.”  Customer feedback is overwhelmingly that they want simplicity.  OPENPathTM, with its user-focused GUI-driven process, greatly streamlines configuration and quickly gets customer support teams the data they need.