FMA 101: Taking Things Apart to Make Them Even Better
This month, we continue our CableLabs 101 series by peeling back the next layer of the hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) distributed access network with a recently released specification called Flexible MAC Architecture (FMA). This technology isn’t as well known as DOCSIS®, Remote PHY or Coherent Optics, but it’s just as essential to make 10G a reality in the near future. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is FMA?
Without getting too technical, a big part of what we do involves analyzing how things work. We like to take things apart and see how we can reorganize or alter the components to build better, more efficient products. Essentially, that’s what innovation is all about! In this case, the “product” in question is the DOCSIS technology and the cable access network that delivers Internet to your home.
Some time ago, we figured out how to split key DOCSIS functions into two major pieces: the Media Access Control (MAC) function responsible for DOCSIS processing and the physical radio frequency function (PHY) responsible for DOCSIS signal generation. This initial split became known as Remote PHY, and you can read more about it in our previous blog post here. Subsequently, we built a complementary project involving the redistribution of these functions across the network to enable efficiencies in speed, reliability, latency and security. This newer project is FMA, which defines various ways of restructuring the MAC function’s management, control and data planes to support multi-gigabit data services of the future.
In September 2020, this extraordinary effort—involving thousands of work hours across the global cable industry—culminated in the specification. It’s a library of specifications that gives our industry vendors the technical means to develop interoperable products for our cable community, and it officially welcomes FMA into the 10G technologies toolkit.
How Does FMA Work and Why Do You Need It?
The Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP)—a nearly decade-old technology—serves as a single platform for both video and broadband services. In a traditional CCAP architecture, all the major network functions, including the MAC layer functions we mentioned earlier, are unified at the headend. However, as consumers’ bandwidth consumption has continued to skyrocket with no sign of slowing down, the cable industry asked: Is there a better way to structure CCAP to prepare our networks for the needs of tomorrow?
The answer was yes.
That’s how the concepts of Remote PHY, Remote MAC-PHY and, eventually, FMA were born. By taking apart key CCAP functions and moving them to other places throughout the network (e.g., a fiber node), we can greatly reduce space and power demands at the headend, creating efficiencies that translate into faster network speeds, lower latencies and overall a better, and reliable cable access network.
Plus, FMA offers cable operators the ultimate flexibility to implement and deploy CCAP functionality in a way that makes the most sense for them. It fully supports the DOCSIS 4.0 requirements and, along with the other tools in the 10G arsenal, can help operators build adaptive and secure networks that can easily handle future demand.
How Does This Technology Affect You and Your Future?
Complete disaggregation of CCAP sounds great, but you might be asking yourself: “What’s in it for me?” As with any 10G technology that we’ll cover in this series, it’s always about improving the end user experience. All those technical efficiencies we talked about basically boil down to more room for data to go through the network at much faster speeds. This means more multi-gigabit services, low-latency applications such as ultra-realistic video experiences and overall a better quality of experience. One day soon, as we continue to build upon cutting-edge cable technologies like FMA, this will become reality.
The September 2020 FMA release is just a part of a much bigger initiative to completely virtualize cable access networks in the near future, so definitely stay tuned! In the meantime, we’ll continue taking things apart and putting them back together in new and better ways to take your connected experiences to the next level.
DAA 101: A Flexible Approach to Better, Faster Cable Networks
This month, we’d like to share information about Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) and how cable operators are using it to build the 10G networks of the future. In our previous posts about DOCSIS® and Coherent Optics technologies, we touched on some of the components of the cable hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network, such as the headend and fiber nodes, but of course, there’s much more to it. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the functionality of the cable access network and how it can be distributed between various components to optimize network performance.
What Is Distributed Access Architecture?
DAA isn’t a single technology but rather an umbrella term that describes the network architecture cable operators use to future-proof their access networks. This network evolution involves moving various key network functions that are traditionally located at the cable operator’s hub site (or headend) closer to customers’ homes—while also leveraging signal-quality improvements inherent with digital optics and the ubiquity of Ethernet. In addition, closer is better because it reduces the amount of hardware at the headend and creates efficiencies in network speed, reliability, latency and security.
In a nutshell, CableLabs’ DAA technology solutions give cable operators the ability to cost-efficiently redesign their access networks in stages, when and how they see fit. Because all providers’ business objectives are different, CableLabs has designed several DAA approaches they can leverage. Ultimately, it’s all about building a robust 10G network that not only supports the needs of today’s gig consumers but also anticipates tomorrow’s high-rate applications such as holodecks, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and more.
Let’s take a look at one particular embodiment of DAA, known as Distributed CCAP Architecture (DCA).
How Does Distributed CCAP Architecture Work?
In a traditional HFC network architecture, the operator’s hub—or headend—is connected via fiber to the fiber node in your geographical region. In the fiber node, the optical signal is converted to a radio frequency (RF) signal that travels via a coaxial cable to the cable modem in your home. The key functions responsible for the transmission of data and device access are placed at either end of the operator’s access network—the hub and the modem—like bookends.
In 2015, CableLabs figured out how to split the key DOCSIS network functions into two components: a Media Access Control (MAC) layer that’s responsible for how devices in a network gain access to the network, and a Physical (PHY) layer, a physical component that’s responsible for the transmission and reception of data. Decoupled, these components can now be partially or fully moved from the headend into a fiber node closer to subscribers’ homes, resulting in increased network capacity, greater speeds, lower latency and so on. That’s the basis for DCA.
How Can Distributed CCAP Architecture Help Build Better Networks?
Distributing key DOCSIS network functions out of the headend and closer to subscribers’ homes comes with many benefits. Primarily, it allows operators to:
- Maximize Their Network’s Potential
DCA allows cable operators to take full advantage of the gigabit capabilities of Coherent Optics and DOCSIS 3.1 technology, including Full Duplex DOCSIS and Low Latency DOCSIS. This means their networks will have more than enough bandwidth to support the latest-generation products for years to come.
- Achieve a Better-Quality RF Signal
With distributed architecture, the RF signal that usually originates in the regional hub can now originate in the optical node, closer to the subscriber’s home, thus reducing distortion and creating a more seamless user experience.
- Increase Network Reliability
Because the main functions of the network no longer need to be housed at the headend, the access network can be redesigned so that fewer homes are connected to any single optical node (where the fiber and coax portions of the network meet). This means that if there’s an outage, it will affect fewer customers, ultimately increasing the reliability of the overall network.
- Expand RF Spectrum in the Future
Because DCA solutions are easily customizable and budget-friendly, they provide new opportunities for cable operators to expand their RF spectrum (basically maximizing the capacity of the coax portion of the HFC network) to support future services.
How Does This Technology Affect Me and My Future?
Widespread adoption of DCA, and importantly the superset of capabilities provided by DAA, is essential to creating the 10G future that we’re all looking forward to. And although it might seem that DAA only provides cost-effective solutions for cable companies, ultimately the real beneficiary is you, the customer. By reimagining and reinventing cable access infrastructure, we’re finding greater efficiencies that translate into more powerful networks. These networks will enable a wave of new, innovative services that will transform the way we live, learn, work and play.
Just like DOCSIS technology, Coherent Optics and other technologies that we’ll be covering in our 101 series, DAA is another piece of the puzzle responsible for propelling cable’s HFC networks into the new decade and beyond. Stay tuned for another installment—coming soon!
10G: Enhancing the Power of Human Connection
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that connectivity is essential to our wellbeing and happiness. It fosters a sense of belonging—whether it’s to our family, our school, our company or just a random group of like-minded souls. And it’s not so much about the internet or the devices we use—it’s about experiences and staying connected to what matters most. That’s the ultimate goal of 10G.
In the last three decades, cable connection speeds increased from 9600 bps to 1 gig—now available to over 80% of U.S. homes! This has transformed our lives, giving us unparalleled access to the information we need, restructuring the way we conduct our businesses and communicate with others, anytime, anywhere around the world. And still, we’re nowhere near maximizing our networks’ potential. In the near future, 10G networks that are up to 100 times faster than what we have today will open doors to a whole new era of innovation, including autonomous vehicle fleets, holographic media, in-home telehealth solutions, immersive entertainment experiences and much more.
What will that mean for us? Will the seamless inner workings of our networks and smart devices help us lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives? Will this technology be able to take care of mundane and time-consuming tasks so we can focus on ourselves and our loved ones? We bet it will! We are now standing on the brink of an exciting new frontier, powered by super-fast, reliable and secure HFC networks.
To see more about what this means for changing people’s connected lives, check out this video:
Facts You May Not Know About the Cable Industry
The cable industry has been around since 1948, first delivering broadcast TV channels, then cable TV channels starting in the 1970s and finally—cable broadband internet in 1996. The introduction of fast-speed, “always-on” cable internet changed everything. It accelerated innovation across multiple industries and created whole new markets. Just take a moment to think: how many times a day do you do something that requires an internet connection and where would you be without it?
The cable broadband industry now serves over 200 million households—and counting—around the world. Even if yours is one of them, you probably don’t give too much thought to what cable internet is or how it works. Internet has become an important part of modern life enabling us to learn and work from home, watch in 4K, schedule telemedicine appointments, play online multiplayer games, remote control our home security systems and so on. In fact, cable industry is the leader in delivering next-generation broadband services, with cable gigabit services available to over 80% of U.S. homes. Plus, roughly half of global cable operators are also mobile providers, so you can take your modern conveniences on the go.
While it might seem like an overnight success, building a super-fast and reliable broadband platform for millions of everyday users required a lot of collaboration and around $290 billion dollars in infrastructure and network investments over the past 20 years in the U.S.. Earlier this year, CableLabs released the DOCSIS® 4.0 specification, the latest version of the technology that governs how a broadband internet signal is transmitted over cable. When widely adopted, DOCSIS 4.0 technology will quadruple network upload capacity to up to 6 Gbps, that will support a new wave of innovative experiences and much more. But we’re not stopping here. This is only a stepping stone toward cable’s 10G vision.
Along with speed, capacity, latency and other network performance metrics, the cable industry also improved the energy efficiency of its equipment by reducing energy consumption through voluntary commitments. All these ongoing improvements, together with cable’s expansive network footprint and unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of broadband customers, are the perfect recipe for building the super network of the future. Stay tuned!
CableLabs Completes Full Duplex DOCSIS Specification
“In the United States, more than 90 percent of households are connected to an HFC (hybrid fiber-coaxial) network, and consumers typically have higher download speeds than upload speeds. By enabling Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology), the upstream can flow up to 6 Gbps and downstream traffic can flow at up to 10 Gigabits concurrently, enabling the efficiency of spectrum use.” -- Phil McKinney, president and chief executive officer of CableLabs
The number of connected devices and bandwidth-hungry online experiences are expected to increase exponentially in the next decade. Also, with the continuous development of new applications that enable new experiences, such as augmented reality and virtual reality, an increase in upstream capacity demand is a matter of “when” and not “if." Operators are continuously challenged to find cost-effective solutions to meet this growing demand for faster broadband speeds. With a focus on solving this challenge of the future, CableLabs recently completed the Full Duplex DOCSIS® (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) specification.
Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) technology builds on the successful completion of CableLabs’ DOCSIS 3.1 specification, which made deployments of 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream broadband possible. Full Duplex DOCSIS technology (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) improves upon the DOCSIS 3.1 standard by:
- Significantly increasing upstream capacity
- Enabling symmetric multi-gigabit services over existing hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) technology
- Ensuring that cable operators are ready to meet future usage needs for technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality - although widespread consumer demand for high speed upstream is not yet here, operators need to be prepared when the time comes
Current DOCSIS networks have to juggle available upstream and downstream traffic. Full Duplex DOCSIS technology (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) supports multi-gigabit symmetric services by enabling concurrent transmissions in the same spectrum, providing the ability to increase the upstream capacity without sacrificing downstream capacity. This has the potential to greatly improve network efficiency and, in turn, customer experience.
Starting from Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) as an internal innovation, CableLabs developed this solution in collaboration with our members and industry partners, enabling cable operators to deliver multi-gigabit symmetric services. Full Duplex DOCSIS technology (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) offers high speeds over the existing infrastructure and is less expensive to deploy than fiber, while still maintaining backwards compatibility with previous generations of DOCSIS technology.
You can read more about our Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) specification effort in my article “Full Duplex DOCSIS Technology: Raising the Ante with Symmetric Gigabit Service.” Make sure to check our website later this month for the complete Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) specification.
Full Duplex DOCSIS® Specification Effort Launches
During the CableLabs 2016 Winter Conference, CableLabs announced the Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) specification project that will significantly increase upstream speeds on the DOCSIS network. The announcement of the Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) extension of the DOCSIS 3.1 specification, and its potential of offering multi-Gbps symmetric services over the HFC network, created a lot of excitement in the industry. Since then a lot has been going on behind the scenes.
CableLabs has been actively collaborating with the vendor community to further refine the concept and system architecture of a Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) system. The ecosystem support for the Full Duplex DOCSIS technology (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) has been staggering, with many vendors collaborating and contributing to the development of the technology. A recent example is Cisco’s contribution of a new silicon reference design of a digital echo canceler that maximizes the use of HFC capacity to provide a scalable multi-gigabit return path.
In June, CableLabs officially launched the Full Duplex DOCSIS (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) project, transitioning it from the innovation phase to the R&D phase focused on specification development. Our first face-to-face meeting held in Louisville last month featured strong participation from CableLabs members and the vendor community including several new participants. Working group meetings will be held on a regular basis until the specification development is complete.
Full Duplex DOCSIS technology (now a part of DOCSIS 4.0 technology) will radically change the art-of-the-possible on the HFC network by delivering an unparalleled experience to cable customers.
Cable Makes Its Mark at FTTH Connect
Over the past two years, members of the CableLabs Optical Technologies team had the privilege to speak at the Fiber-To-The Home (FTTH) Council’s yearly FTTH Connect event. FTTH Connect annually attracts many thought leaders from both the vendor and service provider communities.
One observation we made while attending FTTH Connect was the growing appetite of FTTH Connect attendees to learn more about cable industry initiatives and solutions. Not only were the presentations well attended, but in one instance the Q&A session lasted for 30 minutes past the allotted time. Presentations provided FTTH perspective in a cable network, motivation for fiber deployments to complement the HFC network, PON traffic modeling, and supporting cable’s triple play services with fiber home run implementations. This appetite for more cable knowledge was somewhat surprising but welcome.
The impetus for CableLabs’ involvement was not only to show the world that the cable industry is pushing FTTH solutions, but also to introduce the FTTH community to CableLabs as a leader of innovation and R&D solutions. CableLabs has introduced several solutions to provide a means and support strategies of operators for pushing fiber deeper into the HFC network, including FTTH. These solutions include DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE), Triple Play over PON and the group of specifications based on the Distributed CCAP Architecture.
Based on the show in 2015, we set out to increase our contributions at the 2016 FTTH Connect event. We proposed an entire cable track to the FTTH Council and were unanimously approved. We then set out to offer cable’s story at this year’s conference. It begins with Guy McCormick, Senior Vice President at Cox Communications, who will be one of the shows keynote speakers. Cox Communications is one of the most forward-thinking cable companies in the world, and they have an aggressive strategy around FTTH deployments. Jon Schnoor will discuss how we achieve fiber parity with cable services to that of the HFC access network. Steve Burroughs will present how to move beyond technology specific provisioning and work toward an access network agnostic infrastructure through virtualization. Curtis Knittle will explore next generation PON solutions that will establish 100 Gbps EPON and include an operator’s perspective on their transition to FTTH including challenges, technology tradeoffs, operational challenges and solutions. Curtis Knittle is also hosting a panel regarding FTTH in cable, that will explore an operator’s perspective.
If you’re planning to attend FTTH Connect 2016, be sure to attend the cable industry sessions to see what is cool and interesting!