Cable operators have revised their near-term priorities and put some of their next-gen network plans on hold, but industry execs still believe that strategies focused on a distributed access architecture (DAA) fit into cable's long-term strategies.
Broader adoption of DAA is a matter of when, not if, they said last week during a Light Reading-hosted event held online that focused on how next-gen cable technologies are taking shape in Europe.
"This is a multiyear journey," Jim Walsh, solutions marketing manager for Viavi, said of cable DAA strategies, which will push key electronics further out into the network and put the industry on a path toward virtualization.
DAA will also spur the need for cable operators to digitize their networks, particularly in the upstream, a piece of the cable network that's come under more pressure during the pandemic because of the increased use of apps such as video conferencing.
"I don't see a way to do [that] long term or at scale with an analog upstream," said Fernando Villarruel, chief MSO architect at Ciena. "We have to deal with the upstream and part of that is moving to digital. Long term, I think everybody is doing the preparation and looking at [DAA] very closely."
And the techno-religious debate about whether to go with a remote PHY or remote MAC/PHY architecture with DAA appears to be settling down. Rather than it being an either/or decision, operators are now more interested in using both approaches, said Eddie Motter, commercial technical manager at Hirschmann Digital Access.
Meanwhile, a few cable operators are testing DAA or are deploying it. One example of the latter is Danish service provider Stofa, which has begun to pivot to a distributed access architecture (DAA) paired with a DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade.
While the move to DAA has generated some helpful operational advantages, it has yet to translate into a big boost in customer satisfaction compared to the services that Stofa delivers over fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks.
Stofa operates both types of networks – with a bigger focus on HFC in cities and a heavier use of FTTP in more rural areas – but has so far generated higher consumer ratings in the fiber-based service areas despite the company's relatively recent HFC upgrades, Kjeld Balmer, head of network technology at Stofa, explained during a keynote presentation.
Thus far, simply providing higher-bandwidth services that compete with services delivered on FTTP alone has not been enough to push the customer satisfaction score needle higher for services delivered on Stofa's HFC plant.
"The fiber products are much more favored by the customers," Balmer said. "At the end of the day, the customer doesn't seem to value what we have invested ... We have to do something more."
Stofa is studying the situation closely to determine what it can do to raise consumer satisfaction for services delivered on its upgraded HFC networks. In the meantime, there's some belief that satisfaction is elevated in FTTP-served areas partly because some of those customers have moved over from much slower DSL services. Balmer said Stofa also believes that improving the in-home Wi-Fi capabilities of its HFC-based broadband products, particularly in dense, urban areas, might increase the company's customer satisfaction scores in the areas served by cable.
However, Stofa has seen the start of some dramatic operational cost improvements resulting from the HFC upgrades, including a reduction in truck rolls, and still believes in DAA's long-term payback.
"At the end of the day, it makes sense to do this," Balmer said. "It provides us with a stronger network in any case."
For more about Stofa's DAA strategy and a forecast from Omdia about how the next-gen cable access market will formulate, please see this story at Light Reading: Can DAA upgrades get the right bang for the buck?
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News