Where’s your fiber gone? Arris delivers NBN DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade

Rethink Technology Research

by Thomas Flanagan

Published August 9, 2018

Australia’s government-run National Broadband Network (NBN) has rolled out DOCSIS 3.1 network technologies from Arris – implying concerns about falling short of yet more targets set out for the country’s mammoth broadband upgrade project.
On first impressions, the announcement seems to paint both NBN and its vendor suppliers in a bad light, leaving it down to us to clarify what NBN nor Arris have – that Arris is supplying products for the existing HFC broadband network while the involvement of Adtran, which was selected to supply G.fast products last year, is exclusive to its new fiber to the curb network. NBN’s Executive Manager of Corporate Media, Tony Brown, responded to Faultline Online Reporter’s calls for clarity, saying, “We have been planning to introduce DOCSIS 3.1 for the last three years and this is really about increasing network capacity – it is not related to construction targets etc.”
The likelihood of any switch out jobs here is very slim given how the bill was well over budget at A$49 billion (US$36.3 billion) as of early 2017 – but if it transpires that NBN has again dropped its fiber deployment targets in favor of copper upgrades then it would mean another calamitous chapter in the book of how not to deploy superfast broadband.
At an event in Berlin last year, Adtran made an understandably big occasion of its contract win – in which G.fast products were added to the nbn’s Multi Technology Mix for fiber to the building and fiber to the cabinet network deployments. At the time, Brown noted that DOCSIS 3.1 was on the roadmap for fiber to the curb footprint plans to begin in 2018 while suggesting there would be some overlap with G.fast, contrary to the information we were given this week, but this was simply a throwaway comment among the G.fast festivities and has remained that way until this week.
NBN claims that DOCSIS 3.1 network termination devices were installed in some Australian homes earlier this year (presumably supplied by Arris) – saying activation only requires a software upgrade and CMTS line card update.
Players on either side of the fence have been trading blows, with Adtran claiming G.fast is a faster and cheaper alternative to the DOCSIS 3.1 standard due to the way it reuses twisted pair infrastructure, while Arris says cable operators can make cost savings of some 70% while adding bandwidth, using less power and less space. Effectively, the NBN is pitting its two networks against each other – with the old HFC network set to make a comeback thanks to DOCSIS 3.1 amid short comings of the over-hyped nbn fiber project.
NBN has long been a customer of Arris’ E6000 converged edge router (CER) portfolio and the upgraded second generation of Arris’ CCAP platform has now been rolled out, along with an additional four products. Arris CM8200B DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems, OM4100 OptiMax 4×4 segmentable nodes, the ServAssure NXT management platform, all supported by Global Services to oversee planning, design, implementation and operation of the network – combining to double the network’s capacity while enabling multi-gigabit, Full Duplex DOCSIS (10 Gbps symmetrical) for future decades, Arris claims.
In fact, Arris was tasked with designing the original HFC broadband network in early 2015 and deploying DOCSIS 3.0 HFC cable infrastructure – meaning Arris is well versed in the country’s network layout. The whole situation was then unfortunately tarnished when NBN grossly under-projected its costs and naively underestimated how Australia’s rugged terrain might throw up a problem or two – resulting in Adtran’s recruitment in early 2017.
At the time, Brown cited reaching 1 million additional premises through a G.fast and DOCSIS 3.1 fiber to the curb initiative, while Arris says the aim is to bring DOCSIS 3.1 to 3 million premises in major Australian cities by 2020.
Diving into the technology, we are familiar with the E6000 CER from Arris which integrates edge QAM legacy video architecture and CMTS DOCSIS IP network to deliver a ready-made integrated-IP platform through CCAP. The Gen 2 modules are all about enabling customers to make cost savings in line with capacity upgrades from HFC access networks, no matter what the customer’s scale is.
A closer look back in time shows that Arris OM4100 optical receivers were also selected in February 2015 along with the E6000 CER, so this week marks two product upgrades.
The ServAssure software is a fitting addition as the technology has proved popular in Asia Pacific, with network wins in China and Japan, although ServAssure NXT is just one third of the full ServAssure suite – with NXT starting out with support for DOCSIS 3.1 networks and devices. Taking ServAssure Alarm Central and ServAssure Advanced, the full suite provides a comprehensive system for providing visibility across a service environment, helping cable TV and broadband operators identify potential network issues before they arise and cause disruptions for end users – flagging previously undetectable issues in its network operations center and reducing mean-time-to-repair (MTTR).
NBN CTO Ray Owen said, “NBN has worked hard on the introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 onto the HFC network. This is another example of using world-leading technology to deliver a better experience for Australians on the nbn broadband access network.”
Arris President of Network & Cloud, Dan Whalen, said, “We’ve partnered closely with NBN to reach its goal of achieving universal connectivity through a scalable network architecture. The launch of its DOCSIS 3.1 initiative is an important milestone that will benefit all end-users on the nbn network. Our collaboration continues to demonstrate that HFC has a strong future. The DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade underscores the network’s extensibility in meeting today’s demand for additional capacity and new services.”
With both G.fast and DOCSIS 3.1 products now being rolled out by the same company in parallel, is there room for MoCA Access or wireless broadband based on 5G to slide in too? Australian broadband infrastructure needs all the help it can get and, as Faultline Online Reporter warned recently, the UK government could do well to take note of this week’s news after announcing ambitious full fiber network plans.