August 9, 2018

Cable Virtualization: Embracing the HERD Mentality

In the growing face of competition, cable operators can embrace a new virtualization strategy to improve agility, responsiveness and customer experience management.

The cable industry is been somewhat more cautious in its move towards virtualization than the traditional telecom industry. While the most recognizable initiatives are based on virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) like a cloud DVR, activity at the network edge is showing some signs of excitement. Driven by ongoing technological advancements of cable infrastructure, CableLabs and SCTE are moving technology standards forward and helping the industry understand, implement and profit from virtualization. As discussions surrounding network virtualization have shifted from replacing boxes to optimizing customer experience, service providers are already looking for methods to monetize unique service offerings. There are many ways in which adopting SDN/NFV can translate into customer experience benefits. For cable, that means moving much of the flexibility to the edge.

The move towards greater intelligence at the edge is based on two virtualization strategies: CORD and HERD. CORD, or Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center, is a telecommunications virtualization initiative that brings together SDN/NFV with cloud technology and scale, allowing the central office to scale up and down as necessary based on demand. It also facilitates the configuration of newer services based on the real-time demands of customers. As is typical with any virtualization rollout, it starts as a hybrid process, whereby cable providers can leverage a common hardware and software infrastructure to offer traditional connectivity as well as cloud services for residential, enterprise and mobile customers. This applies to both B2C and B2B customers, allowing service management in near real time. The cloud-based model also opens up delivery options to external partners. This, in turn, means faster time-to-service and time-to-revenue.

But for the cable provider, it’s all about HERD, Head Ends Re-Architected as a Data Center. HERD is a cable-specific adaptation of the same principles of CORD, but further expands on the benefits of virtualization, pushing greater capacity and intelligence to the edge. HERD uses virtualization as a core principle to gain increased performance for streaming and/or cached video services. The ability to cache is of particular relevance, as user experience can be greatly improved if content is stored on a local server, reducing latency issues and time-to-consumption. Using HERD, the cable provider leverages the cloud-based data center approach which gives an early competitive edge, allowing for service innovation, speed and guaranteed quality of service, as well as happy customers. This, along with greater capacity from fiber that can be placed closer to homes, will keep services creative, innovative and high quality.

As cable providers face threats from wireless telecommunications providers rolling out faster 5G networks and gigabit-performance bandwidth capabilities, embracing virtualization is a logical and even necessary step to stay competitive. We can expect that most cable providers will need to act more creatively by 2020, as they should, before 5G networks go live and the cable industry faces another risk to their top line. Technology-led service innovation, whether via programming decoupling, OTT service bundling, or customer-specific service bundles, all represent new ways to give customers what they want, deliver a personalized experience and have the underlying agility to respond to market changes in real time. Just as it’s easier to shop at a local grocery store than one way across town, it’s easier for a cable company to deliver its services from down the road than from a random data center in the cloud that could be hundreds of miles away. HERD represents a promising move forward to the cable provider to stay innovative competitive and efficient. 


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