Cable broadband infrastructure: The key to unlocking scalable outdoor edge compute

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Cable broadband infrastructure: The key to unlocking scalable outdoor edge compute

By Greg Laughlin, Strategic Marketing Manager at EnerSys

Outdoor edge compute will tremendously impact future IoT and smart city development through applications in public safety, traffic, parking, city management, environment monitoring and much more. Enabling these new applications and services will require the mass deployment of interconnected sensors and processors.

Finding cost-effective infrastructure connections is one of the primary challenges in deploying any outdoor network-connected device — whether it be a wi-fi access point, small cell radio, public safety camera or edge processing system. A place to mount the equipment, reliable power to energize it and a healthy network connection for backhaul and remote management are all essential elements. When multiplied by hundreds or thousands of devices, with the added responsibilities of maintaining the health of these connections, the challenges can quickly become nightmares and barriers to meeting cost, time and quality targets.

Fortunately for cities and communities looking to take advantage of the benefits of these edge devices, cable operators have spent decades building out the ideal infrastructure throughout North America and much of the world — a plug-and-play model with secure reliable connectivity, uninterruptible power and aerial installation. New permits or utility meter drops are also not required, making it easy to work with cable broadband providers.

Last mile infrastructure

Cable operators, over time, built vast networks of distributed fiber optic and coax cables that cover most populated areas worldwide. While fiber optics are the medium of choice for long-distance trunk communication or for new green field construction, older established areas utilize existing coaxial cable infrastructure for last-mile connectivity. This copper coaxial infrastructure has unique physical attributes that make it ideal for the rapid-scale deployment of computing devices and micro-networks in most urban and industrial areas.

Siting

Securing permission and finding a suitable location for outdoor equipment in urban settings are one of the greatest challenges in its deployment.  Zoning restrictions, rights of way and local ordinances add time and cost; building attachments further adds to ongoing operational costs.

Cable operators address siting through franchise agreements between themselves, local governments and communities. Operators typically pay attachment fees for poles where the coax lines attach. That said, other equipment like signal processors, nodes, amplifiers and wi-fi access points can be installed anywhere the lines exist with no additional cost or need for permission.

Power

Power is often an afterthought when planning outdoor deployments but can have catastrophic impacts on projects if poorly understood or planned.  Acquiring a utility connection can require permits, construction and a meter connection, leading to months of frustration and thousands of dollars in unexpected costs.  Power impairments from the utilities can wreak havoc on sensitive electronic equipment, and outages can widely impact system availability.

Cable broadband’s coaxial cables are energized with clean power and hours of energy storage in the form of batteries to keep the network running during utility power outages.  Uninterruptible power supplies distributed throughout the network condition utility power then energize coaxial cable with clean energy, creating a distribution of extension power cords with high-speed Internet running through streets and alleyways.

Backhaul

Standards are essential to define how the network operates and to offer advanced, reliable, managed services like layer 2 security protocols, redundancy and bundled services.

Connecting a device to the network is a simple matter of plugging into the coax cable using an outdoor cable modem.  Current DOCSIS 3.1 modems can deliver low-latency gigabit speeds with symmetrical multi-gigabit fiber-like performance.

Maintenance and management

Cable operators spend billions annually building and maintaining network infrastructure as such is the livelihood of the businesses. They have trained installation and service teams leveraging best practices and equipment to help ensure network reliability.  Support for additional plugin items like Wi-Fi access points or future edge compute systems are incremental and can be managed with minimal additional training or resources.

Conclusion

An Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering could be a game changer for edge compute. Successful scaled deployment of outdoor edge compute systems requires a robust infrastructure that can quickly scale at a reasonable cost.  The cable broadband last mile network provides all necessities in a very well-managed connection of fiber optics, coaxial cables and backup power.

About the author

Greg Laughlin is a strategic marketing manager for Enersys with over 25 years of experience designing and managing remote communications network elements. In his 17+ years with EnerSys, formerly Alpha Technologies, Laughlin has overseen the integration of DOCSIS into outdoor cable power supplies for remote power system management. He also created a unique line of outdoor cable modem power and connectivity solutions for wi-fi, small cell and smart city/IoT connectivity. Laughlin currently sits on several SCTE committees and co-chairs the Smart Cities working group.

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