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Comcast Juices Up SD-WAN as Spectrum Plans Release

Network, WAN, LAN

Comcast Business has big plans for its software-defined networking (SDN) platform in 2019.

Comcast’s ActiveCore offering powers software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) capabilities heralded as the first of their kind in the cable industry. The company took home our sister site Light Reading’s award for “Most Innovative SD-WAN Service.”

Hagemann, Jody_Comcast

Comcast Business’ Jody Hagemann

But Jody Hagemann, director of SD-WAN product management, said Comcast will be pursue a lengthy product road map in the upcoming year. The company, which uses universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) to orchestrate virtual network functions (VNFs), plans to meet customer demand for additional services on the platform.

It’s running a market trial for a managed router, which is available to customers. Hagemann said VNFs for security, Wi-Fi, voice and session border controllers also are on the planning table.

Hagemann, a former AT&T product marketing manager, joined Comcast in 2015 to oversee its foray into Layer 3 VPN. She told Channel Partners that Comcast preferred to create an SDN platform upon which it could deliver multiple services, including SD-WAN. For that reason, the business choose to partner with Versa Networks, citing Versa’s SDN chops, “carrier-grade” networking and multiproduct functionality.

Comcast emphasizes a platform whose portal and analytics customers can visualize easily. ActiveCore has a mobile app, and Comcast integrated the platform with Alexa last fall.

“Customers don’t want to feel that Comcast as the underlying network is hiding anything from them,” Hagemann said. “They do want that network-level visibility. Circuit-up, circuit-down, port-up, port-down, latency, packet-loss, jitter. They want to know that Comcast is exposing that level of detail to them about the underlying network. I’m not sure if the other telcos are going to that level of exposure.”

She said another difference between her solution and those of telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink is delivery and management. Comcast brings professional truck rolls to each customer location and currently offers a “co-managed” model. The company is developing a fully managed version but for now shares access with the customer. There’s an “up-sell capability” for Comcast partners, who can deliver reports and other “value-added services” to the customer.

“We manage universal CPE. We monitor it. We replace it if we detect a problem with it,” Hagemann said. “But co-managed means the customer has the ability to go into the portal and make changes themselves without having to call Comcast.”

She compared Comcast to telecommunication companies, because most other cablecos are a step behind in SD-WAN. Frontier Communications unveiled an SD-WAN offering in September. Spectrum Enterprise has partnered with Nuage Networks to deliver a solution for its Ethernet customers and unveiled a proof-of-concept, but we are still awaiting the offering’s full-scale availability. Cox inched closer with the acquisition of RapidScale but is “behind the 8-ball,” according to Hagemann.

Comcast and Spectrum in particular have cited their agnosticism toward MPLS as a plus. Comcast can pair its service over the top with the customer’s own choice of connectivity, but the service also works with …

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