Comcast: DOCSIS 3.1 acceleration is being driven by new broadband competition

NEW ORLEANS -- A Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) executive told attendees at this year's SCTE 2015 event that what's driving the cable industry to rapidly develop the DOCSIS 3.1 technology specification is a wave of new broadband and video competitors.

Speaking to attendees during the opening afternoon sessions during SCTE 2015, Jorge Salinger, VP of access for Comcast, said that the cable industry's development of the DOCSIS 3.1 specification has come together very quickly and is being driven by an emergence of new broadband competition from Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) and telcos like AT&T (NYSE: T) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL).

"It's an incredibly fast moving specification and the reason for that is competition -- competition for cable operators and competition for ... equipment vendors and that is helping the acceleration," Salinger said. "On the equipment side, there is silicon available from three suppliers and there are multiple cable modems so the development of the equipment has been very rapid."

In less than a year after completing the development of the DOCSIS 3.1 concept, vendors are creating products that are following the new specification that Comcast and other cable operators are testing in their networks. If it did not have an accelerated DOCSIS 3.1 plan, the cable industry would have had to wait another year to get the new technology into their networks.

"Without an accelerated plan, we would not have been able to deploy DOCSIS 3.1 until 2017," Salinger said.

Salinger said that what has driven the accelerated timeline for DOCSIS 3.1 is competition from disruptive players like Google Fiber and others offering 1 Gbps services to consumers and businesses. Comcast itself has been rolling out a 2 Gbps service leveraging a mix of its existing HFC cable via DOCSIS 3.1 technology and FTTH technologies.

To get its network ready for DOCSIS 3.1, Comcast is working to get its operational elements together in the field by testing orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and getting the right tools in place.

Under its DOCSIS 3.1 operational plan, it is hoping to get a better understanding of two elements: how much capacity it can get, and how it can simultaneously run new and existing services such as single carrier quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM)-based video, single-carrier QAM DOCSIS and OFDM signals.

During a recent trial with some of its employees, Comcast used an arbitrary waveform generator on an 860 MHz cable plant and was pleased with the results.

"We want to make sure that those configurations can work in the field," Salinger said.

As it proceeds with the roadmap for its overall last mile network, Comcast said it will take a few approaches to deliver service: use its HFC plant via DOCSIS 3.1 PON-based and fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology in Greenfield developments and RF over Glass (RFoG) where needed.

"DOCSIS 3.1 is a key technology we're planning on deploying, but there are other things that we're doing," Salinger said. "Fiber to the premises is one thing we're doing and have been doing for a long time, we fiber-based services for Metro Ethernet and we now started publicly offering 2 Gbps services."

The service provider is also using other ways to enhance its existing HFC network with new upstream and downstream capabilities.

"There are several other things that we can do," Salinger said. "One of them is maximize the use downstream and upstream on the HFC network by taking existing networks that have 750 MHz actives and upgrading those actives to gigahertz and getting more capacity on the network that's both accompanied with a change in the upstream."

Salinger added that Comcast is deploying "fiber deep technologies that makes the service groups smaller, which is something we have done for years and years and deploying distributed architectures."

Related articles:
Comcast to challenge Google Fiber, AT&T's 1 Gbps broadband play with 2 Gbps plan
Comcast takes on Google, Verizon with fiber launch in Florida