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Cable Is Getting Ready To Enter the ‘Gigasphere’

LOS ANGELES — Cable’s getting ready to go big with a Gig.

That was a clear theme that emerged at The Cable Show here last week, as the industry trotted out a new brand for its multi-gigabit-capable DOCSIS 3.1 platform, and one of the nation’s largest cable operators pledged to offer 1-Gigabit-persecond speeds across its footprint.

Those efforts are coming together as U.S. cable operators continue to face off with Verizon FiOS while bracing for more competition from Google Fiber and AT&T, which have both threatened to expand the deployment of fiber-based networks that can deliver 1-Gig speeds.

And cable will be touting a new marketing moniker to signal its entry into the Gigabit era. “Gigasphere” will displace the technical term DOCSIS 3.1 as the consumerfacing name to represent D3.1-based technologies and services. While DOCSIS 3.1 will remain the technical term for the underpinning of an emerging platform that promises to support up to 10 Gbps in the downstream, that acronym (for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) will be pushed to the background marketing-wise.

That branding effort is being led by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in collaboration with the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, CableLabs and Cable Europe.

The new brand doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Speaking at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Cable-Tec Expo last October, NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell suggested that the industry needed to come up with a flashier consumer-facing name for DOCSIS 3.1. “We need to own this thing and sell this thing with passion and commitment,” Powell said at the time.

Cable marketers and communications executives will develop guidelines for the proper usage of “Gigasphere,” but didn’t announce a specific timeline. Work on additional branding, including a new Gigasphere logo, will be among the tasks to be tackled immediately after The Cable Show, an NCTA official said.

The pending brand shift comes ahead of DOCSIS 3.1 trials and rollouts, and follows the release of the initial DOCSIS 3.1 product specs by CableLabs last fall. Prototype equipment is expected to show up before the end of the year, but widespread deployments of D3.1 aren’t expected to get underway for about two years.

But that isn’t stopping some operators from getting some sizable 1-Gig projects underway now.

Among them, Cox Communications has developed a broadband roadmap that calls for the cable operator to offer 1-Gbps speeds to all residential customers, and will kick off that plan in select markets in the coming weeks.

“This has always been part of our roadmap,” Cox CEO Pat Esser told Bloomberg Television last Wednesday (April 30), noting that the MSO has been delivering speeds of 1 Gbps or more to business customers for years.

Esser’s revelation got a shout out from Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who praised Cox’s decision, as well as AT&T’s broadened pursuit of its GigaPower platform, during his keynote here last week.

Cox didn’t say how and where it will target 1-Gig services during the first phase of that plan, but the aim is to start offering that capability in select areas later this year. Cox said it will announce more details about the plan in the next two to three weeks. It’s anticipated that Cox will boot up 1-Gig residential services in select areas using fi ber-based technology.

In an interview at the show, Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said the operator will be taking a “hybrid” approach to 1-Gig, which likely means it will be delivered via a mix of D3.1 and fiberto- the-premises technologies.

Although DOCSIS 3.1 technology isn’t yet fully baked, Hart said Cox has already begun to “accelerate operational readiness” for the new platform.

A significant piece of that effort will come by way of an all-digital transition that will see the MSO reclaim about 60 analog channels and enable it to carve out room to insert DOCSIS 3.1 spectrum. Roughly 85% to 90% of Cox’s plant is already built out to 1 GHz. Cox plans to launch its first all-digital market trial in the fourth quarter, and then ramp up deployments in 2015 and 2016.