Com Hem Revs Up 500-Meg Broadband Tier

Com Hem, Sweden’s largest cable operator, is stretching the legs of its broadband network with the rollout of a broadband tier that maxes out at 500 Mbps downstream and 50 Mbps in the upstream.

Available to “over 1 million households,” the new tier will set customers back SEK 899 (US$138.03) per month and give the MSO another high-end weapon to wield against competing telcos such as Telenor ASA and TeliaSonera AB.

Unlike U.S. cable operators, Com Hem has struggled to expand its broadband subscriber base in Sweden's highly-penetrated high-speed Internet market. It ended  the fiscal fourth quarter with 543,200 high-speed broadband subs, down from 544,300 in the third quarter, and 550,900 in the year-ago quarter.

But Com Hem's announcement does provide some real-world proof of the speeds that today's DOCSIS 3.0 platform  can provide. And it does fit snugly with the European Commission's "Digital Agenda," which calls on the region's ISPs to offer download broadband speeds of at least 30 Mbps to all citizens by 2020, with at least 50% of European households subscribing to Internet tiers providing speeds of at least 100 Mbps by that time.

Com Hem’s announcement offered little technical detail, other than noting that the service will be powered by a new gateway outfitted with 802.11ac, a new Wi-Fi standard that is targeting wireless burst speeds up to 1 Gbps. If the new tier is based on DOCSIS 3.0, it's one of the world's fastest to rely on the CableLabs-specified platform. Com Hem was not  immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Update: Com Hem confirmed Thursday that it is delivering the 500 Mbps tier using a DOCSIS 3.0 gateway that can bond up to 16 downstream channels.

A fully-loaded DOCSIS 3.0 modem with a bonded 16-channel downstream can produce max speeds of 800 Mbps in EuroDOCSIS networks that use 8MHz-wide channels – enough to provide enough headroom for a tier that advertises speeds of 500 Mbps. Newer 24-channel D3 modems, such as the one that Canadian MSO Rogers Communications unleashed last week, can surpass 1 Gbps on a EuroDOCSIS network. Broadcom has also developed a D3/gateway SoC that can bond up to 32 channels.

According to Com Hem’s announcement (translated by Google), the new tier, paired with the speedy in-home Wi-Fi component, will allow multiple users to stream video on the home network and enable an individual user to download a 4.5-Gigabyte HD movie in just over a minute.

Also on Wednesday, Com Hem boosted the speed of its previous fastest broadband service from 200 Mbps to 250 Mbps (downstream), while maintaining the monthly price of SEK 499 (US$76.61)

Com Hem’s other  broadband tiers offer max downstream speeds of 100 Mbps, 50 Mbps and 10 Mbps.

Com Hem ended its fiscal fourth quarter with 1.74 million homes passed, and 611,700 pay-TV subs, down from 658,400 in the year-ago period.  The MSO is also looking to goose its video numbers with the coming launch of a Samsung box powered by TiVo. Com Hem is currently testing that combo with a small set of customers.