Comcast Test Faster Modem Speed

Comcast Corp. is experimenting with a "double down" for its main high-speed data product in two test markets, opening up customers' downstream throughputs from 1.5 Megabits per second to 3 Mbps at no extra cost.

The MSO has been running an open-ended test of the turbo-charged speed in Knoxville, Tenn., for more than 30 days now, and just last week it added Pittsburgh for a 30-day trial.

The tests are part of Comcast's efforts to peer around the broadband-service corner, according to Greg Butz, vice president of marketing and business development.

"Really, what we are focused on here is to prepare for what we envision as the future broadband experience — how we think folks should expect a broadband Internet experience to work," he said. "When you think about that experience you are trying to create and what people expect from a broadband experience, and where we are evolving with content and applications, that is what this is about."

The response among Knoxville customers has been positive, according to the MSO. Customer messages praise the increase, noting that streamed music files no longer skip, and there are fewer pauses in video and games as the player's buffer fills.

"No question that some of the feedback we have gotten — there are customers in Knoxville that have said boy, we really appreciate this and we would love it if it would remain at this speed," Butz said.

Comcast needed to increase its network capacity to support the higher speed, but it is not releasing exact details in terms of cable-modem termination system and router additions.

Similarly, it is not releasing the resultant price tag for the network upgrades. During Comcast's recent second-quarter earnings call, though, cable-unit president Steve Burke noted it was "not a major increase in cost, and we think that it's a way to continue to refine our product and improve it."

Taking the test to a second market will determine whether the results from Knoxville can be duplicated, and whether the higher-speed results play with variations in equipment — Knoxville is served by an original Comcast system, while Pittsburgh is a former AT&T Broadband market.

So far, the increases have not resulted in any network outages or other problems, Butz said.

"The reliability of the network — I think our customers and the benchmarking we do continues to show the inherent reliability of the service across all aspects," he said.

But Comcast is mum as to whether it will expand the 3 Mbps service beyond the two market trials.

"It's premature for us to answer that," Butz said. "Obviously, the first thing we are looking for is how customers react to it and how they value that.

"You've heard us say again and again our view is that we not only believe we have a superior value proposition today, but that as we see the evolution of the broadband experience, and the broadband home of the future, we think you have to offer the customers the applications, the services and the speed required to experience those in a simple, easy and intuitive way."

And while Comcast is offering both trials to customers with no changes in price, the MSO is not locked in to that strategy should the trials lead to a full rollout of 3-Mbps service. It also won't say if other service tiers might be affected.

"It would be premature for us to discuss pricing on any of the service plans," Butz said.

While some might suspect it also is a move to counterstrike recent service pricing maneuvers by rival telcos, Butz argues it is really driven by customer reaction to Comcast products.

"The trial work we are doing here is about testing the impact to the network, seeing how customers value it and understanding what is the upside, or the opportunity, as we think about true broadband applications — that true broadband experience," he said. "That's what this is."