Cox: All Options on Table for 1-Gig Rollout

Cox Communications has shed more light on its plan to start deploying Gigabit speeds to all markets by the end of 2016, but is being a bit more clandestine about the technology it will use to deliver that vision.

Cox’s plan is taking form as cable operators increasingly feel competitive and regulatory pressure to deploy 1-Gigabit-per-second upgrades amid the growing presence of Google Fiber and “U-verse With Gigapower,” AT&T’s fledgling fiber-fed, Gigabit-capable platform. Google Fiber’s current deployment is limited to Provo, Utah, and pockets of Kansas City, with Austin, Texas, on tap for mid-2014, but the ISP is also eyeing an expansion into 34 new markets, including Cox’s turf in Phoenix.

Although Cox’s plan won’t take full effect for years, the plan is significant in that it’s the first time a major cable operator has made a firm commitment to offer 1-Gbps speeds across the board. Cox’s initiative might also help to establish a technology blueprint for other MSOs that pursue similar strategies.

Bright House Networks, the first U.S. MSO to announce plans to deliver a residential 1-Gig service, will use fiber-based EPON technology to offer such speeds to a new 6,000-home community being built in the Tampa, Fla., area. Comcast is tapping its fiberbased Ethernet platform, typically used to deliver business services, for a 505-Megabit-per-second residential service in its Northeastern systems, but has not announced when it might increase that residential offering to 1 Gbps.

At Cox, “all options are on the table,” Philip Nutsugah, vice president of product management for Cox High Speed Internet, told Multichannel News. “There are lots of ways to deliver gigabit speeds. We will have a lot of options available to us.”

The cable company for years has already been using GPON fiber-to-the-premises technology to deliver speeds of 1 Gigabit per second or more to business customers. DOCSIS 3.1, the emerging CableLabs specification, is targeting multi-gigabit speeds that can be delivered over an operator’s hybrid fiber/coax plant, but the technology won’t be ready for mass deployments for a couple of years.

Cox isn’t revealing its full 1-Gig technology game plan, but the expectation is that it will use a mix of fiber to the premises (FTTP) and DOCSIS 3.1.

“When [DOCSIS 3.1] becomes available … we’ll take advantage of it, and it will become one of the arrows in our quiver to deliver gigabit to our customers,” Nutsugah said.

What’s a bit more clear is Cox’s commitment, which calls for it to start offering 1-Gig capabilities in new and existing neighborhoods in three markets — Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb. — by the fourth quarter of this year.

DOCSIS 3.1 won’t be ready for primetime this year, which would seem to indicate that Cox will initially use FTTP on a targeted basis to deliver that product in those three markets and in new residential buildouts.

“Where the technology is enabled, customers [in the initial set of Cox markets being targeted] will have the choice to order the Gigabit service,” Nutsugah said.

Cox has dabbled in residential FTTP in the form of a fiber deployment to the new Rancho Mission Viejo housing development in Orange County, Calif.

Cox isn’t delivering 1-Gig speeds there yet, but is instead using RF over Glass (RFoG), a cable standard that uses the provider’s legacy back-office systems and traditional RF-based set-tops and cable modems. A special device handles the optical-to-electrical signal conversion at the premises.

Cox president Pat Esser first revealed the new broadband plan in an interview with Bloomberg Television at The Cable Show in April, calling the decision to offer 1-Gig speeds across the board “a pioneering moment for us.”

Going to 1-Gig is just one piece of Cox’s new broadband plan. “This is not just about Gigabit,” Nutsugah said. “What we’re doing here is meeting our customer’s needs across the entire spectrum.”

For example, Cox will also double the speeds of its most popular residential broadband tiers this year — its Preferred tier will jump from 25 Megabits per second (downstream) to 50 Mbps, with the Premiere offering rising from 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

About 72% of Cox’s highspeed Internet customers take one of those two tiers. Its high-end residential DOCSIS 3.0-based tier currently tops out at 150 Mbps. Cox, which serves about 6 million residential and business customers, has also expanded its WiFi network to the Phoenix metro area and to Greater Las Vegas, complementing the rollout already underway in Omaha.

Those access points will also be accessible to broadband customers who get service from the “Cable WiFi” roaming consortium, a group that also includes Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks.

Going for the Gig

Cox has not outlined its 1-Gig technology roadmap, but it has provided an outline of its deployment plans:

Implement technology that will bring 1-Gbps speeds to all new residential projects in Cox’s footprint nationwide;

Begin a rollout of Gigabit speeds in new and existing markets by the end of 2016;

Offer Gigabit speeds to existing and new neighborhoods in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb., starting in the fourth quarter; and

Provide Gigabit speeds to select new condominiums and apartments, and WiFi in common areas of those developments.

SOURCE: Cox Communications