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DOCSIS 3.1 Grappling with Gateway Gap

DENVER – The early reviews of DOCSIS 3.1 are in, with engineers with some of the top MSOs in North America reporting that the technology is performing better than expected.

But if there’s one near-term issue they are all grappling with is getting access to integrated DOCSIS 3.1-based gateways that enable the in-home network to match the speeds that are entering the home from the network and eliminating those potential bottlenecks.

The availability of DOCSIS 3.1 gateways is a “little behind” where Mediacom Communications would like it to be, JR Walden, SVP of technology and CTO of Mediacom, said here at Light Reading’s Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies conference.

In fact, in-home WiFi testing is becoming a major focus for DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, added Cyrille Morelle, president and CEO of test and measurement firm VeEX.

“Having a very powerful WiFi device is critical” for DOCSIS 3.1, agreed Damian Poltz, VP of technology strategy and networks at Shaw Communications.

Comcast is trying to address this with the XB6, a full-featured DOCSIS 3.1 gateway that will also integrate speedy WiFi, ZigBee and other connectivity technologies.

For its initial D3.1 deployments, Comcast has been pairing stand-alone modems with a separate gateway to serve “thousands of customers.”

While acknowledging that such a set-up is not ideal, Jorge Salinger, VP of access architecture at Comcast, confirmed that Comcast is building versions of the XB6 that use Broadcom and Intel chipsets. He said Comcast is completing employee trials shifting toward customer trials and on to commercial deployments, which are expected to begin in the next month or so.

RELATED: Comcast Taps Arris, Technicolor for ‘XB6’ Gateways: Sources

Vendors such as Hitron Technologies are building and developing DOCSIS 3.1-based gateways and network extenders to help bridge that gap. Hitron, said company CTO Greg Fisher, has about 30 D3.1 gateway trials underway around the world.

RELATED: Rogers Rolling Out Hitron’s DOCSIS 3.1 Gateway

Short-term gateway issues aside, MSOs are pleased with the performance they’ve seen from DOCSIS 3.1 in the early going.

DOCSIS 3.1 is working “really well” regardless of now clean the HFC plant is or the size of the node sizes that are serving customers. “It [DOCSIS 3.1] works better than 3.0 in noisy plant,” said Walden. Mediacom has already upgraded its entire HFC network to support DOCSIS 3.1 and is in the process of deploying D3.1-based broadband services.

RELATED: Mediacom Goes Big With DOCSIS 3.1

Walden said the economics of D3.1 has been a major driver for Mediacom after it analyzed assumed broadband capacity demand and how much it would cost to stay with DOCSIS 3.0 to keep up with it, or start to shift to D3.1. (DOCSIS 3.1 modems are hybrids in the sense that they can support both D3.0 and D3.1-based traffic.)

He said Mediacom expects to get better economics for all tiers of service, not just billboard 1-Gig services.

Mediacom isn’t pinpointing how many subscribers are taking the MSO’s fastest offered speed tier, but Walden offered a range that 3% to 10% of new subs are taking 1-Gig.

Salinger said DOCSIS 3.1’s ability to support multiple modulation profiles is a “significant benefit” as Comcast continues to expand its reach.

RELATED: Comcast Sets DOCSIS 3.1 Expansion, Launches 1-Gig in Detroit

“It’s in full swing of execution,” he said of that deployment. “The idea is to have gigabit service everywhere.”

Salinger also talked about the importance of an MSO having its own speed test tools to show or demonstrate that D3.1 is performing at the right levels as some subscribers don’t have in-home equipment that can support 1-Gig.