DOCSIS 3.1 Progress Goes on Display

LAS VEGAS — International CES featured new Ultra HD streaming and download services and applications of the so-called “Internet of Things,” whereby just about everything — from appliances to lightbulbs to watches and other wearables — will be “smart” in connected fashion.

In the home, this means cable operators will need to brace for surging demands on their broadband pipes.

While DOCSIS 3.0 has done the job thus far, the coming, more-efficient DOCSIS 3.1 platform will raise the bar again, positioning operators to deliver multi-Gigabit speeds.

Two top chipmakers — Broadcom and STMicroelectronics — showed off progress they have made as major operators prepare to deploy DOCSIS 3.1.

Broadcom unwrapped the first systems-on-a-chip based on DOCSIS 3.1, a CableLabs specification that is shooting for capacities of 10 Gigabits per second downstream and as much as 2 Gbps in the upstream.

Its D3.1-based reference design, dubbed the BCM93390, also bakes in 802.11ac WiFi radios that, it has said, can pump out in-home wireless speeds of up to 2 Gbps.

The initial crop of DOCSIS 3.1 modems will be hybrids in that they will also be capable of supporting both DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1 traffic.

The modems will initially cost more than today’s DOCSIS 3.0 equipment, but the aim is to help MSOs seed the market with DOCSIS 3.1-capable devices as they launch fresh spectrum and begin to migrate to the new platform.

To adhere to the CableLabs specs, Broadcom’s design supports two OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) channels that are each 196 MHz wide, two 96-MHz OFDM-A upstream channels, 32 single-carrier DOCSIS 3.0 QAM downstream channels and eight single-carrier DOCSIS 3.0 QAM upstream channels.

Broadcom said the chip also integrates PacketCable voice and e-router apps, as well as RDK-B, an emerging, unified version of the preintegrated software stack for set-tops and DOCSIS-powered broadband gateways.

The original version of the Reference Design Kit, managed by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global, supported only hybrid QAM/IP and IP-only video devices.

At its booth, Broadcom showed the BCM93390 pumping out about 4 Gbps downstream, tying the design to a prototype cable modem termination system (CMTS) powered by field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

Broadcom is sampling its DOCSIS 3.1-based design and is in “verification” for production to begin in the second half of 2015. CableLabs is expected to start DOCSIS 3.1 certification testing by mid-year.

Comcast and Liberty Global are among the MSOs that are expected to start some limited DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts later this year.

“By more effectively using our cable plant to grow our total throughput, we expect to offer our customers more than 1 Gigabit speeds in their homes in 2015 and beyond,” Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said in a statement.

“DOCSIS 3.1 will enable Liberty Global to deliver an even richer experience once we begin deploying this cost-effective technology during the second half of 2015,” Balan Nair, Liberty Global’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, added.

Jay Kirchoff , vice president of marketing for Broadcom’s broadband and connectivity group, said the chipmaker will be shrinking the design in the months ahead.

STMicroelectronics also provided private demos of its DOCSIS 3.1 modem designs. A spokesman said the chipmaker showed its chipset working with CMTSs from Arris and Cisco Systems, and confirmed that the company was one of six vendors that participated in CableLabs’ first D3.1 interoperability event, which took place last month.

The next CableLabs plugfest is scheduled for Jan. 19-23.