DOCSIS 3.1 is ready for action.
Offering the clearest indication that cable’s new multi-Gigabit platform for hybrid fiber-coaxial networks is nearing the commercial deployment phase, Comcast last week kicked off an “advanced consumer trial” of a 1 Gigabit-per-second broadband service for early adopters in Atlanta that enters play ahead of an expected wider rollout.
In Atlanta, that service will pair speeds of 1 Gbps downstream with an upstream path that maxes out at 35 Megabits per second. Two pricing options will be offered — a promotional, contract-based price of $70 per month for 36 months with unlimited data, and a no-contract product for $139.95 per month that will be subject to the MSO’s data-usage policies.
‘UNLIMITED DATA OPTION’
Comcast has been testing usage-based broadband policies in several markets, including Atlanta, but has not said if it intends to make usage pricing a company-wide commercial policy. Among the ideas being tested is an “Unlimited Data Option” that costs an additional $30 to $35 per month, depending on the market.
Comcast is arguably the most-aggressive MSO with respect to DOCSIS 3.1, but several other cable operators are adding it to their broadband game plans.
Comcast’s 1-Gbps rollout in Atlanta will help it compete against other “billboard” speeds from other providers. Google Fiber has begun to use some existing fiber infrastructure to deliver service to select apartment buildings in Atlanta’s suburbs, seeding the market ahead of a planned, broader network deployment in the area.
AT&T has also rolled out its fiber-based “GigaPower” service to parts of the Atlanta area ($70 per month for a standalone 1-Gbps service, $120 when bundled with TV service and $150 when combined with TV and U-verse voice service).
Comcast said it intends to roll out 1-Gbps services at additional price points in other markets as it tries to gauge consumer interest in Gigabit speeds.
Last month Comcast said it would roll out residential and business-class gigabit broadband using DOCSIS 3.1 in Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn., in “early 2016” and follow with launches in Chicago, Detroit and Miami in the second half of the year.
Comcast didn’t say which modem vendors are taking part in the Atlanta D3.1 trial. However, five vendors — Askey, Castle Net, Netgear, Technicolor and Ubee Interactive — have achieved DOCSIS 3.1 certification from CableLabs for their respective cable-modem products. Last month, Arris announced via its blog that the supplier’s flagship cable-access platform, the E6000 Converged Edge Router, is supporting Comcast’s D3.1 rollout in four of the five already identified markets.
Comcast also sells Gigabit Pro, a symmetrical 2-Gbps residential service that uses fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology. That uncapped service, which costs $299.95 per month, is currently available to 18 million homes (eligible homes must be within one-third of a mile of Comcast’s fiber network).
Jeff Heynen, a consulting director at analyst SNL Kagan who covers DOCSIS, digital subscriber line and fiber technologies, said he believes that DOCSIS 3.1 modems will initially be distributed in low volumes. He said he expects that number to rise rapidly, though, because there’s not a massive price difference with DOCSIS 3.0 modems. DOCSIS 3.1 modems, hybrids that can support both DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0 traffic, are expected to be 20% to 25% more expensive than their D3.0-only predecessors early on.
PRICED TO MOVE FAST?
“That’s not enough [of a delta] for operators to just wait until the price comes down as volumes go up,” Heynen said, adding that “cable operators and vendors “will be able to drive volume pretty much on day one.” He predicted 2016 will be a “dominant year” for DOCSIS 3.0 consumer-premises equipment, but the market should start to split rather quickly next year.
The big limiting factor early on is availability of chipsets. Broadcom and Intel will be leading that charge. STMicroelectronics was pursuing the D3.1 silicon market, but has opted to scuttle development on new platforms and products for set-tops and home gateways. It’s possible STMicro could sell its DOCSIS assets, with Huawei rumored to be among the interested parties.
DOCSIS 3.1 on the Docket
Comcast is first to market with a DOCSIS 3.1-based broadband product, but other MSOs are expected to deploy the technology:
• Mediacom has started offering a 1-Gbs product with DOCSIS 3.0 technology, but the company confirmed that all future Gigabit launches will use D3.1 as the MSO pushes ahead with “Project Gigabit,” a component of its three-year, $1 billion capital-investment plan that will also factor in WiFi and an expansion of business services.
• Cox is using fiber-to-the-premises early on for its 1-Gig residential offering in select areas, but expects to also tie in DOCSIS 3.1 as it moves ahead on a plan begin market- wide deployment of gigabit services by the end of 2016.
• NBN Co., an Australian government-owned entity that’s tasked with bringing next-generation broadband to millions of homes and businesses in that country, recently completed an HFC trial using DOCSIS 3.0, but intends to include D3.1 as it upgrades HFC plant.
• Liberty Global has been testing DOCSIS 3.1 in the labs ahead of expected live field trials slated for 2016.
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