Liberty Global Ramping Up for DOCSIS 3.1

Liberty Global is testing DOCSIS 3.1 in the labs and preparing for “live trials in certain markets in early 2016,” company vice chairman and CEO Mike Fries said Wednesday on the company’s second quarter earnings call.

“We're testing [DOCSIS 3.1] right now and should begin commercial deployments next year,” Fries said, referring to an emerging CableLabs-specified platform that will bring multi-gigabit speeds to HFC networks.

He said Liberty Global is already ordering cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) with DOCSIS 3.1 capability and putting them into the field.

The rollout is ambitious, as Fries said he expects 40% of Liberty Global’s network in the U.K. and Germany will be D3.1-ready by the end of 2015, and sees 80% of its full footprint outfitted for the new platform in about three years.

Fries also shed some light on the economics of DOCSIS 3.1, estimating that the MSO should be able to deliver 1-gig speeds for about €20 (US $21.89) per home. That cost, he said, excludes the consumer premises equipment/modem.

Other MSOs are also pushing ahead, as Comcast expects to start a market trial of DOCSIS 3.1 by the fourth quarter of this year. Based on a survey of a dozen top service providers from around the globe, IHS predicts that, on average, those MSOs will pass about a third of their residential subscribers with DOCSIS 3.1-enabled headends by April 2017.

As Liberty Global preps for D3.1, it’s using DOCSIS 3.0 to deliver downstream burst up to 200 Mbps or more in 11 of its 12 European market, and has launched a 500-Meg offering in Switzerland and “the vast majority of our footprint,” the exec said.

Fries also offered an update on “Project Lightning,” a £3 billion (US$4.7 billion) Virgin Media initiative that will enable the U.K.-based operator to extend its broadband network to an addition 4 million premises over the next five years.

He said Virgin Media released 80,000 homes in the first half while laying the foundation for accelerated new build in big markets such as Manchester, where the operator is targeting 150,000 new homes, and in Leeds, where the initiative will reach another 80,000.

“This is just the beginning,” Fries said. “Lightning will launch in 10 more towns and cities in the second half and will ramp materially in 2016.”