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Smit: Comcast’s Fiber Network Plans Have 'Uncanny' Compatibility with 5G

While there are big questions about how well 5G signals can perform in the higher spectrum bands, Comcast’s fiber network plans fit well as a backhaul option with the emerging next-gen wireless platform, Neil Smit, Comcast Cable’s president and CEO, said Monday.

 “We feel good about our network,” Smit said at Deutsche Bank's 25thAnnual Media and Telecom Conference.

He said Comcast hired two outside independent experts to look at the operator’s fiber network plans and how they overlaid with 5G, and discovered that Comcast has “a lot of compatibility there, excellent compatibility…It is kind of uncanny."

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While 5G might eventually factor into Comcast’s mobile plans, the technology is viewed as both a threat, as a platform that can provide alternative gigabit-class speeds to the home, and as an opportunity, particularly in the area of bolstering cable’s already growing cellular backhaul business.

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“We feel good about our plant being able to service 5G and the growth of our fiber network,” Smit said. “We are bringing fiber deeper every day in the business services space especially.”

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Bryan Kraft, analyst with Deutsche Bank, wondered if Comcast’s more widely deployed HFC network will have a role to play as well. Smit said that side of the network ledger will be “fine,” as Comcast continues to split nodes and deploy fiber deeper into its HFC plant. Notably, Comcast is being aggressive with a N+0 architecture in which it removes amplifiers from the network as it pulls fiber closer to the home and reduces the number of homes hanging off the node.

Speaking of HFC, Smit said the operator plans to have DOCISS 3.1 service available to majority of its homes by the end of next year, noting that Comcast is already using D3.1 to deliver gigabit services (in the downstream) in markets such as Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Nashville.

Smit also said Comcast plans to follow “over the next 24 months” with the introduction of Full Duplex DOCSIS, an annex of the spec that delivers multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds that will help MSOs deliver high-speeds in the downstream and upstream direction on HFC plant, without having to pull fiber all the way to the home.

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Smit also touched on progress of X1, Comcast’s next-gen video platform that has helped the MSO return its pay TV category to growth.

He said Comcast has three times the DVR buy rate with X1, twice the PPV rate, and that X1 subs tend to have more outlets per home, which all help to deliver improved ARPU.

He said Comcast is getting 80 million commands from X1 voice remotes per week, and expects that number to grow to more than 5 billion commands over the course of 2017.