Taking IPTV for a Spin

When Comcast later this year starts kicking the tires on a high-speed cable-modem technology, it will also experiment with a new way of driving TV programming over its networks: using Internet Protocol.

At the company's biennial investor conference last week (May 1), Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner said the operator expects to test equipment based on CableLabs' Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0 later this year.

“The technology should be available so we can deploy [DOCSIS 3.0] where and when we want to next year, if there are business cases to do it,” he said.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is high on the technology. On the company's first-quarter earnings call last month, he noted that he plans to demonstrate on stage at The Cable Show “where we're going as an industry” on DOCSIS 3.0, which he said will “turbo-charge today's experience into a super broadband experience.”

DOCSIS 3.0, the latest iteration of cable's data-networking standard, provides the ability to virtually glue together multiple 6-Megahertz channels to act as if they were a single channel. These bonded channels will allow the next generation of cable-modem equipment to provide downstream speeds up to 100 Megabits per second and even higher.

“Everybody understands it allows us to increase our speed fairly substantially,” Werner said.

Comcast will also check to see how effectively those big pipes can deliver video.

In one of Comcast's DOCSIS 3.0 trials, the operator will provide voice, video and data over a single, high-bandwidth IP connection, according to a presentation by Comcast fellow Mark Francisco at CableLabs' winter technology conference in March.

This converged-services trial, in a system that serves 50,000 homes passed, will include an IP video headend and DOCSIS 3.0 set-top boxes built to the operator's Residential Network Gateway (RNG) requirements, Francisco said, according to an industry consultant who was in attendance. RNG is Comcast's effort to standardize set-top hardware platforms. The IP-video headend will be connected to a 10 Gigabit-per-second backhaul link.

The test bed will also include other network-connected devices, such as Sling Media's SlingBox, dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellphones and mobile handsets capable of playing video, according to Francisco's presentation.

Comcast declined to provide more information about the IPTV trial.