160Mbps downloads move closer for US cable customers
By Eric Bangeman
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is holding its annual convention in Las Vegas (where else?) and this year, super-high-speed cable service is finally moving into the limelight. Announcements from hardware providers like Motorola and Texas Instruments suggest that we're finally moving closer to the promised land of DOCSIS 3.0.
DOCSIS 3.0 offers two immediate benefits over what cable ISP subscribers are currently stuck with (DOCSIS 1.1): faster speeds and support for IPv6. The technology has the potential to bump download speeds to 160Mbps and upload speeds to 120Mbps, although that bandwidth will be divided up between households attached to a single node.
In the first widespread deployment of pre-DOCSIS 3.0 hardware, a South Korean cable ISP was able to pump 100Mbps service into the homes of its subscribers. This week's announcements provide hope that the kind of speeds seen in Korea will be making their way across the Pacific before too long.
Motorola, Singapore-based StarHub, and cable hardware provider Vyyo announced that they have successfully tested DOCSIS 3.0 hardware, delivering speeds in excess of 145Mbps. Testing was performed over StarHub's hybrid fiber-coax network in Singapore and used a combination of Motorola hardware and Vyyo's spectrum overlay products.
Texas Instruments has also announced a new DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem architecture that it says will enable "fast adoption and deployment of advanced DOCSIS 3.0 specification-based products." Called Puma 5, TI's solution provides advanced home networking support and is optimized for data, voice, and video traffic.
The announcements demonstrate that while the cable companies will have to invest in some new equipment, wholesale infrastructure improvements will be largely unnecessary. This is especially true for cable companies that have already deployed mixed fiber/coaxial networks. The upside? Faster DOCSIS 3.0 deployments in the US.
Cable companies have another incentive to roll out DOCSIS 3.0 in a rapid manner. Verizon and AT&T are investing heavily in fiber networks of their own. While AT&T's fiber-to-the-node solution won't break any speed records (DSL download speeds are capped at 6Mbps), Verizon's FiOS network offers the kind of bandwidth that is out of reach even for DOCSIS 3.0. Of course, much of that 3.5Gbps of bandwidth is reserved for television programming (leaving around 622Mbps for broadband), but FiOS has the potential for even faster speeds as more technological advances are made and FiOS TV is migrated to an IPTV system.
Comcast plans to demo DOCSIS 3.0 at The Cable Show this week and, more importantly, plans to begin DOCSIS 3.0 trials later this year, according to Cable Digital News. Large-scale DOCSIS 3.0 deployments are unlikely to begin until next year, and a November 2006 report estimated that only 40 percent of the cable modems in use will support the technology by 2011-by that time, FiOS will be available to well over 18 million households in the US. Still, it's encouraging to see one of those "three-to-five-years-away" technologies poised to finally hit the market.