DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modems Are Here

Carl Weinschenk

The hopscotch game of dueling technologies between telcos (fiber, with some copper); cable operators (coaxial cable, with a dash of fiber); cellular (LTE and, in the future, 5G) and wireless (Wi-Fi) continues. The latest news is on the cable front, where the first DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems are becoming available.

DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. Version 3.1 of the standard features potential speeds of 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) downstream and 1 Gbps upstream. Though real-world speeds never live up to the billing, DOCSIS 3.1 will be quite fast, especially for users with normal data demands.

The various chip sets and elements of the new version of the standard have gradually been released. More will be available at Cable-Tec Expo, the cable technology conference sponsored by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE), this week in New Orleans. In addition to these announcements, cable operators will get their first look at a complete DOCSIS 3.1 modem. Two, in fact.

Arris’ Touchstone CM8200 and SURFboard SB8200 are, according to CED, the first DOCSIS 3.1 customer premise equipment (CPE) to be released. Arris says that the Touchstone CM8200 offers 5 Gbps downstream and 2 GBPS upstream and features switchable filters that support full 204 MHz upstream and 1218 MHz downstream operations. The SURFboard SB8200 offers the same features as the SM8200, the company says, but is customized for retail customers.

The next steps are certifications and MSO testing, followed by limited and full rollouts. At Light Reading, Alan Breznick looks at the race to DOCSIS 3.1 certification.

There a couple of points to consider. The telecom industry in general and the cable industry in particular has been around the block so many times during the past 20 years that the release of pre-standard gear is not as big a deal as it was in the past. Quite simply, engineers know pretty much how to satisfy the standards, and products sold before certification are likely to be pretty close to the mark. Things are engineered in such a way that fixes can be done in firmware and software.

The other point is that DOCSIS 3.1 is not just about cable modems. The standard will also be used in gateways and a new device called the Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP). CCAPs will offer video and data services in the same chassis. The goal is to save space and conserve energy by letting elements share common platforms, such as power supplies. Breznick’s story, which looks at Huawei’s efforts to become a player in the cable equipment sector, is a reminder that the emergence of DOCSIS 3.1 is about more than speedy modems.

The news on DOCSIS 3.1 will come quickly. Last month, Multichannel News’ Jeff Baumgartner reported on Cox Communications’ plans. Once products are certified, the MSO will get busy with lab and field trials. That is likely next year. Full-scale deployments likely will follow in 2017, the story says. The increase in speeds is inexorable:

Cox’s interest in DOCSIS 3.1 comes as the operator moves ahead on a plan to bring 1-Gig capabilities to its entire footprint.  Cox is initially offer[ing] residential 1-Gi g service, under the “G1GABLAST” brand, using fiber-to-the-premises technology, and has been offering that in several markets, including parts of San Diego, Phoenix, Omaha,  New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; and Las Vegas.

Other operators’ plans, including the use of fiber, will be similar. The race to offer fast speeds to business and residential consumers is not slowing.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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