DOCSIS 3.1: Coming Soon to a Cable Modem Near You

Carl Weinschenk
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The cable industry has a tremendous amount at stake as it begins rolling out the next version of its prime protocol, the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS). Version 3.1 of the standard provides expanded bandwidth and other features that the industry will need to effectively compete.

This is especially true as its old nemesis, the telephone industry, shows no sign of giving up the fight. Indeed, its copper technology, long thought to be antiquated, is showing surprising resiliency.

DOCSIS 3.1 has been in planning stages for years, and the future is almost here. LightReading reports that Comcast is testing DOCSIS 3.1 in the field. The goal, according to Jorge Salinger, the MSO’s vice president of Access Architecture, is to start large-scale deployments next year.

DOCSIS 3.1 is an international standard. Last week, NBN, which is the company building the Australian National Broadband Network, said that from 2017 onward, it will offer DOCSIS 3.1 on the hybrid fibre-coax (HFC) network that it acquired from Optus and Telstra.


The analysis in The Register deals a lot with domestic Australian politics, but in doing so definitely positions DOCSIS 3.1 as a technology upgrade over existing infrastructure and plans that had been in place that were not as fully focused on the new technology. DOCSIS 3.1, the story suggests, is fully competitive with fiber and, certainly, enhanced copper as it approaches.

Announcements about field trials and deployments are high profile. They suggest, however, that a lot of less exciting equipment moves have been made and continue to happen. Earlier this month, M/A-COM Technology Solutions Holdings (MACOM) introduced cable amplifiers that are optimized for DOCSIS 3.1. The products, which the company said complement its recently introduced DOCSIS 3.1 passives, are aimed at head-end, node, system and line use equipment, which often require a broad bandwidth.

Networking

Testing, monitoring and measurement of the new networks are vital. A change in DOCSIS 3.1 is that each cable modem can act as a network probe, sending data upstream that can help isolate problems. These proactive network maintenance (PNM) capabilities, which were baked into the standard by cable industry consortium CableLabs, constitute an important step. Broadcom said last week that it is building circuitry into all of its DOCSIS 3.1 chips to take advantage of PNM. DOCSIS 3.0 chips also will have extended upstream capabilities, CED said.

Cable operators have been battling the telephone companies on the fiber and copper fronts for years. It is an interesting battle in that none of the three techniques ever gets so far out in front that it dominates. This is especially true when costs and other non-technical issues are factored in. The cable industry has put a tremendous bet on DOCSIS 3.1. Whether it was a wise bet will become apparent during the next year.

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 cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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