Cable Fights Back with DOCSIS 3.0

Cable operators have a dream, and they've had it for a long time. The dream is that they will branch off from their traditional residential customer base and begin serving businesses. The dream starts with small companies and gradually grows until they serve medium-size organizations and, finally, enterprises.

Bits and pieces of the dream have been realized. But, by and large, the industry hasn't been able to establish itself fully in the business sector. Part of the reason is technology, part is the fact that the residential phone business came along and created a lucrative diversion, and part simply is that potential customers are reluctant to trust an industry with their business that they didn't particularly trust in their private lives.

The advent of a new specification-the third iteration of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS 3.0)-may help make the industry's reverie more pleasant. It also may help in the long battle against the telephone industry. Comcast has announced a 100 Megabit-per-second (Mbps) service for $369.95 per month in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The story quotes Bill Stemper, the president of Comcast Business Services -- the entity actually offering the service-as saying that the cable-based service is both faster and cheaper than phone companies' T1 lines.

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs) provides a good overview of the four levels of DOCSIS. (As befits an industry dominated by engineers, the four levels of DOCSIS culminate in DOCSIS 3.0, since DOCSIS 1.1 was stuck in between DOCSIS 1 and 2.). The key is speed: DOCSIS 3.0 theoretically offers downstream (cable headend to premise) speed of 160 Mbps and and a return trip of 120 Mbps. DOCSIS 3.0 also supports Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

DOCSIS 3.0 is on a bit of a run. Last month, Comcast upgraded its nationwide rollout target for 2009 from 65 percent to 80 percent of its service area, a total of about 40 million homes. That led to a number of announcements. In addition to the activity in Minnesota, Comcast is rolling out the platform in Chicago and has completed work in the East Bay and North Bay areas of San Francisco.

Other operators are busy, too. Cox said last month that it is deploying in Tucson and Phoenix, Rogers is experimenting with its existing DOCSIS 3.0 platform in the Toronto area and Time Warner Cable is said to be close to launching in New York City.

The bottom line is that the unending battle between the cable and telephone industries-telecommunications' version of the Hundred Years War-is firmly set on an increasingly fast playing field. That's been the reality for a couple of years. What's new-and good news for both consumers and businesses-is that the cable industry's dream is methodically becoming a reality.

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