Cable Pushes the Pedal to the Metal with DOCSIS 3.0

Carl Weinschenk

Most of the excitement surrounding high-speed data services -- and the converged services they carry -- centers on phone companies' fiber advances. Cable modems are pretty quick, the thinking goes, but FiOS from Verizon and U-verse from AT&T are fast!


The cable industry has, however, an ace up its coaxial cable sleeve. Version 3.0 of its Data over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS 3.0) combines, or bonds, cable channels to increase speeds. It potentially offers speeds of 160 Mbps in downstream (headend to premise) and 120 Mbps upstream, according to Cable Television Laboratories (CableLabs), the industry consortium that created the standard.


CableLabs is moving ahead in its usual methodical manner. This spring, the organization said certification testing of cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) -- the headend gear for cable data services -- and modems may begin before the end of the year. The organization is taking a gradual approach: It initially will offer bronze, silver and full compliance. The two stripped-down levels, initially offered to encourage vendors to enter the process earlier, eventually will be phased out.


Though progress is being made on DOCSIS 3.0 in the states, it seems that more important news is coming from overseas. GigaOM points to news that pre-standard versions of DOCSIS 3.0 are being demonstrated by NET Brazil and Starhub in Singapore. Om Malik, who runs the site, says the new technology is likely to first gain traction outside the U.S. because those systems tend to be smaller and newer and therefore more amenable to significant technology shifts.


There is DOCSIS 3.0 news from Europe as well. An ongoing international deployment is underway in the Netherlands, according to ScreenPlays magazine. The site says Dutch operator Multikable is deploying BigBand's modular cable modem termination system (M-CMTS), which is based on DOCSIS 3.0. So far, the deployment serves 50,000 subscribers. BigBand says M-CMTS cuts costs by deploying processors and modulators as they are needed instead of embedding them on each CMTS line card when it is built.


Support equipment also is emerging. This week, for instance, Incognito Software announced a program to help vendors test customer premise equipment and CMTSs. Such a program is important because DOCSIS 3.0 uses IPv6 addressing and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol version 6 (DHCPv6) auto-configuration. That's a good thing, since these are Internet-based protocols that will require expertise beyond the traditional scope of the cable industry.


When vendors and operators appear, the bureaucrats generally aren't far behind. Last month, DOCSIS 3.0 was given "consent" status by an International Telecommunication Union study group. The decision, according to this story, is a step toward acceptance as an international standard.

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