DOCSIS 3.0, 4G and Telco Fiber Spell Fast Times for Subscribers

Carl Weinschenk

The speed war between the various players in the telecommunications industry goes back years and likely will last well into the future. The big beneficiaries of the competition are vendors, bloggers and, most of all, consumers.


The early days pitted digital subscriber line (DSL) against cable's old hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) platforms. The current iteration of the battle focuses on fiber-based phone initiatives such as FiOS and U-verse versus cable's Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS). Wireless -- in the form of 3G, WiMax and eventually Long Term Evolution (LTE) -- are part of the conversation as well.


It's interesting that WiMax, which is seeing its highest-profile deployments with the Intel- and Sprint-based Xohm project, is rolling out at about the same time as DOCSIS 3.0, which is the next major release of the cable platform. DSL Reports says that the cable operator that Internet users love to hate, Comcast, is rolling out DOCSIS 3.0. The company will increase standard delivery rates and offer service levels ranging from 12 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to 50 Mbps downstream and Mbps up.


Comcast is not the only cable operator getting set into the DOCSIS 3.0 act. Time Warner Cable Business Class, a unit of Time Warner Cable, is set to use it to support Carrier Ethernet services within its system footprints. This Communications Online piece says the company is expanding on the launch of the service and expects it to be available nationwide early next year. The smaller businesses targeted lack the direct fiber connections generally available, with which enterprises access carrier Ethernet. The idea is to use DOCSIS 3.0 to support the service on coaxial cable.


A third major operator is set to make a deep foray into DOCSIS 3.0 next year, and its approach seems far different from Comcast's. In this Q&A, Marwan Fawaz, the CTO of Charter Communications, says the operator plans to market test next year. Fawaz said that Charter will eschew a massive launch in favor of a market-by-market deployment.


The takeaway from this Telephony Online report on a presentation at the Fiber-to-the-Home Conference late last month in Nashville is noteworthy because the person delivering the talk was Jim Farmer, the chief network architect for Enablence's Wave 7 FTTx networks division. Farmer had a long and distinguished carrier in the cable industry. His takeaway -- that there are significant challenges to DOCSIS 3.0 that will keep it from displacing telco fiber initiatives -- carries more weight than if it came from a telephone industry lifer.


The story describes how DOCSIS 3.0 works -- it bonds together 6 MHz channels -- and its shortcomings. The problems are that the system lacks flexibility, wastes a lot of bandwidth, and relies for optimum service on equipment that operators may not be in a position to immediately purchase.


The business goal of all of this is clear. The societal goal also is obvious: The U.S., despite all the competition, increasingly is falling behind other nations in the robustness of its broadband infrastructure. Last month, according to Ars Technica, the Communications Workers of America and the Fiber-to-the-Home Council called on Congress to pass two bills -- H.Res 1292 and S.Res. 191 for the House and the Senate, respectively -- that push for universal symmetrical (equal upstream and downstream) speeds of 10 Mbps in 2010 and 100 Mbps in 2015.


The piece says that DOCSIS 3.0 is one of the platforms that can help reach the desired speeds, but the upstream -- home to cable headend -- capacity is problematic. Overall, the writer is dubious that the goals will be met.

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