This week, I had the opportunity to attend Cable-Tec Expo ‘13, the annual engineering conference sponsored by The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). The gathering, held in Atlanta, was upbeat and well attended. The industry’s technical community clearly has crossed from perceiving the advent of Internet Protocol and the competition it brings as a threat to seeing it as an opportunity to grow. The bottom line is that these are engineers, and they seem thrilled to have a new set of toys with which to play.
On Tuesday, I posted on the progress being made by fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architectures. Earlier this month, analysts RVA LLC released research claiming that installations have passed the 10 million premises mark in North America, and signs of growth are evident in other regions as well.
The other main player in the drive to drastically increase the speed of wired networks is the cable industry. It comes at the challenge from a different infrastructure starting point. This week, the industry delivered the message that its efforts are also accelerating.
The news that came out of the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo conference is that the final specifications of version 3.1 of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS 3.1) will be released during the next week. The story at EE Times said trials may commence next year and that products could be available late in 2014 or early in 2015.
DOCSIS 3.1 is vital because it introduces an efficient way to greatly increase both upstream and downstream capacity. The goals are succinctly highlighted in slide five of this presentation delivered by Cisco Fellow John Chapman at this year’s Cable Congress in Amsterdam. The theoretical top speeds are 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) or more in the downstream (to the end user) and 1Gbps or more in the upstream (end user to the headend), according to the presentation. Another good backgrounder on DOCSIS 3.1 is available at the Connectivist.
In addition to the speed increases, a key point raised in any discussion of DOCSIS 3.1 is that it is “backward compatible.” Being able to use it with the previous versions of DOCSIS, which are widely deployed, is a vital attribute.
DOCSIS 3.1 is a big deal. Michael Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and current president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, was interviewed during the conference’s opening general session. He suggested that the technology may be ahead of the marketing, which is nothing new for the cable industry. Powell, according to Light Reading, said that:
’ …the cable industry needs a much sexier name and a snazzy logo for D3.1 to promote its faster transmission speeds and greater broadband capacity in a hotly competitive climate increasingly defined by Google Fiber Inc. and mobile LTE pitches.’
The takeaway from both this and my previous post is that the two wireline giants are working very hard to accommodate their customers’ rapidly expanding demands. To the extent they succeed, they will increase their subscriber rolls. In other words, both the competitive marketplace and the infrastructure evolutions underlying it are healthy.