The Telcos’ Upstream Advantage

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    Cable operators, tethered to their legacy coaxial cable, have always had to struggle to offer enough upstream (home to headend) bandwidth to keep up.

    The industry is on the cusp of introducing the next version of its Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS). For those keeping score, this is version 3.1. It offers as much as 1 Gigabit per second (1 Gbps) or more of upstream capacity.

    Plans are being made around Docsis 3.1. For instance, Multichannel News reports that Time Warner Cable has responded to a request for proposals (RFP) from Los Angeles for a 1 Gbps network to serve residences, businesses and the city government.

    The proposal presupposes the use of Docsis 3.1 and says that initial testing using the standard could occur next year and deployments in 2016. By that time, of course, Time Warner Cable is likely to be part of Comcast.

    That’s good. The problem is that the telcos are cooking up technologies that meet and exceed the 1 Gbps level.

    Verizon this week upped the ante a bit (actually, quite a few bits) this week by offering symmetrical services. Ars Technica has the details:

    For example, the 15/5Mbps tier (15Mbps downstream and 5Mbps upstream) will now be 15Mbps in both directions. Other tiers before the upgrade were 50/25, 75/35, 150/65, 300/65, and 500/100. In all cases, the second number will be increased to match the first.

    The story says a symmetrical 25 Mbps option has been added. While those all fall short of 1 Gbps, the ability to offer symmetrical service is a technical and marketplace advantage for the telcos, who understand that the upstream capacity of their main competitors is limited. The speeds that FiOS offers will increase.

    The problem for cable operators isn’t just that fiber offers a faster upstream than Docsis 3.1, which still is more than a year away from deployment. It’s that telcos can hire smart people to supercharge the copper that is as much a part of its legacy as “coax” is for cable companies.

    Earlier this month, Bell Labs’ Alcatel-Lucent said that it had successfully tested a technology called XG-FAST, a next-generation version of, to provide symmetrical speeds of 10 Gbps over short distances and 1 Gbps over longer runs. XG-FAST and are based on digital subscriber line (DSL) technology. The sense of the IEEE Spectrum article discussing the news is that the new technology will greatly increase telcos’ flexibility in service provisioning.

    The upstream speed from the home to the network – usually a cable headend or a telco central office – always has been an important selling point for service providers. It is perhaps growing more so as the home becomes an entertainment and work communications hub. It seems that telcos, with fiber and enhanced DSL tools, retain the upper hand.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Intenet 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 [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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