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DOCSIS 3.1 Ramps Up in Europe

Alan Breznick

COLOGNE, Germany -- ANGA COM -- Following in the gigabit footsteps of their North American counterparts, several major European cable operators are now deploying the new DOCSIS 3.1 spec, or at least preparing to do so.

Speaking at the annual ANGA COM German cable show here Tuesday, top tech executives from Vodafone Germany , TDC Group , com hem AB and Tele Columbus AG said they are either rolling out D3.1 now or are upgrading their networks for it as they scramble to compete against rival telco gigabit services delivered over FTTH. While some European cablecos already offer 1-Gig or nearly 1-Gig speeds using DOCSIS 3.0 technology, they said competition is driving them to adopt the latest DOCSIS spec, which can support downstream speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds of at least 1 Gbit/s.

"It's a very competitive market," said Thomas Helbo, CTO of Com Hem, which operates in Sweden. With more than half of its footprint now overbuilt by FTTH rivals, the Swedish cableco has upgraded 30% to 35% of its HFC network for DOCSIS 3.1 and plans to keep going.

Likewise, in Denmark, TDC has been upgrading its HFC network and deploying D3.1 for the last couple of years. Michael Frankle, CTO and SVP of networks for TDC, said the company plans to complete the rollout by year's end. "It's very similar to Sweden," he said.

In Germany, both Vodafone and Tele Columbus are feeling the competitive pressure to upgrade to gigabit speeds and DOCSIS 3.1 as well. Responding to that pressure, Vodafone launched its "Gigabit Offensive" last September, pledging to offer 1-Gig speeds to at least 12.6 million households over the next several years with a mix of D3.1 and fiber upgrades.

"We really believe our cable assets are capable of supporting 1-Gigabit service," said Eric Kuisch, CTO of Vodafone Deutschland. "DOCSIS 3.1 is important, as is the switch-off of analog [TV] service."

Incumbent telco Deutsche Telekom recently outlined plans to deploy fiber-to-the-home connections to around 2 million German households every year starting in 2021, though only under the right regulatory conditions. (See DT Targets €1.5B in Automation Savings, Misses Former Target and DT to Lay Out Conditions for All-Fiber Splurge.)

But higher broadband speeds to the home alone won't carry the day, the MSO tech execs said, adopting a refrain frequently heard on the other side of the Atlantic. They said European operators must reach beyond their delivery networks and work on improving the often clunky home WiFi experience for cable subscribers, even if that clunky experience is mainly due to outdated tablets, PCs and laptops. Otherwise, they continued, customers will not enjoy the benefits of the new gigabit services and turn to rival providers.

"It's a paradigm shift," Frankle said. "Just as mobile operators don't stop at the basestation and antenna, we've got to look at the PC, iPad" and other devices that subscribers are using in their homes.

In another, broader message often heard in North American cable circles, the European tech officials said cablecos must also pay more attention to quality of service for subscribers to differentiate themselves from their fiber rivals.

"If you promote gigabit service, they expect more quality," Kuisch said. "We need to do a lot of education. We also need more visibility into what is going on in the home."

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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