6:00 AM -- A few weeks ago, a cable engineer with a top five U.S. MSO that's not Comcast Corp. told me it would be unwise for the industry to keep playing the speed game with FiOS, because as more Web traffic becomes video, broadband's value will depend less on speed and price and more on the consistency of the experience.
"No one wants to continue the speed wars," he told me, noting that we could see a shift toward more guaranteed performance for broadband for elements that include not just speed, but jitter and latency.
Apparently Comcast doesn't subscribe to that point of view, or this sort of shift in thinking is still a ways out on the horizon somewhere.
Just about a month after Verizon Communications Inc. unveiled Quantum, a residential tier that pumps out 300Mbit/s down and 65Mbit/s upstream, Comcast is reportedly teeing up a new residential tier that maxes out at 305Mbit/s in the downstream, just enough to provide it with some marketing one-upsmanship. There's no word yet on what sort of upstream speeds Comcast will team it with or if the new tier will be exempt from the new data capping and metering policies that Comcast's getting ready to test. (See FiOS Speeds & Prices Take a Quantum Leap , Cable's Upstream Gap and Comcast to Raise Caps, Test Overage Fees .)
According to DSL Reports, Comcast Cable President and CEO Neil Smit discussed the new tier during a Webcast with employees on Thursday, noting that it will be coming to Verizon FiOS territories "soon." Comcast's current top-end residential tier tops out at 105Mbit/s.
I haven't corroborated it yet, but DSL Reports has typically been spot-on when it comes to things like Comcast speed increases and broadband capping policies, so I would not be surprised to learn that it's indeed coming. Unsurprisingly, Comcast isn't commenting on the report.
But Comcast has some good incentives to match up with FiOS, though they have little to do with rabid consumer demand for such speeds. A 305Mbit/s tier would of course give Comcast's marketing people something to shout about, even if few of its customers would even need or spring for such speeds. It would also provide some proof to regulators that Comcast and FiOS will indeed "compete vigorously" for wireline broadband customers as the feds review the proposed wireless spectrum deals between Verizon Wireless and four cable operators, including Comcast.
As we've discussed, Comcast already has access to technology that can match Verizon's latest tier, at least in the downstream. Today's Docsis 3.0 cable modems can bond eight channels -- enough for bursts of 320Mbit/s. Apparently Comcast's thinking about pulling the trigger on something like that in some FiOS markets in the not-so-distant future.
But is it smart to get caught in FiOS's speed trap? Every time Verizon turns up the knob, Comcast is painting itself into a corner where it will be expected to quickly match up or suffer the perception that its broadband product is somehow inferior -- even if few of its customers even need or can afford these higher speeds.
Next week, we'll see if Google's 1-Gig fiber project in the Kansas Cities will have a similar effect on Time Warner Cable Inc.. (See Google Launching Kansas City Fiber on July 26.)
If TWC takes the bait, it will at least have an option. Intel Corp.'s new line of D3 chipsets will get cable within shouting distance of 1Gbit/s. (See Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig .)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable