Says component integration and bill of materials for new 320 Mbit/s wideband modem chip will help vendors breach a new pricing threshold

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

January 15, 2009

5 Min Read
Broadcom: Sub-$50 Docsis 3.0 Modem in Sight

In addition to helping cable operators break speed barriers, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)believes its first Docsis 3.0 modem chipset entry, capable of bonding up to eight downstream channels, will also breach an important unit pricing threshold. (See Broadcom Bonds Eight With Docsis 3.0.)

Although Broadcom doesn't set product pricing, Jay Kirchoff, the senior director of marketing for Broadcom's communications business unit, believes the high level of integration and bill of materials Broadcom has tied to that chipset, dubbed the BCM3380, puts standalone wideband modems within reach of breaking the $50 per unit mark. Modems with VoIP support would, of course, cost a bit more.

But $50 "is the next major threshold to reach," he told Cable Digital News at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Such pricing, he said, should "foster operator acceptance" of Docsis 3.0, a category in which Broadcom and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) will do battle for adoption within wideband modems, embedded multimedia terminal adapters (EMTAs), and some next-gen media gateways capable of delivering IPTV applications.

In the meantime, Broadcom believes its new modem silicon, which can fuse up to eight downstream channels and as many as four downstream channels, should at least be "comparable in price" to the existing 4x4 modems on the market today. CableLabs specs require Docsis 3.0 modems to bond a minimum of four channels in each direction.

"Our strategy was to give four channels for free," says Kirchoff.

Peter Percosan, TI's executive director of broadband strategy, says he doesn't expect Broadcom's entry to create a product price war, but does think competition at the Docsis 3.0 chipset level will spark a feature battle.

"I'm counting on quality of product to help us maintain our market share," Percosan says, noting that TI has already shipped about 1 million of its CableLabs-certified Puma5 chipsets that use the 4x4 configuration.

And what about breaking the $50 price barrier? "Anything to help accelerate the complete shift from Docsis 2.0 to Docsis 3.0 we're going to do, [but] I don't think it's the role of the silicon provider to set the price point of the end device," Percosan says.

To Page 2

Better late than never?
Broadcom cut its teeth on channel bonding with a pre-Docsis 3.0 implementation capable of combining up to three downstream Docsis 2.0 channels -- enough to give MSOs a 100 Mbit/s service. With that product already in hand, it did not rush in with a Docsis 3.0 that complied with the full specs, a decision that gave TI first-mover advantage with the Puma5. (See Broadcom Shrugs Off Docsis 3.0, Betting on Broadcom , CableLabs Cheers Casa Chassis, and TI Chips In for Faster Cable Modems.)

"We wanted to make sure we built the right product, which is 8 down, 4 up," Kirchoff says. "The minimum spec isn't sufficient."

In cable systems that use 6 MHz-wide channels, Broadcom's BCM3380 can produce shared downstream speeds in the neighborhood of 320 Mbit/s, and an upstream capacity up to 160 Mbit/s. Downstream speeds of 400 Mbit/s could be achievable in EuroDocsis systems that use 8 MHz-wide channels.

Still, a baseline 4x4 product has helped to get Docsis 3.0 off the ground for operators that needed a premium Internet service offering right away. TI, like Broadcom, also has a new version of the Puma5 that can tie together up to eight downstream channels and provide a path to IPTV. (See TI Flexes Docsis 3.0 Muscle .)

SMC Networks Inc. has baked TI's latest and greatest into a new wideband-powered gateway targeted to business services. A transport gateway for IPTV using the new TI chipset should show up in 2009 or 2010. (See SMC Shows 320-Meg Cable Modem.)

"We think we did our homework in advance," Percosan says. "We don’t see a big market requirement for [8x4 solutions] in the short-term."

Path to IPTV
Like TI's approach, Broadcom's 8x4 chipset is agile enough to do IPTV when the silicon is paired with upcoming Docsis 3.0-capable media gateways/set-tops.

In that scenario, the chipset handles MPEG-to-IP encapsulation of the video, then delivers the streams to IPTV set-top boxes, PCs, Web tablets, or other IP-based client devices hanging off the home network.

Gateways outfitted with hybrid QAM/IP capabilities and 8x4 Docsis 3.0 chips will help operators make the transition to IP in the home "without changing the delivery infrastructure," Kirchoff says, adding that Broadcom's reference design for such a product should be out by the second half of 2009.

Adopting 8x4
So, who's actually using this fancy new technology? Broadcom has not announced any modem partners for the 8x4 chip, though some suppliers have already shed some light on the matter.

At CES, Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) showed off two products (the DCM475 standalone modem and the DHG575 voice modem) that use Broadcom's new Docsis 3.0 silicon, and plans are underway to submit both models to CableLabs for Certification Wave 65, which gets underway this week. (See Thomson Tees Up Tru2way Box .)

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which has already signed on for Broadcom's new Docsis 3.0 cable modem termination system (CMTS) chipset, has reportedly done the same on the CPE side with an embedded multimedia terminal adapter called the DPC3212. (See Broadcom Intros Docsis 3.0 CMTS Chipset.)

Some other cable modem suppliers that do business with Broadcom include Ambit Broadband and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), but neither has announced any products based on the BCM3380.

As for MSO customers, Kirchoff believes the early adopters will come from Asia and Europe this year as operators there scramble to do battle with fiber-to-the-home and advanced DSL deployments. He estimates that North America will represent less than 20 percent of the worldwide market for Docsis 3.0 in 2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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