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December 20, 2023
Two midsized broadband operators – Mediacom Communications and WideOpenWest (WOW) – have pushed ahead on projects that will squeeze more performance out of their hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks.
Mediacom said it recently wrapped up upgrades in West Des Moines, Iowa, that will enable the operator to deliver symmetrical 1-Gig speeds and up to 2 Gbit/s in the downstream on HFC. Meanwhile, WOW has sparked a pilot program in Panama City, Florida, that will establish a framework for future DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades.
Mediacom's "10G" upgrade in West Des Moines involved several steps, including node densification and a distributed access architecture (DAA) with DOCSIS 4.0-ready MACPHY devices. The work also involves raising the capacity of the network to 1.2GHz paired with a "high-split" that dedicates more spectrum to the upstream. Mediacom also intends to reclaim spectrum used for legacy QAM-based video services and apply it toward DOCSIS/broadband as it transitions to an all-IP video platform.
Mediacom, which competes in the market with Google Fiber, said the upgrades will spark an array of speed enhancements along with some new, high-end speed tiers:
The former Internet 100 tier offering 100 Mbit/s down by 10 Mbit/s upstream now offers symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbit/s
Upstream speeds for the legacy Internet 300 tier jump from 20 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s
Upstream speeds for the Internet 1 Gig tier double – from 50 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s
A new Internet 1 Gig Symmetrical tier
A new Internet 2 Gig Unlimited tier that delivers 2 Gbit/s down by 1 Gbit/s upstream
Related:Mediacom kicks off its 10G push
The standalone/unbundled pricing for Mediacom's new 1-Gig plan is $154.99 per month, and the 2-Gig tier fetches $179.99 per month. Both of those new options come with unlimited data.
With the West Des Moines market upgrade completed, Mediacom will now move ahead with similar upgrades in additional Iowa communities, starting with Bertram, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Fairfax, Hiawatha and Marion, as well as portions of unincorporated Linn County.
"We will follow a similar approach in the other markets," a Mediacom official said via email. "As we place the fiber deeper into the network, what will vary by market is the amount of underground versus aerial overlashing we are able to do."
Mediacom has not detailed its precise plans for DOCSIS 4.0 and if the company will go with the Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) and/or Full Duplex (FDX) option.
Plant built to 1.2GHz is a good candidate for FDX, which takes advantage of an FDX band that allows upstream and downstream to occupy the same block of spectrum. The ESD option envisions a plant built to 1.8GHz while keeping upstream and downstream traffic running in separate, dedicated spectrum.
In February, Mediacom Chief Technology Officer JR Walden told Light Reading that the company was not rolling out FDX, but viewed the technology as a potential "future option."
However, the FDX option carries with it some political and business complications. Broadcom is collaborating with Comcast on a new unified D4.0 chip that supports both the ESD and Full Duplex (FDX) flavors of D4.0; however, access to those chips is currently limited to operators that have signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with Broadcom. Mediacom currently is not on that list.
Meanwhile, MaxLinear's new ESD-only Puma 8 DOCSIS 4.0 chip is not encumbered by a JDA.
But there are still other options on the way should Mediacom and other operators want to squeeze more performance out of their DOCSIS 3.1 networks.
Both Broadcom and MaxLinear are developing upgraded D3.1 chips that support additional OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) channels. Importantly, Broadcom's new DOCSIS 3.1 chip, the BCM3392, isn't encumbered by a JDA, industry sources said.
WOW exploring multi-gig speeds on HFC
WideOpenWest hasn't picked a precise evolutionary path for its HFC networks, but the company is starting to test options to deliver multi-gigabit speeds via a pilot program that's underway in Panama City, Florida.
Tapping into HFC plant built to 1GHz, WOW is using equipment from CommScope to test the remote MACPHY option of DAA on a handful of nodes, Gary Nilsen, WOW's SVP, access networks, said.
"That was a natural fit for the nodes and for the equipment we had in the field," he said.
WOW is also evaluating remote PHY and virtual cable modem termination systems (vCMTS) technologies. "We're looking at everything right now," Nilsen said.
In Panama City, WOW is testing both "mid-split" and "high-split" upgrades that dedicate more spectrum to the upstream. Rather than running upstream traffic in the legacy spectrum range of 5MHz-42MHz, mid-splits expand that capacity to a range of 5MHz-85MHz, and high-splits broaden the range to 5MHz-204MHz.
Nilsen said WOW is running high-split tests on a couple of nodes that don't support any customers who use the operator's legacy QAM-based video services. WOW would be in position to reclaim more than 200MHz of spectrum (and more than 300MHz of spectrum, in most cases) when its QAM-based infrastructure is eliminated over time. To help fuel that transition, WOW has partnered with YouTube TV as it starts to phase out its own pay-TV product.
WOW is in no rush to eliminate its QAM infrastructure. However, CEO Teresa Elder said last month that the company would like to be in position to shut down some of its QAM infrastructure in the next 18 months or so.
"Most of our nodes are not bandwidth-constrained yet," Nilsen said. "I have the capacity to support higher speed tiers and expand on what DOCSIS 3.1 can do without eliminating the QAM video tier."
WOW is using the Panama City trial to prove out HFC upgrades and enhancements. However, the operator has already begun to implement DAA in other markets, Nilsen said.
WOW's eventual shift to DAA will improve the overall performance of its HFC networks. DAA also serves as a stepping stone to future DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades.
WOW considering mixed approach to DOCSIS 4.0
Nilsen said WOW is keeping close tabs on D4.0 developments, but points out that there's still no DOCSIS 4.0 modems available to buy yet.
"We are watching it and the steps we are taking now will feed into DOCSIS 4.0 technology," he said. "We're getting everything ready."
WOW hasn't decided whether it will go with the ESD or FDX option for DOCSIS 4.0, but the company is leaving all options on the table.
"I don't think WOW is ready to plant a flag and say this is how we're going. I do think different nodes, different communities may use a different solution," Nilsen said. "Those are two very interesting paths forward … We believe that DOCSIS 4.0 is the next step to evolve. It may be a mixed approach or we may land in one camp or another."
Senior Editor, Light Reading
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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