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The Chips Fall for DOCSIS 3.1The Chips Fall for DOCSIS 3.1

Broadcom unveils first reference design for a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem at CES, while STMicroelectronics demos D3.1 platform with RDK-B.

Alan Breznick

January 8, 2015

5 Min Read
The Chips Fall for DOCSIS 3.1

Two major chipmakers -- Broadcom and STMicro -- have introduced DOCSIS 3.1 chipsets, further setting the stage for the expected rollout of the cable industry's next-gen broadband spec and gigabit speeds later this year.

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) made the bigger splash of the two at the CES show in Las Vegas earlier this week, introducing the first system-on-a-chip (SoC) for a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem. Its new product is the BCM93390 modem reference design, a hybrid chipset that supports both the current DOCSIS 3.0 specs and the coming DOCSIS 3.1 specs so that it can be used both now and in the future.

For the benefit of the D3.1 specs, the Broadcom chipset features two OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) downstream channels that are both 196MHz wide and two OFDM-A upstream channels that are 96MHz wide. As a result, it can generate cable modem speeds as high as 4 Gbit/s to 5 Gbit/s in the home, according to Broadcom executives. The product also supports Integrated WiFi in a cable modem gateway, enabling wireless speeds of up to 2 Gbit/s in customer homes.

To support D3.0, the BCM93390 features support for 32 single-carrier D3 QAM downstream channels and eight single-carrier D3 QAM upstream channels. It also includes software support for Packet Cable voice and e-router applications, including the emerging RDK-B software stack for cable set-tops and broadband gateways.

Jay Kirchoff, VP of marketing for Broadcom, said the chipmaker is now sampling the BCH93390 design and expects it to go into full production in the second half of the year, which is when such leading MSOs as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) plan to start deploying DOCSIS 3.1 in their initial markets. He said Broadcom is also developing a similar DOCSIS 3.1 chipset for cable modem termination systems (CMTSs), a necessary element for fully rolling out the gigabit speeds that the spec enables.

"We are working on it feverishly," Kirchoff said. "Even a gig is very tough without the CMTS."

While Broadcom grabbed the CES spotlight Tuesday with its announcement, it's certainly not the only chipmaker preparing feverishly for the upcoming DOCSIS 3.1 era. For instance, STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM) made its own splash at CES this week, demonstrating its new D3.1-based platform on the exhibit floor.

The STMicro demo featured data downstreaming over a single 96MHz-wide channel using OFDM with subcarrier modulated in 4096 QAM, as well as upstream data over an 80MHz channel modulated in 1024 QAM. It also featured RDK-B gateway software, like Broadcom's demo.

The moves by Broadcom and STMicro come as the cable industry continues to gear up for the mass deployment of gigabit speeds across the globe, starting as early as this summer. Unlike the industry's current flagship broadband spec, DOCSIS 3.0, which tops out at about 1 Gbit/s downstream and much lower speeds upstream, DOCSIS 3.1 is designed to enable downstream rates as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds as high as 2 Gbit/s.

For the latest on urban network innovation, visit Light Reading's dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel. And watch for forthcoming details on Light Reading's Gigabit Cities Live event, to be held in May 2015 in Atlanta.

While a few MSOs, such as Cox Communications Inc. and Suddenlink Communications , are starting to offer 1Gbit/s downstream service in select markets now using all-fiber lines, most cable providers are waiting for the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 so they can broadly launch gigabit service over their hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) plants. But, with such major rivals as Google Fiber Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) beginning to deploy gigabit service in major markets and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) waiting in the wings, cable operators are increasingly anxious to get started themselves. (See Cox Goes Gaga Over Gigabit.)

"We've been contacted by all of the top five [US MSOs], as well as 80% to 90% of the top ten," Kirchoff said, noting that there's also strong interest in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. "Cable operators see D3.1 as their primary means of competing" with the gigabit deployments of fiber-to-the-home networks, he said.

Indeed, as part of Broadcom's announcement yesterday, the world's two biggest MSOs -- Comcast and Liberty Global -- stated their general intentions to launch gigabit service to their high-speed data customers in the second half of the year. Although both MSOs stopped short of actually endorsing Broadcom's new product, they made it clear that they intend to start leveraging DOCSIS 3.1 technology as soon as possible.

"The next generation of DOCSIS technology supports the gigabit speeds our subscribers will increasingly demand over time,' said Balan Nair, executive VP and CTO of Liberty Global in a prepared statement. "DOCSIS 3.1 will enable Liberty Global to deliver an even richer experience once we begin deploying this cost-effective technology during the second half of 2015."

Tony Werner, executive VP and CTO of Comcast, seconded the notion. "DOCSIS 3.1 is a critical technology for Comcast to provide even faster, more reliable data speeds and features such as IP video to our subscribers' homes by harnessing more spectrum in the downstream," he said in his prepared testimonial. "By more effectively using the cable plant to grow our total throughput, we expect to offer our customers more than 1-gigabit speeds in their homes in 2015 and beyond."

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

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About the Author(s)

Alan Breznick

Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

Alan Breznick is a business editor and research analyst who has tracked the cable, broadband and video markets like an over-bred bloodhound for more than 20 years.

As a senior analyst at Light Reading's research arm, Heavy Reading, for six years, Alan authored numerous reports, columns, white papers and case studies, moderated dozens of webinars, and organized and hosted more than 15 -- count 'em --regional conferences on cable, broadband and IPTV technology topics. And all this while maintaining a summer job as an ostrich wrangler.

Before that, he was the founding editor of Light Reading Cable, transforming a monthly newsletter into a daily website. Prior to joining Light Reading, Alan was a broadband analyst for Kinetic Strategies and a contributing analyst for One Touch Intelligence.

He is based in the Toronto area, though is New York born and bred. Just ask, and he will take you on a power-walking tour of Manhattan, pointing out the tourist hotspots and the places that make up his personal timeline: The bench where he smoked his first pipe; the alley where he won his first fist fight. That kind of thing.

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