Comcast Enters the Wideband Era
The nation's largest MSO has selected Minneapolis and St. Paul as the showcase site for its first commercial rollout of a speedier "extreme" service tier based on Docsis 3.0, the CableLabs platform that promises to push shared Internet speeds beyond the 100 Mbit/s mark.
But Comcast won't raise the bar to that level in the Twin Cities, at least not right away. The new Wideband tier, launched there today, will offer up to 50 Mbit/s of downstream bandwidth and 5 Mbit/s upstream.
The reasons for not offering a 100 Mbit/s product at the get-go seem to match up with the views expressed recently by Canada's Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. , which booted up 50 Mbit/s and 30 Mbit/s Wideband tiers in February. (See Videotron Hits the Gas .)
"Based on our research, it was evident that 50 Mbit/s was the right answer as you look at the Internet landscape today," Mitch Bowling, the senior VP of Comcast's high-speed Internet unit, told Cable Digital News. "We have the ability to go higher, and we'll do that when the market and our customers demand that."
Comcast's official line is that 100 Mbit/s will arrive over the next two years, with 160 Mbit/s or more coming later.
It might be surprising to some that Comcast selected a Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) territory for its first Docsis 3.0 foray, rather than a Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) FiOS battleground.
According to Bowling, Comcast's operational and engineering teams in the Twin Cities have established a solid track record in testing and deploying new technologies and were "very eager" to roll out Comcast's first Docsis 3.0 service.
The decision to deploy 3.0 in the Twin Cities first "had nothing to do about competition at all," Bowling says. Qwest's high-end DSL tier in the Twin Cities offers a 7 Mbit/s downstream.
Comcast has disclosed plans to wire up as much as 20 percent of its footprint for Docsis 3.0 by year-end. Beyond that, Comcast's goal is to cover its entire footprint with Docsis 3.0 by mid-2010, according to Bowling.
In the Twin Cities, Comcast's new Wideband residential tier sells for $149.95 per month. The monthly nut for the Wideband offering for small and mid-sized businesses is $199.95, but includes some "corporate-grade" collaboration software from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). (See Comcast, Microsoft Get Down to (Small) Business .)
Although Docsis 3.0 modems cost more than the legacy 2.0 models, Comcast will charge the same $3 monthly rental fee, Bowling says. He declined to discuss 3.0 modem pricing, but it's well known that operators will be paying a unit premium for the foreseeable future. (See Betting on Broadcom .)
Cisco gets gear foothold
For its first 3.0 deployment, Comcast is using modems and cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), but Bowling notes that the MSO will continue to use multiple suppliers as its 3.0 footprint expands. CableLabs awarded "Bronze" qualification to Cisco's flagship CMTS, the uBR10012, late last year. (See Cisco, Arris & Casa Make the CableLabs Grade.)
CableLabs has yet to officially certify any modems for Docsis 3.0, though some could break through by mid-May. (See Docsis 3.0 Testing Skips a Beat .)
Docsis 3.0 is designed to bond both upstream and downstream channels, but operators are focusing on a bonded downstream because, frankly, upstream technology isn't ready for prime time.
Bowling is hopeful that upstream channel bonding will be good to go by the first half of 2009.
In the meantime, a shared 5 Mbit/s connection represents the highest upstream capacity offered by Comcast so far. And, based on what it's doing in the Twin Cities, it appears the MSO is trying to make good on a plan to more than double its upstream in some markets following a recent agreement to migrate to a "protocol agnostic" capacity management system by the end of 2008. (See Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure.)
In the Twin Cities, the upstream for its "Performance Plus" product is jumping to 2 Mbit/s from 768 kbit/s, with the downstream remaining at 8 Mbit/s. The upstream for Comcast's "Performance" tier is being lifted to 1 Mbit/s from 384 kbit/s (the downstream will stay at 6 Mbit/s). The downstream for those tiers will rise to 16 Mbit/s and 12 Mbit/s, respectively, when Comcast's "PowerBoost" technology is applied.
PowerBoost, which taps into any latent capacity when users are downloading big files, will not be used in conjunction with Comcast's new Wideband tier.
Comcast also offers a single-channel 16 Mbit/s tier called "Blast!," but has not introduced it in the Twin Cities. (See Comcast Has a 'Blast!' in the Bay .)
― Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News