Comcast Takes 'Wideband' Wider

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
10/22/2008



Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has unleashed two new Docsis 3.0-powered high-speed Internet tiers in a total of three major markets as the MSO prepares to deploy so-called "Wideband" cable modem services to roughly 10 million homes and businesses "in the next several months." (See Comcast Expands Wideband Reach.)

Today, those two Wideband tiers -- "Extreme 50" (50 Mbit/s downstream by 10 Mbit/s upstream) and "Ultra" (22 Mbit/s down by 5 Mbit/s up) -- are being made available to customers in Comcast's New England region (including the Boston metro and southern New Hampshire) and parts of New Jersey and Philadelphia. Comcast is also marketing them to subs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. The Twin Cities were the first to get Docsis 3.0 services when Comcast introduced a 50 Mbit/s tier there in early April. (See Comcast Enters the Wideband Era .)

Comcast is selling Extreme 50 for $139.95 per month, and the Ultra tier for $62.95 per month (when bundled with the MSO's video offering). A "Deluxe 50" tier targeted to business customers runs $189.95 per month and includes static IP addresses and communications services from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), among other features.

The MSO notes that Docsis 3.0 will enable it to offer speeds in excess of 160 Mbit/s further down the road, but hasn't specified when it would launch a tier that breaches the magical 100 Mbit/s mark. Some Docsis chipmakers have silicon on the way that can bond up to eight downstream channels. (See TI Flexes Docsis 3.0 Muscle .)

Comcast, which expects to wire up all of its systems for Wideband by mid-2010, competes with Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) in the Twin Cities, and with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) in its other announced Docsis 3.0 cities. So as not to tip its hand to other competitors, the MSO has yet to announce the other major markets that will get Wideband in the coming weeks, though some recent speed tests sniffed out by DSL Reports earlier this week offer some indication.

Comcast said it plans to rollout Docsis 3.0 to more than 10 "major" markets and nearly 10 million homes and businesses in the next several months -- equal to about 20 percent of its U.S. cable footprint.

Docsis 3.0, a platform specified by CableLabs , bonds together multiple 6 MHz channels to produce speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s. The D3 specs call for cable modems to bond a minimum of four channels in the upstream and downstream direction. However, just one cable modem termination system (CMTS) vendor, Casa Systems Inc. , has obtained qualification for the upstream channel bonding feature of Docsis 3.0. (See Docsis 3.0 Gear Tracker IV .)

In April, Comcast said it was using Docsis 3.0 gear from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in the Twin Cities, but hasn't identified any vendor partners for the new Wideband markets. However, Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) has announced a "significant" deal to supply Comcast with Docsis 3.0-based CMTSs. (See Comcast Buying Arris Docsis 3.0 Gear.)

Legacy not left out
Comcast is also increasing the speeds of some of its existing, single-channel modem tiers in markets where it's also deploying Wideband.

Its 6 Mbit/s down by 1 Mbit/s up "Performance" tier is doubling to 12/2; and the downstream piece of the 8 Mbit/s "Performance Plus" tier is being upgraded to 16 Mbit/s. Comcast is goosing those speeds for no additional cost, but customers will need to reboot their modems to obtain the upgraded configuration.

Those tiers will also tap into Powerboost, a technology that taps into unused capacity and increases speeds when customers are transferring large files. When Powerboost is active, the updated 12/2 tier will boost to 15/3, and the 16/2 tier will rise to 20/4. Comcast is not applying Powerboost to the Wideband products.

Of course, all of those products will be subject to a monthly 250 Gigabyte threshold for excessive users, which Comcast put into place on Oct. 1. (See Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB.)

Still, Comcast, which operates a video hub called Fancast, believes Docsis 3.0 and increases to legacy tiers will encourage customers to tap the Internet for video, networking, and other capacity-intensive applications.

"We think mass availability of Wideband will give consumers access to a huge amount of additional content [and] new applications," says MSO spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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