Is Cable Faster Than FiOS?

LAS VEGAS – The Cable Show '07 – The big cheeses of big cable say Verizon's FiOS doesn't scare them and AT&T's U-verse is a silly little science project, according to a panel here at The Cable Show on Wednesday.

As reported this week by Cable Digital News, Docsis 3.0 modem silicon is likely to be ready for certification testing at CableLabs this fall, earlier than originally expected by bandwidth-hungry MSOs. (See TI Chips In.)

“If everything goes well, we'll ramp real product starting in January 2008," said Peter Percosan, director of broadband strategy for Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), a key Docsis chip supplier.

"The original Docsis 3.0 schedules were not deployable until 2009 or 2010, which is too late," said Steve Craddock, senior vice president for new media development at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). "TI stepped up to create the silicon and get it into CableLabs. That accelerated everything by 15 to 18 months."

Docsis 3.0 supports the bonding of at least four upstream and downstream RF channels, enabling symmetric broadband access at more than 150 Mbit/s. It also adds support for IPv6 and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

Cable's biggest mouths say Docsis 3.0 channel bonding offers more than enough bandwidth to compete with telco fiber rollouts. And, while ILECs like Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) busy themselves with backhoes, cable operators can quickly and ubiquitously offer ultra high-speed capabilities to the consumer market.

"The cable industry could go out and fully deploy Docsis 3.0 for a couple billion dollars, an amount you could find leftover in Bill Gates's couch,” said Comcast's Craddock.

“With that investment, we could blanket the entire U.S. footprint with 160 Mbit/s capability in a couple years. Verizon is going to spend ten times as much to cover 14 percent of U.S. homes. FiOS is something my grandson has to worry about.”

And what about AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s U-verse rollout?

"The AT&T initiative is a hobby project," Craddock argued, due to its dependency on DSL technology. “DSL was created by dyslexic engineers. Spell it backwards and you say it all,” he cracked. His punch line: Telco engineers who think they can scale a video service with multiple HDTV streams over copper must be ingesting hallucinogens like LSD. [Ed. note: Anyone want this guy giving a commencement address?]

Not-so-wisecracks aside, cable operators say that they are serious about Docsis 3.0 deployments, both for residential and business services, and that vendors are stepping up to the plate to deliver product.

In an effort to speed the qualification of cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) for Docsis 3.0, key network gear required for wideband rollouts, CableLabs developed a new tiered product submission approach.

MSO executives said they expect one vendor to submit a CMTS for full 3.0 qualification to CableLabs for Wave 56 testing in October. Sources indicate that company is likely to be startup Casa Systems Inc.

Cable Europe Labs is also fast-tracking 3.0 testing efforts to accelerate product availability. And for European operators, 3.0 products won’t be available a moment to soon.

"Because of the quality of copper plant in Europe, telcos can reach much higher speeds with DSL, and with higher reliability," said Jan Vorstermans, executive vice president for technology and infrastructure at Belgian MSO Telenet . "It's time for us to take back what was taken from us. With 3.0 we can deliver services competitive to whatever FTTH can bring."

— Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News

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