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Japanese MSO Moves 160 Mbit/s

Jeff Baumgartner
4/9/2007
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Japan-based cable operator Jupiter Telecommunications Co. Ltd. (J:COM) will match competitors speed-for-speed by deploying a 160-Mbit/s service based on pre-Docsis 3.0 Wideband gear supplied by Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS).

The move is reinforcing Japan's reputation as a cutting-edge broadband market. Wideband cable services aren't yet available in North America or Europe.

The new services, dubbed J:COM Net Highgrade, will reach that downstream cap by bonding up to four 6MHz channels. The upstream, meanwhile, will be capped at 10 Mbit/s. While "pre" Docsis 3.0 technologies bond channels only in the downstream, the complete and still forthcoming Docsis 3.0 platform will be capable of fusing channels (and increasing speeds) in both directions.

Initially, J:COM will offer Highgrade in the Kansai area, which is served by the MSO's Minami Osaka, Izumi, and Izumi Ohtsu systems. That makes up a portion of J:COM's total footprint of roughly 2.62 million subs. J:COM could not be reached for further comment by Monday afternoon.

J:COM MSO has an "aggressive rollout plan" and expects to offer Wideband-based services across its entire footprint by sometime next year, according to Arris Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Stan Brovont. The deployment follows early trials the operator conducted with Arris in the second half of 2006.

J:COM will be using Highgrade to remain competitive with telcos -- including NTT East/West -- that are using advanced DSL technologies and rapidly deploying fiber-to-the-home systems.

Brovont says J:COM is selling the Highgrade tier for about 6,000 yen per month (approximately US$50.30).

On the technical end, J:COM is basing Highgrade on Arris' C4 cable modem termination system (CMTS) and WBM650C Wideband modems. While pre-3.0 modems are rather bulky and expensive because they bolt together discreet tuners, new silicon-based Docsis 3.0 tuners should aid the cause in both areas. (See Microtune Debuts Docsis 3.0 Tuner.) Still, Arris' existing Wideband modems are made to coexist with Docsis 2.0 plant and to work on networks that support full 3.0 implementations, Brovont says.

J:COM also powers some of its voice and Internet services with CMTSs and modems from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), but the MSO has yet to announce any Wideband launches with that vendor. "Those will come," says Jeffrey Walker, senior director of marketing for the access networks unit of Motorola Connected Home Solutions, noting that most operators tend to want more than one vendor involved in just about anything they do.

The service will be marketed to residential customers in single family homes as well as apartment units. However, it is not the only fast Internet service J:COM is offering to multiple dwelling unit (MDU) customers.

The operator also markets a symmetrical 100-Mbit/s Internet service to MDUs called "J:COM NET Hikari." Rather than Docsis-based access, that platform is based a system from Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR) that implements the chipmaker's "c.LINK" technology inside specially-made bridge and customer premises equipment. In Hikari situations, J:COM is pulling fiber the MDU and then distributing the service over the building's existing coax wires.

J:COM is also the latest MSO to make pre-Docsis 3.0 a key component of its high-speed Internet strategy. Likewise, StarHub of Singapore has rolled out Wideband downstream channel bonding across the board with Motorola, its primary CMTS and modem partner. Walker says StarHub has signed up more than 1,000 customers to the Wideband service.

MSOs in Europe, meanwhile, are starting to look to pre-3.0 help at the set-top level to enable IP-based video services. In North America, Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. is pushing the Docsis speed needle via a pre-3.0 pilot starring modems and CMTSs from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

Despite expanding pockets of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) competition from the likes of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), most U.S. cable operators seem willing at this point to rely on single-channel Docsis 2.0 while Docsis 3.0 technology develops and matures. The Docsis 2.0 upstream uses 64 QAM and doubles the available upstream bandwidth to about 30 Mbit/s. When coupled with downstream channel bonding, a pre-3.0-based Internet service would rival current FiOS offerings, Walker says.

Still, sparked by those competitive situations, some U.S. MSOs could embark on pre-3.0 trials in some "limited areas" by the third quarter of 2007, Walker predicts.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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