Powell: Rebrand Docsis 3.1

ATLANTA — Michael Powell loves the idea of Docsis 3.1. He just hates the name.

Powell, the president and CEO of National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , urged cable technologists to jettison the Docsis 3.1 moniker for cable's next-gen broadband spec Tuesday. Speaking here during the opening general session of Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) 's Cable-Tec Expo show, he said the cable industry needs a much sexier name and a snazzy logo for D3.1 to promote its faster transmission speeds and greater broadband capacity in a hotly competitive climate increasingly defined by Google Fiber Inc. and mobile LTE pitches.

"We need to own this thing and sell this thing with passion and commitment," he said. "We’re in a 4G and 5G world… We need to sell this thing to consumers."

In his wide-ranging question-and-answer session with Cox Communications Inc. CTO and Executive Vice President Kevin Hart, Powell didn't suggest a better name for Docsis 3.1, which CableLabs has just about finished crafting in record time. (See Docsis 3.1 Spec Out in Time for Halloween.) But Hart's boss, Cox President Pat Esser, had a ready answer when the next opening panel began.

"Maybe we'll call it 'Powell Broadband,' " Esser quipped. "Michael would like that."

During his time on stage, Powell also urged cable operators to move faster, take more risks, and push harder to innovate. Although the industry has notably quickened the pace of innovation and become more competitive in the two years since he took over the NCTA reins, he said, more needs to be done.

"Our industry has historically been a little conservative, a little slow on the swing, a little scared to take risks," he said. "I think sometimes we're slow on the uptake."

The former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman warned that the cable industry faces its toughest competition yet from the likes of such tech heavyweights as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Facebook , Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and the like. When he looks up Capitol Hill from his Washington office, he said, he sees "an army mobilizing" of the richest, smartest, most tech-savvy companies "ready to charge" at cable. "I don't know one tech company that doesn't want in on our stuff."

Despite this heightened competition, Powell said he still likes cable's prospects, in large part because of such newer technologies as Docsis 3.0, Docsis 3.1, and cable WiFi. For instance, he said he doesn't worry about Google Fiber's 1 Gbit/s symmetrical speeds too much because cable operators can already come close to matching those speeds with D3 and will be able to exceed those rates with D3.1.

"I don’t get too flustered about 1Gig or Google Fiber," he said. With Docsis 3.1 capable of supporting downstream speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds as high as 2 Gbit/s, he noted, "we're there and beyond."

While he has his doubts about whether Google Fiber will become a genuine nationwide broadband competitor for cable, Powell has no doubts that the bar for broadband speeds will keep soaring. With US MSOs like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) now offering 505 Mbit/s downstream speeds, he noted that the bar was set at 300 Mbit/s just a year ago and 100 Mbit/s just two years ago.

"Growing broadband speed and capacity is the reality of the world," he said. "We'll have to geometrically increase capacity… In our lifetimes, 10 Gigs will be the Holy Grail."

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

craigleddy 10/23/2013 | 7:59:29 AM
Re: DOCSIS 3.1 That's interesting history, thanks for sharing it. I recall when DOCSIS 3.0 came out the industry started promoting it as wideband or the shortened D3. CableLabs produced a slick brochure about D3. But those efforts sort of fell by the wayside.

It's typical of cable (and other industries) to get caught between relying on a technical term that doesn't play well with consumers ("DOCSIS? What's a DOCSIS?") and one that can serve as a consumer brand. Industry debates have raged over terms like PPV, VOD and more recently TV Everywhere. It's hard to know whether consumers are more apt to adopt a technical term or a marketing brand.          
[email protected] 10/23/2013 | 1:55:22 AM
Is DOCSIS used in public marketing?? I don't get what powell is on about - or do cable ops in N AMerica use the term in their customer marketing?

It certainly doesn't crop up in UK -- Virgin Media simply promotes high-speed broadband and consistently achieves better results than DSL-based rivals and scores well in the regulators reports on achieving promised speeds etc -- that's what people take note of and there is never a need t use the DOCSIS term.


That's funny if he previously suggsted DSL should be renamed. He needs some new 'patter' and/or a new speech writer.
davidhoffman 10/23/2013 | 1:17:20 AM
DOCSIS 3.1 Mr.Powells's comments about the cable industry being conservative are indicative of part of the reason we have the name DOCSIS 3.1.  From what I have read, the CableLabs staff were afraid of alienating cable company stockholders with the new standard. The new standard will require an enormous capital investment if a cable company wishes to see every bit of the new standard's potential realized. In order to obscure that fact slightly, CableLabs decided to call the new standard  DOCSIS3.1 instead of DOCSIS 4.0, even though this was a major change in how cable internet signals would be processed. CableLabs was burned badly by some of the problems and costs that USA cable system operators incurred during the transition from DOCSIS 2.0 to DOCSIS 3.0. It was not the "plug and play" changeover that had been originally promised.  At one of the past Cable Shows the proposed new standard was called 3.X.  X in roman numerals is 10. The cryptic hint was a warning that the new standard was so different than 3.0 that it should really be called DOCSIS 4.0.  In the end CableLabs was too scared of capital investment hating stockholders to call it 4.0 and opted for 3.1 instead.
davidhoffman 10/23/2013 | 12:47:22 AM
Fancy name for DOCSIS 3.1 The average cable subscriber does not pay much attention to the type of DOCSIS they use. They pay attention to the speed tier and the list of compatible modems their ISP provides. They look at the compatible list and see which modem model numbers are compatible with the speed tier they want. Mr. Powell needs to understand that many cable users also buy boring dull parts for things like washers, dryers, sewing machines, vacuums, and fans. These all come with dull part numbers and version numbers. Cable modems are not so special that they need fancy names and marketing, as compared to the average toaster oven with "Turbo Sonic Ultra Heat", which is another name for wires that provide high resistance thus producing heat. This was somehow very different from the former "Sonic Ultra Heat" which used slightly different sized and shaped wire to provide high enough resistance to produce heat enough to make toast. 
Carol Wilson 10/23/2013 | 12:40:09 AM
Inventing a new brand I remember when cable launched "digital voice" -- essentially VoIP in a cable bundle. It was  brilliant. No one knew what it was or what it wasn't, but it was bundled into broadband-cableTV for cheap, so who cared?

I think that's the effect Powell is going for. 
DOShea 10/22/2013 | 4:44:18 PM
Re: Sexy Also, if companies have their own service brands--albeit all generic-sounding enough that I can't think of one off-hand--who cares what the industry calls the standard?
DOShea 10/22/2013 | 4:42:48 PM
Re: Sexy Isn't Powell a it late to the party with this idea? Did he also say DSL should be renamed?
DanJones 10/22/2013 | 4:05:52 PM
Re: Sexy Europe's fastest pigeon might be faster than some 4G, who knows?


See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2328348/Is-Bolt-worlds-expensive-bird-Europes-fastest-pigeon-bought-Chinese-millionaire-whopping-300-000.html
KBode 10/22/2013 | 3:37:18 PM
Sexy You would think the 10 Gbps down, 1 Gbps up per node DOCSIS 3.1 achieves would be "sexy" enough all by itself. I think the cable industry should be happy they haven't fallen victim to the abuse marketers affix on terms like "4G." We're effectively now calling everything but carrier pigeon 4G (and that may have changed when I wasn't paying attention).
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