RCN Unveils Wideband Plans

RCN Corp. plans to use some of spectrum it will reclaim from its "Project Analog Crush" initiative to blaze an upgrade trail to Docsis 3.0, and, in doing so, stay speed-competitive with its cable MSO and telco foes, according to the service provider's CEO. (See RCN's 'Analog Crush' .)

The competitive cable overbuilder has already indicated it will beef up its high-definition television (HDTV) lineup with the gobs of spectrum it will claw back from its capacity-saving initiative. Now it has added super-fast broadband to its rollout plans. But how soon will RCN make to move to "wideband"? "Probably by the end of next year," stated CEO Peter Aquino, who spoke Wednesday afternoon at the Collins Stewart Fourth Annual Growth Conference in New York.

Docsis 3.0 uses channel bonding techniques to produce shared Internet speeds above 100 Mbit/s, but RCN probably won't go that high, at least not in the early phases of the deployemnt.

"We'll go as high as anyone else," Aquino said of how RCN will match up with competitors. "We're expecting at least 50 Mbit/s of service or more."

RCN's fastest, single-channel Docsis modem service tier caps the downstream at 20 Mbit/s. Depending on the market, it competes with MSOs and telcos such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), major players that have already telegraphed some speed upgrades of their own.

Comcast expects to have as much as 20 percent of its networks Docsis 3.0-capable by year's end, while Time Warner is teeing up a wideband test in New York City for later this year. (See Comcast Enters the Wideband Era and Britt: Docsis 3.0 Coming to NYC.) Verizon, meanwhile, plans to market a 50 Mbit/s downstream / 20 Mbit/s upstream service across its FiOS footprint. (See Verizon Shows Its Hand .) So, RCN will certainly have its hands full.

And it acknowledges it'll also have to come up with ways to better manage Internet traffic in situations where a small number of customers suck up an exorbitant amount of capacity on a given node. It's not yet known whether RCN will try out a consumption-based billing model similar to the one Time Warner is testing, and which Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI) has deployed. (See Rogers Takes Internet Meter to the Masses, Get Your Meter Running, and TWC Tees Up Metered Internet Trial .)

"We've got to find a fair way to [manage capacity], and we're looking at the right policy internally to control that," Aquino said, noting that much of the cable industry "got caught flat-footed" on the issue.

Crushing it elsewhere
RCN has already completed "Analog Crush" in Chicago, and got the project off the ground in Boston on July 4. (See RCN's 'Analog Crush' and RCN Begins Beantown Digital Cut-Over .) It hasn't said yet when it will start digital cut-over projects in its other markets, which include New York City, Washington, D.C., and Lehigh Valley, Pa.

But it shouldn't be long. RCN is "determined to go all-digital by 2009," Aquino explained. "That means every TV will have a set-top box, and the markets that we 'crush' will be 100 percent digital."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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