Charter Goes on Big Gig Spree

While cable techies are busy debating the potential benefits and challenges of the proposed Full Duplex DOCSIS and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS schemes, cable operators are still busy rolling out DOCSIS 3.1, the latest fully baked version of the DOCSIS standard.

In the most recent example, Charter Communications Inc. announced two weeks ago that it has extended its Spectrum Internet Gig service, which is powered by DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades, to more than 4 million additional US homes. The MSO, which is the second-largest broadband provider in the nation with nearly 23 million subscribers, launched service in more than a dozen new markets, including: Cleveland; Hartford, Conn.; Charleston, S.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Charter's latest D3.1 launches follow its expansion of gigabit service to 14 million more homes two months earlier. With these last rollouts added in, Charter figures that it offers Spectrum Internet Gig to more than 27 million homes, putting it more than halfway toward its goal of serving its entire 41-state footprint. The MSO maintains that it's on track to offer 1-Gig service to virtually all its households by the end of this year.

In some of its DOCSIS 3.1 markets, Charter is also doubling its minimum download speeds at no added cost. The minimum speeds are rising to100 Mbit/s or 200 Mbit/s, depending on the market. In its first quarter earnings, Charter reported that about 25% of its broadband customer base now receives minimum download speeds of 200 Mbit/s.

Charter thus joins such other major North American cablecos as Comcast, Cox, Rogers, Shaw, Mediacom and WOW in rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 to most of its broadband customer vase. Among the big guys, only Altice USA has held back from widescale D3.1 launches, preferring to upgrade its HFC networks to all-fiber instead.

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Across the Atlantic, European cable operators are starting to get into the D3.1 act as well. Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) recently announced its second DOCSIS 3.1 market, with its Unitymedia GmbH operation planning to roll out service in Frankfurt, Germany in October. Unitymedia launched D3.1 service in Bochum, Germany in May. Such other major European cablecos as Vodafone Germany, TDC Group, Com Hem and Tele Columbus are all either rolling out D3.1 now or are upgrading their networks for it. (See DOCSIS 3.1 Ramps Up in Europe .)

The new DOCSIS 3.1 launches come as cable operators continue to expand their command of the US broadband market. According to the latest data compiled by Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG) , for instance, the top seven cablecos in the nation added 845,000 broadband customers in the first quarter, as opposed to a loss of 45,000 data subs for the seven largest telcos. As a result, US cable operators now have a total of 62.2 million broadband subs, giving them a 64% market share. (See Cable Operators Continue Broadband Blitz.)

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

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