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DOCSIS

Charter Issues RFP for D3.1 Modems

Seeking to catch up with its fellow big US MSOs, Charter Communications has put out an RFP on DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems to equipment suppliers as it gets ready to try out the new cable broadband spec.

Charter Communications Inc. President & CEO Tom Rutledge mentioned the RFP while speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2017 Media & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. on Monday afternoon. After completing a review with his engineering team recently, Rutledge said Charter, the second biggest cable operator in the US, already has its plant pretty much ready for DOCSIS 3.1 and now just needs the modems to get going.

Rutledge did not spell out when Charter will start testing and deploying D3.1 modems on its network. Nor did he say which vendors the MSO might be considering. But he indicated that the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1, followed by the rollout of Full Duplex DOCSIS and coherent optics technologies, will be critical parts of Charter's strategy going forward. (See How Cable Plans Symmetrical Gigabit via FDX and New CableLabs Optical Tech Promises Big Bandwidth Boost.)

"Competitively speaking, I think we have the best infrastructure today," he said, ruling out the need to go all-fiber throughout its 49.2 million-home footprint. "We don't have to rebuild that infrastructure."

Among the major North American and European MSOs, Charter has been a laggard in embracing DOCSIS 3.1. Such peers as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Shaw Communications Inc. , Mediacom Communications Corp. and WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) have already started rolling out D3.1 commercially, while such other MSOs as Cox Communications Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) are either conducting field trials now or plan to start conducting them later this year. (See Comcast Launches DOCSIS 3.1 for Business Customers and Mediacom Gigs Out Across Iowa.)

For its part, Charter offers downstream speeds as high as 300 Mbit/s in some of its markets, not too shabby but still far below the 1-Gig and 2-Gig top speeds that many of its cable peers and telco rivals offer. Yet that doesn't seem to concern Rutledge much. In the Deutsche Bank interview, he boasted that his company offers the highest entry-level data speeds in its markets, starting broadband subscribers off at 60 Mbit/s.

"Our data speeds are 10% to 15% faster than AT&T's entry-level products," he said, conveniently overlooking the fact that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) offers downstream speeds as high as 1 Gig in many of its markets. "There's still tremendous opportunity for us to grow" the broadband subscriber base. Charter closed 2016 with 21.4 million broadband subs, the second highest total in the US after Comcast.


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Rutledge noted that Charter will just need to "upgrade the electronics" on its networks to deliver symmetrical speeds of 1 Gig or more with DOCSIS 3.1. He then anticipates offering symmetrical speeds up to 10 Gig with Full Duplex DOCSIS, a next-gen cable broadband spec now in the works that he estimates will be available for use in three years.

Although the initial DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems will cost more than D3.0 models, Rutledge expects that price differential to subside over time as the devices start rolling off the assembly lines in bulk. Eventually he expects the D3.1 modems to cost no more than D3.0 modems.

Rutledge's appearance at the Deutsche Bank conference came the same day that Charter introduced its new Spectrum TV app for a unified viewing experience. Similar to Comcast's X1 app, the Spectrum TV app allows Charter video subscribers to watch all 300 live TV channels and 25,000 VOD titles on a wide range of video devices in their homes. But Rutledge made no mention of the new app during the interview.

Rutledge did say, though, that Charter has nearly finished rolling out its new Spectrum pricing and packaging plans to all its subscribers. He said the rollout should be completed in the continental US next week, with just Hawaii left as a possible "outlier."

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

KBode 3/7/2017 | 2:06:28 PM
Speeds They effectively froze speed upgrades post merger (Time Warner Cable's 300 Mbps Maxx upgrades were put on hold), and unlike other big cable companies has been effectively mum on faster DOCSIS 3.1 speeds. You'd think at some point they'd want to accelerate these efforts (or at the very least the marketing of them). 

Then again, based on some of the customer support horror stories I'm hearing from acquired merger customers, focusing on merger integration right now may just be the best bet. 
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