Comcast Kicks Off D3.1 Era

Welcome to the age of DOCSIS 3.1.

With trial deployments announced today in Philadelphia as well as other select locations in Pennsylvania, Northern California and Atlanta, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is now the first cable operator with DOCSIS 3.1 modems live in the field. The operator plans to continue tests in the coming months and expects to begin using D3.1 technology to offer gigabit broadband speeds over legacy hybrid fiber coax networks before the end of 2016.

Cable companies need DOCSIS 3.1 in order to compete against telco rivals and other fiber-to-the-home network operators. The technology promises to improve HFC network capacity and efficiency, and it's backward compatible with the widely deployed DOCSIS 3.0 standard. While no D3.1 equipment has been officially certified yet, the first certification announcements from CableLabs are expected in January. (See Arris Kicks Off D3.1 Modem Race.)

In addition to Comcast, Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) and Videotron Ltd. also expect to move forward with DOCSIS 3.1 in 2016. Many other cable operators will wait until 2017 or 2018.

For more on cable technology trends, visit the cable channel here at Light Reading.

The latest DOCSIS news comes as Comcast is also driving fiber much deeper into its network and even using FTTH to deliver multi-gigabit speeds (albeit at a very expensive price point) in some markets. (See Comcast trots out Gigabit Pro… at a price and Comcast Goes N+0 in Gigabit Markets.)

Cable infrastructure as a whole is undergoing radical transformation. Cable companies are not only selectively deploying more all-fiber networks, but also evaluating distributed architectures. These distributed architectures would push cable-specific technology out to the network node, enabling greater hardware standardization throughout much of the network, and creating more of a New IP environment with virtualization capabilities.

Some experts even wonder whether DOCSIS might be heading toward gradual extinction given the promise of virtualization and commodity hardware. In the short term, however, DOCSIS 3.1 is widely considered the best solution for extending the life of HFC infrastructure.

Comcast did not announce the name of the vendor supplying the cable modems for its initial D3.1 trials. However, likely candidates include Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Pace plc (two companies that will soon become one), and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH), which recently bought out Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s customer premises equipment business. Perhaps tellingly, Technicolor demonstrated an Xfinity-branded D3.1 modem at an interop event hosted by CableLabs in September. (See DOCSIS 3.1 Is Right on Schedule.)

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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