In another sign of broadband's growing predominance in the cable business, Comcast is planning to conduct its first market trials of the industry's next-gen broadband spec, DOCSIS 3.1, sometime this fall.
Speaking on the company's second-quarter earnings call this morning, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts said the giant US MSO will test DOCSIS 3.1 in several undisclosed markets as it gears up to roll out the technology broadly over the next couple of years, "adding tremendous capacity and laying the groundwork for future speed increases." He described the D3.1 rollout as part of the company's increasing emphasis on using new broadband technologies and products, rather than traditional video technologies and products, to attract and retain customers.
"DOCSIS 3.1 is a quantum leap forward, we believe, not just a linear step," Roberts said. Noting that Comcast is also moving forward with the introductions of its new Gigabit Pro service over all-fiber lines and its new Stream OTT video service, he referred to broadband and gigabit services as "top of mind" for his company. (See Comcast trots out Gigabit Pro… at a price and Comcast 'Stream' Joins OTT Flood.)
The new DOCSIS 3.1 spec will enable cable operators to deliver downstream data speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds of at least 1 Gbit/s to broadband users. Although the industry's current flagship standard, DOCSIS 3.0, can now support downstream speeds as high as about 1.2 Gbit/s, it tops out there and can't support close to the same level of upstream speeds.
Comcast did not disclose where it will conduct the DOCSIS 3.1 trials or reveal which vendor's equipment it will use for the tests. But, with numerous cable vendors scrambling to develop and test their D3.1 cable modems, gateways and other products right now, the MSO could have a few choices available.
Unlike some other MSOs, though, Comcast remains firmly committed to the conventional pay-TV business. On the earnings call, company executives stressed that they will further accelerate the rollout of their X1 IP video set-tops and gateways as the next-gen boxes continue to boost DVR and VoD usage by video subscribers and cut customer churn rates. Seeking to install the boxes in customer homes as fast as possible, they have already ramped up X1 deployment rates to a record 30,000 boxes a day and aim to boost that pace ever higher.
With X1's deployment rate up 10% from the first quarter, and 35% from the year-ago period, Comcast has now placed the boxes in one third of its approximately 10 million triple-play households, as well as a smaller portion of its 8.9 million double-play homes. Slightly more than half of new Comcast video subscribers now sign up for the X1 service.
"We continue to believe that X1 is an absolute game-changer," Roberts said. "We've scaled our deployment to 30,000 boxes a day and we're looking to go even higher. We very much believe in the video business and our place in its future."
Seeing an opportunity in the broader cable market, Comcast officials are aggressively pitching X1 licensing deals to other MSOs. So far, Cox Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. have jumped at the bait and started conducting trials. Roberts said "a number of other companies" have also expressed interest in licensing X1. (See Shaw Licenses X1, Proves Comcast's Influence.)
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading