Reiterating its commitment to rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 early, Liberty Global is now testing the next-gen broadband technology in its labs and plans to conduct several field trials early next year, quickly followed by commercial deployments of gigabit service.
Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) CEO Mike Fries outlined those plans during the company's second-quarter earnings call last week, following up on a commitment he made on a similar call earlier this year. Fries said the international cable giant, which operates throughout Europe and in parts of Latin America, intends to move ahead with "live trials in certain markets" in early 2016. (See Liberty Global Preps Broadband Blitz.)
"We're testing EuroDOCSIS 3.1 right now and should begin commercial deployment next year," he said. "We feel great about our ability to extend our speed leadership with EuroDOCSIS 3.1."
Fries noted that Liberty Global is already ordering cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) with D3.1 capability from an undisclosed vendor, adding that they are "putting them in the field." As a result, he estimated that the MSO will have more than 40% of its cable footprint in the UK and Germany ready for the new spec on the CMTS and network side by the end of this year. Further, he said, Liberty Global "should have 80% of our footprint ready to go over the next three years."
That cable footprint is certainly huge. In Europe alone, Liberty Global now passes nearly 49 million homes in 12 countries. In those 12 markets, it has 16.4 million broadband and more than 22.8 million pay-TV subscribers.
Besides outlining his company's deployment plans for DOCSIS 3.1, Fries also shed some light on the new technology's expected deployment costs. Calling D3.1 "cost-effective and scalable," he said Liberty Global estimates that it will be able to offer 1-Gig service to broadband subs at a cost of €20 (about US$21.90) per home, not including any customer premises equipment (CPE).
Liberty Global thus confirmed that like such major North American MSOs as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. and Videotron Ltd. , it plans to get out the gate fast with DCOSIS 3.1. And they're not alone.
In a recent survey of cable providers across the globe, IHS Inc. found that, on average, providers expect to pass about a third of their residential broadband subscribers with DOCSIS 3.1-enabled headends by April 2017. (See DOCSIS 3.1 Seen Taking Off.)
In the meantime, Liberty Global is using the cable industry's current flagship broadband standard, DOCSIS 3.0, to ratchet up speeds for its data subs throughout Europe. On the earnings call, Fries said the MSO is now offering maximum downstream speeds of 200 Mbit/s in 11 of its 12 European markets. In addition, he said, Liberty Global has launched 500Mbit/s service in Switzerland and plans to start rolling out similar high speeds to "the vast majority of our footprint."
Fries also updated analysts on Liberty Global's €3 billion (about $3.3 billion) "Project Lightning" new-build program in the UK. Under the program, the company's Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) unit intends to wire up to 4 million homes and businesses and extend its hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) footprint to nearly 17 million premises, or two-thirds of the nation, by 2020. (See Virgin Media Plots £3B Invasion of BT Turf.)
Over the first half of the year, Fries said Virgin Media extended its HFC network to 80,000 new British homes "while laying the groundwork" for accelerated new-builds in such major markets as Manchester and Leeds. Virgin plans to target 150,000 new homes in Manchester, the UK's second-largest city, and another 80,000 homes in Leeds.
"Early customer response from Project Lightning has been encouraging," he said. "We're on target with internal penetration forecasts. And this is just the beginning. Lightning will launch in ten more towns and cities in the second half and will ramp materially in 2016."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading