Washington, DC -- For all of the industry enthusiasm around DOCSIS 3.1, not all independent cable operators are convinced it's right for them.
Speaking at the American Cable Association (ACA) 's annual ACA Summit here, three very different indie cable companies all expressed serious reservations about the prospect of deploying the newest DOCSIS standard. Wave Broadband with roughly 250,000 broadband subscribers, Comporium Communications with an equivalent 120,000 subs, and Frankfort Plant Board with close to 14,000 broadband customers all agreed that DOCSIS 3.1 isn't on the near-term agenda. And it may not end up on the network roadmap at all.
Hesitation around D3.1 isn't because the three cable operators are getting out of the broadband business. Quite the contrary. All three are moving in the direction of becoming predominantly Internet service providers with a decreased emphasis on television service. However, given the economics of upgrading their networks, DOCSIS 3.1 is largely unappealing.
"At this moment, and stay tuned till next year, we don’t think 3.1 makes sense," declared Wave Broadband CEO Steve Weed. "We think that the best economic model... is to do a fiber overlay on top of your HFC system and go straight to the home with the fiber as opposed to going 3.1. And surprisingly we think that's better economics in the long run, much more efficient."
Weed went on to explain that it appears to be less expensive to extend fiber from the node to the home than to deploy DOCSIS 3.1 when the operational efficiencies of Ethernet are taken into account. At least, that's what he thinks today.
"We think that's a better way to go," said Weed. "We're going to test that this year."
Assistant General Manager John Higginbotham of Frankfort Plant Board (FPB) agreed with Weed on D3.1, although his company's reasons for not making the upgrade are somewhat different. FPB doesn't have access to capital for a major update and is already working through significant debt from its move into triple-play services many years ago.
"We truly are at a crossroads. Our network, the way it's constructed, it would cost way, way too much, I think. I don't know yet, I haven't done all the homework to see whether the 3.1 would work for us because of the long cascades we have," said Higginbotham.
As for Comporium, the South Carolina cable company is a big proponent of high-speed broadband, but, like Wave, it's using fiber for gigabit service rollouts. And even where the company still has HFC plant, EVP of Customer Operations Matt Dosch believes DOCSIS 3.1 may still not be the way to go.
"There's much to be wrung out of [DOCSIS] 3.0," stated Dosch, "and we're really focused on fiber to the prem on one hand and really maximizing the capability through node splits and other incremental tools to really squeeze everything we can out of DOCSIS 3.0 before we really worry about 3.1."
Broken down that way, it's easy to wonder if D3.1 will ever make sense for most tier-two and tier-three cable operators. By the time they fully leverage DOCSIS 3.0, it may be time to move on from DOCSIS altogether. (See also Smaller MSOs Prep for DOCSIS 3.1 & PON .)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading