Move over, DOCSIS. In its first gigabit service deployment, Comcast will start rolling out a symmetrical 2Gbit/s residential broadband service next month over a fiber-to-the-home network.
In a surprise announcement this morning, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) unveiled its new Gigabit Pro offering and said it will begin deploying it in Atlanta in May. The multi-gigabit service will be made available to "any home within close proximity of Comcast's fiber network," reaching more than 1.5 million Atlanta customers in all. Comcast also said it plans to extend Gigabit Pro across the country throughout 2015, with a goal of making the service available to 18 million homes by year's end.
The notion that Comcast is creating a fiber-fed consumer broadband service is big news in part because of the company's significant investment in DOCSIS 3.1 technology. The latest DOCSIS iteration should significantly extend the life of hybrid-fiber-coax networks, making it possible to deliver gigabit speeds without taking fiber all the way to the home. Comcast began field-testing DOCSIS 3.1 only a few short weeks ago and plans to deliver broad-scale gigabit services using the new technology, starting in 2016. (See Comcast Puts DOCSIS 3.1 Live in the Field.)
However, while Comcast has been pushing heavily on the DOCSIS front, it's also been driving fiber deeper into its network, apparently preparing for the launch of the Gigabit Pro FTTH service. According to this morning's press release, Comcast has already built out more than 145,000 route miles of fiber.
There are still numerous questions about Gigabit Pro, not least of which is how the service will be priced. However, Comcast has confirmed that it will not follow Google Fiber Inc. 's model of creating "fiberhoods" that guarantee a certain level of customer uptake before service is delivered. As Doug Guthrie, SVP of Comcast Cable's South Region, noted in today's announcement, "Our approach is to offer the most comprehensive rollout of multi-gigabit service to the most homes as quickly as possible, not just to certain neighborhoods."
Comcast also stated that customers will need to have specialized equipment installed for Gigabit Pro, raising the question of which vendors the company will use. Currently in its highest-speed residential deployments, the company relies on Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) gear in the last mile and Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) hardware in the home. Sources close to Comcast say the cable operator will continue working with those partners for Gigabit Pro.
The other major issue for Comcast is how it will combine its new fiber service with its TV offerings. A spokesperson confirmed that the company has no plans to bundle Gigabit Pro with TV service right now. At least in the near term, Gigabit Pro will be a standalone product.
The Gigabit Pro news follows another recent announcement by Comcast that the service provider has formed a multi-year partnership with the Atlanta Braves. Comcast has committed to delivering video, voice and high-speed data services to the new SunTrust Park, which the Braves are now developing. That fiber-based service will also be capable of multi-gigabit speeds.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading