Nearly a year after it announced plans to do so, Suddenlink Communications has become the latest US broadband provider to unleash gigabit service on an unsuspecting world.
Suddenlink Communications , the seventh largest US cable operator with 1.2 million broadband subscribers and nearly 1.5 million total customers, launched 1 Gig downstream service in four markets on Thursday. The four markets -- Bryan-College Station, Texas; Nixa, Mo.; and Greenville and Rocky Mount, N.C. -- are the first to be upgraded under the MSO's Operation GigaSpeed initiative, which will cover 90% of its homes by the end of 2017. Plans call for carrying out nearly half of the market launches by the close of this year. (See Suddenlink Joins Gigabit Club.)
Suddenlink thus follows in the footsteps of such other major US broadband providers as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Cox Communications Inc. and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), which have all now introduced gigabit service in multiple markets throughout the country. The nation's biggest broadband operator, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), has announced plans to roll out 2 Gbit/s service to 18 million homes around the country by year's end but has not launched in any markets yet.
Like Comcast, Suddenlink has not revealed how it will price its gigabit product. A Suddenlink spokesman would only say that the new service will be "competitively priced."
Unlike Cox and Comcast, the other two large US MSOs with big gig ambitions, Suddenlink does not plan to rely on all-fiber lines to deliver the gigabit speeds. Instead, Suddenlink is leveraging DOCSIS 3.0 technology, which can deliver downstream speeds as high as 1.2 Gbit/s using the latest cable modem chips with 32 downstream channels. Both Comcast and Cox are starting with all-fiber lines before they upgrade their hybrid fiber-coax networks to the next-gen DOCSIS 3.1 spec, which can support downstream speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds of 1 Gbit/s or more.
As part of Operation GigaSpeed, Suddenlink is now spending a total of $250 million in capex to boost the capabilities of its systems and clear more bandwidth. Specifically, the MSO is using the capital to upgrade its cable modem termination systems (CMTSs), replace its DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems with 3.0 modems and higher and reclaim more analog video bandwidth by converting the rest of its cable systems to all-digital video delivery.
Altice , the French communications giant that is now seeking regulatory approval of its proposed $9.1 billion buyout of Suddenlink, has said it supports these upgrade plans. (See Altice to Buy Suddenlink in $9.1B Deal.)
In addition to launching gigabit service in its first four markets, Suddenlink is ramping up the top downstream speeds of two other broadband tiers in those areas for no extra charge. Broadband subscribers who had been getting top speeds of 75 Mbit/s will now get 100 Mbit/s, while subscribers who had been getting top speeds of 100 Mbit/s will now get 200 Mbit/s.
Suddenlink was far from the only entity making waves on the gigabit front this week. For example, CenturyLink is reportedly negotiating for franchise agreements in Oregon that will allow it to extend 1 Gig service to four areas outside Portland, where it already offers 1 Gig service. (See Gigabites: Google Fiber Forges On.)
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading