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DOCSIS 3.1 paving the way for next-gen TV and Internet

DOCSIS 3.1, the latest evolution in data over cable service interface specification, could be a game changer for the Internet and TV industry, providing multi-gigabit Internet speeds and interoperability among modem manufacturers and service providers. Many believe the new international telecommunications standard is the first step toward bringing data-hungry technologies such as augmented reality, ultra-high definition 4K television, tele-existence, medical imaging and advanced gaming systems to cable customers.

CableLabs this month gave the green light for the technology to go mainstream, certifying the product for retail. Companies ranging from modem makers to service providers have jumped on board.

CableLabs President and CEO Phil McKinney says the development of the new DOCSIS has been faster than expected.

“This represents the most rapid development and implementation cycle for a broadband technology development program ever delivered by CableLabs,” McKinney said. “Development of the initial DOCSIS 3.1 specifications to product certification has occurred in half the time of previous DOCSIS specifications.”

This means a large-scale deployment could happen faster than initially expected as well. Cable giant Comcast is already testing the standard in Philadelphia to see how it fits in with the company’s existing hybrid fiber-coaxial network, hoping the technology will help them establish a multi-gigabit network without having to lay more fiber.

“The test used the standard cable connections that we have in homes across the country,” said Comcast EVP and CTO Tony Werner. “All we needed was a new modem, a software upgrade to the device that serves that neighborhood, and a few good engineers.”

Jay Kirchoff, VP of marketing at Broadcom agrees, adding the product is “aimed at cable operators who want to compete with fiber solutions [because] it allows them to go to multi-gigabit data offerings over their current HFC network.” The suite of specifications can support more than 10 gigabits per second downstream and 1 Gbps upstream using 4096 quadrature amplitude modulation.

Network vendors Arris, Cisco Systems, Casa Systems, Huawei and Harmonic are all working on network gear to support the new standard. Charles Cheevers, CTO of customer premise equipment at Arris, believes the products will not only offer gigabit speeds through ethernet ports, but also through wireless around the house as well.

“We’re moving into the Wi-Fi space at high speeds too because more and more consumers are requiring that their access speeds … also be present over the Wi-Fi links in the home so that puts an extra challenge on delivering gigabit Wi-Fi speeds,” Cheevers explained.

Cheever said new technologies will require multiple access points within the home. “We estimate based on our own technical surveys … that about 36% of U.S. homes will need augmentation with a second access device … to do gigabit speed. … That will then … allow services like ultra HD over Wi-Fi to emerge and be robust and high quality enough so that operators won’t be plagued with customer support calls on a very robust 4K delivery service.”

Simon Frost, global head of media marketing and communications for Ericsson, agrees there is a technological convergence taking place, but said its all about bringing customers the services that they want.

“I think there’s some strategic advantages from the broadband capabilities in their network clearly from fixed with DOCSIS and Wi-Fi from a wireless perspective as well,” Frost said. “So I think the key theme really is technology convergence, technology enablement, but then, how do you build services on top of that?”

That will be the big question moving forward. As performance continues to improve, how will companies capitalize on the increased capacity to bring a better experience to their customers? That remains to be seen.

So far, the list of DOCSIS 3.1 certified products include the Askey TCG310, Castlenet’s Optimum 601, Netgear’s CM1000, Technicolor’s TC4400-XM6 and Ubee’s DVMA20. CableLabs expects these products to reach consumers in early 2016. Comcast plans to expand its testing to Northern California and Atlanta with a goal of late 2016 for a large-scale rollout.

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