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10Gbps Cable Broadband Edges Closer with DOCSIS 3.1 Kit Certification

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 (2:19 pm) by Mark Jackson (Score 3,321)
coax_cable_virgin_media

The next gen of ultrafast cable broadband technology, which is expected to be trialled by Virgin Media in the not too distant future, looks to have moved closer after CableLabs issued its first certifications to five DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem vendors (Askey, Castlenet, Netgear, Technicolor and Ubee Interactive).

At present the existing DOCSIS / EuroDOCSIS 3.0 (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) standard still has some mileage left and indeed Virgin Media has already launched top speeds of 200Mbps for homes, with businesses set to benefit from 300Mbps over the same network (here). A 300Mbps package for home users may follow, provided they can find enough capacity to feed it (here).

Meanwhile CableLabs has been busy preparing hardware for the new Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) DOCSIS 3.1 standard, which could deliver peak speeds of 10Gbps (Gigabits per second) by quadrupling the amount of radio spectrum up to 200MHz and making better use of technologies like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM).

The first hardware has now passed official certification, with more set to follow during early 2016, which means that operators like Virgin Media (Liberty Global) can now start to think seriously about conducting proper customer trials.

Phil McKinney, President and CEO of CableLabs, said:

Today’s news marks a key milestone for CableLabs in technical leadership and time to market. The DOCSIS 3.1 specifications assure the cable industry’s leadership in the delivery of broadband services. This represents the most rapid development and implementation cycle for a broadband technology development program ever delivered by CableLabs. Development of the initial DOCSIS 3.1 specifications to product certification has occurred in half the time of previous DOCSIS specifications.”

Over the past 14 months, CableLabs claims to have held 14 DOCSIS 3.1 interoperability and dry run testing events that provided manufacturers the opportunity to work together on interoperability, development and specification compliance, which supports some of the recently announced field trials and commercial deployments at other operators.

Meanwhile cable giant Liberty Global, which owns Virgin Media and many other cable providers, has made no secret of their desire to start a commercial roll-out of DOCSIS 3.1 by the end of 2016. But for now we are still waiting to see a concrete implementation plan from Virgin Media.

Cable operators are likely to continue progressively ramping up their speeds over the next few years, which means that 400-600Mbps packages could be on the way to the United Kingdom over the next couple of years and possibly rising to 1Gbps further down the line, which should keep BT’s 300-500Mbps G.fast technology on its toes.

Mind you the big advantage of cable networks is that they can often implement such upgrades to their existing customers in a significantly shorter space of time than the decade or so that BT will require in order to reach “most” UK homes with G.fast.

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18 Responses
  1. Chris

    If VM where sensible they’d open up their network to competitors just line an mvno, call it a cvno. They’d get more customers and more reason to build out their network. They’d also get more stick from the cvno’ when things go wrong, but I’m sure the benefit will out weigh the pain.

    • DTMark

      I’m not seeing where they stand to gain from this, though I do remember them allowing AOL, was it, to resell their service.

      The virtual operator is only interested in retailing a service at a price point that means they can gain custom.

      That price point together with the dilution of profit does not provide sufficient funds for any network improvement. This is why the concept of BT as a wholesaler does not work, though in their case the issue is even more acute due to decades of under-investment.

      All it does in the case of BT is to provide for something akin to a cartel with the customer able to choose whose name is on the bill without really having any choice over the significant aspects of the service being provided with BT (Retail) having the advantage of cheaper pricing than any competitor on their network due to being part oaf a single group that owns the infrastructure, so the Group gets the product at the cost price, not the Wholesale price.

      VM’s network only extends as far as it does, and so gaining resellers on their platform does not provide VM with any advantage in any respect.

      If the infra owner is also a provider, and especially if it’s the main provider, then this sort of vertical monopoly model can never work.

    • Steve Jones

      @DTmark

      Absolute nonsense. BTR do not get OR & BTW products “at cost”. BTR pay the same as any other service user and they are specifically regulated so that their prices cannot drop below the point where other operators can make a profit. The test that Ofcom applies is called the “margin squeeze test”, which goes considerably beyond competition law (which outlaws predatory pricing – that is pricing below cost).

      Ofcom’s margin squeeze test puts an effective floor under BTR pricing. The margin squeeze test and regulated pricing of wholesale products prevents BT from simply raising wholesale prices and running BTR at a loss in order to maximise profits. Indeed the whole basket of OR & BTW product prices have been on continuous trend of reduced pricing (even MPF has been reducing in price in real terms).

    • GNewton

      @SteveJones: Does it really matter for BT whether it is subjected to the margin squeeze test or not? In the end of the day, BT still owns all of Openreach, BTR, BTW, BT Sports and others. And the Openreach mess still needs sorting out. It will be a real struggle for Openreach to match a DOCSIS 3.1 performance by the end of the year. The costs for extending fibre to closer distribution nodes on a massive scale are beyond BT’s capabilities, it will probably cry out for more taxpayer’s money!

    • wirelesspacman

      @stevejones

      To be fair to DTMark, he specifically stated “BT Group” gets the product at cost – which is true. The rest is just a mix of fancy accounting “tricks” and a regulator that has taken its eye off things Margin Squeeze-wise.

      Try building the cost stack for an alternate operator using Bitstream based on BT Wholesale products and see if you could complete with BT Retail (let alone its cheapo PlusNet arm) price wise without losing a shed load of cash.

    • Ignition

      I would speculate that if this were true Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Liberty Global, etc, would be wholesaling their networks by now. It seems reasonable to assume that these companies know their businesses better than we do and know the impact wholesaling will have on their profitability.

      There’s also no evidence that this is the case outside of cable and copious amounts to the contrary. The biggest reason why BT don’t have the FTTP coverage Verizon do is because they have to wholesale while Verizon don’t. Deutsche Telekom built their original VDSL network thanks to receiving a regulatory concession that they wouldn’t have to wholesale it for a period. If what you say were true that’d be a counter-intuitive request from them.

    • Ignition

      ‘It will be a real struggle for Openreach to match a DOCSIS 3.1 performance by the end of the year.’

      Openreach don’t care about matching DOCSIS 3.1 or DOCSIS 3.0 because their customers don’t care about it. Their customers don’t care about it because they know that most people purchase products based on the cheapest option that’ll do what they want it to.

      Openreach sell way more 40Mb than 80Mb. Virgin Media sell way more 50Mb/70Mb than 150Mb/200Mb. Hyperoptic sell way less 1Gb than the other tiers.

      Talk Talk and Sky don’t like paying the prices they do for 40Mb and 80Mb now, let alone being asked to pay more to try and keep up with Virgin Media. They have absolutely no interest in that enterprise; they reluctantly began using and advertising FTTC to preserve market share, not to keep up with cable. In their ideal world I suspect they’d still be using MPF LLU for everyone.

    • FibreFred

      ^ Exactly, they aren’t bothered about competing as the demand isn’t there and probably won’t be for many years.

    • M

      If VM were sensible they wouldn’t roll out a 200mbit service to areas where quite a number of people are now getting <= 3mbit/s downstream in the evening as a result.

    • Darren

      ^ Ouch, you can see why demand for the faster cable packages is low when performance on existing ones is rubbish.

      Personally I have no problems with the quality of service on my FTTC line. It’s been perfect for over 5 years but now it’s time for FTTdp.

    • DTMark

      Indeed, the word ‘Group’ is the key.

      The speeds will start to matter sooner than many might have expected.

      Today’s “superfast” threshold is tomorrow’s “My Netflix stream is buffering” problem.

    • MikeW

      @Ignition, @Darren

      You’re both right. Only around 5% of the market are in need of, and are willing to pay a little extra for, the kind of speeds that come with Docsis 3.1, FTTdp/G.fast or FTTP.

      The trick for VM, as it is for BT and Gigaclear, is to be able to cost-effectively deploy their new tech to serve the 5% in a way that doesn’t undermine the cheapness desired by the other 95%.

  2. Gadget

    Group do not figure in the supply chain for service – Openreach supply to Wholesale (on the same terms as Openreach supply to LLU operators), and Wholesale then supply Retail(along with a number of other ISPs).

  3. MikeW

    If/when VM chose to deploy Docsis 3.1, and to start selling speeds that depended on Docsis 3.1, what is the granularity of migration?

    Can Docsis 3.1 co-exist on a cable segment at the same time as Docsis 3.0? Is it a channel-by-channel migration? Something where individual users can be put onto 3.1 modems?

    Or does the migration affect whole segments at a time? Or whole CMTS? Whole towns?

    • Ignition

      There is no bulk migration. All DOCSIS 3.1 modems are DOCSIS 3.0 compliant and customers can be moved individually as and when new CPE are supplied.

      3.1 can live on the same cables as 3.0. Can even use 3.1 downstreams and 3.0 upstreams, or vice-versa.

      VM are upgrading their networks to provide the RF bandwidth for 3.1 on an ongoing basis; moving networks from 5-50MHz or 5-65MHz upstream and 750MHz or 860MHz downstream to equipment that’s 5-85MHz upstream, 1GHz downstream, field upgradeable to 5-200MHz upstream, 1.2GHz downstream.

      DOCSIS 3.1 uses 6.4-96MHz upstream carriers and 24-192MHz downstream carriers. Upgrading a network from 50MHz/750MHz split to 85MHz/1GHz makes room for a 32MHz upstream carrier and a 192MHz downstream carrier without requiring any change to DOCSIS 3.0 carriers.

    • Ignition

      Ah, also just to be clear the DOCSIS 3.1 kit can use the 3.0 and 3.1 channels at the same time, so customers on the 3.1 CPE and higher tiers can use all the DOCSIS 3.0 upstream and downstream capacity alongside the additional 3.1 carriers.

      Cablelabs took a lot of care over making the migration programmes as smooth as possible. As time goes on and more and more are moved to 3.1 equipment cable operators can then withdraw 3.0 spectrum and enlarge 3.1 carriers or add new ones.

    • MikeW

      Thanks @ignition

      So a new CMTS (or a new card in an existing CMTS?) is needed to enable DOCSIS 3.1 functionality; new fibre nodes to support the higher upstream split, and the higher downstream frequencies.

      Those upgrades could come in either order, but once both are in place, the new service could be sold to all the cable segments (street-level) fed by the fibre node.

      In the near-term, I guess 3.1-capable modems just go to those buying the service, but long-term, all new subscribers will end up with 3.1 modems.

      It sounds like a fairly decent migration setup overall.

    • Ignition

      Indeed. Mike. Virgin are moving away from the CMTS they originally deployed DOCSIS 3.0 on, the Cisco 10k and Motorola BSR 64k to use higher density line cards and deliver more 3.0 channels per node.

      The kit they are replacing them with, Arris E6k and Cisco cBR-8, are both DOCSIS 3.1 capable and have line cards that deliver both 3.0 and 3.1.

      The upgrades to the local network are needed to deliver more capacity to the 3.1 network, especially on the upstream/return path, in any event. Areas with 750MHz networks need more room for extra 3.0 channels downstream also. Taking them to 1GHz enables 3.1, too.

      Also to note, not just fibre nodes need upgrading in the local plant. The coaxial amplifiers need to be compliant, collectively coaxial amps and fibre nodes are called ‘actives’ and the tap banks and splitters, the ‘passives’, do too.

      I linked this elsewhere – https://youtu.be/bOAjzKY51-I?t=571 watch from the beginning if interested, this talk was given in the UK and more VM-specific stuff can be found from https://youtu.be/bOAjzKY51-I?t=1143 onwards, though they do/did have some tree and branch stuff too.

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