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10Gbps UK Cable Broadband Speeds Edge Closer After DOCSIS 3.1 Tests

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 (7:38 am) - Score 8,186
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Key hardware for the next generation DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband standard, which could eventually be used by Virgin Media (Liberty Global) to deliver top UK Internet download speeds of up to 10Gbps (Gigabits per second) and 1Gbps uploads via their predominantly urban network, has successfully passed its first interoperability tests.

According to CableLabs, which has been developing the new DOCSIS 3.1 specification for several years, six technology companies have now completed the first successful interoperability test of related hardware (e.g. early cable modem kit etc.). The event tested product interoperability, and is said to have demonstrated both higher efficiency and wider channels, which combine to make multi-Gbps speeds possible.

Two of the ways in which the new technology aims to boost performance is by utilising technologies such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), which can encode data by using multiple carrier frequencies, and quadrupling the amount of radio spectrum up to 200MHz. Admittedly the top speeds of 10Gbps would only work over a short range, but domestic consumers aren’t likely to see that anyway.

Phil McKinney, CableLabs President and CEO, said:

The remarkable speed at which DOCSIS 3.1 has gone from concept, to specification, to interoperability testing demonstrates the great value of collaboration by industry stakeholders. This is a great step forward toward future deployment.”

Tom Lookabaugh, CableLabs Chief Research and Development Officer, added:

The success of this first DOCSIS 3.1 interop validates that multi-Gigabit services will soon be a reality for cable broadband customers. Operators around the world can now look forward to a new generation of capabilities added to their DOCSIS based networks.”

The DOCSIS 3.1 standard is arguably the cable industry’s answer to innovations like G.fast in the copper telecoms market (not that they need it yet) and is also seen as a way of delaying the need to invest in a roll-out of pure fibre optic (FTTH/P/B) style connectivity, at least within the existing HFC footprint.

At present Virgin Media is only lab testing DOCSIS 3.1 and as a result their hybrid (HFC) Fibre-to-the-Local/Node (FTTN) style network, which delivers the final connection into homes via a short run of copper or high-grade coaxial cable and is predominantly based off a EuroDOCSIS variant of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS3), offers maximum download speeds of up to 152Mbps.

It’s also widely predicted that Virgin Media will next year introduce another double speed boost, which will use the operators existing standards rather than the future DOCSIS 3.1 spec, that will take their performance up to 300Mbps for home users. But after that Virgin’s ability to pull more speed out of their existing kit will become increasingly difficult and future upgrades may require DOCSIS 3.1.

Cable giant Liberty Global, which owns Virgin Media and many other cable providers, have made no secret of their desire to see a commercial roll-out of DOCSIS 3.1 by the end of 2016 and the first completed hardware should be ready for field trials during H1-2015. In the meantime Virgin has also been conducting some limited deployments of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology, which in the future may help to expand their coverage into areas where extending via HFC could be more troublesome.

It’s of course worth remembering that the top speeds of DOCSIS 3.1 aren’t really intended for domestic users and you’d probably be more likely to see this being introduced at a speed of around 500-600Mbps, which would no doubt be accompanied by yet another new batch of cable router/modems (SuperHub 4 perhaps, assuming we get another SuperHub 3 in 2015).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. Virgin are installing 3.1-ready equipment into their network right now.

    Interesting times.

    • Yes but that’s a bit like the early “HD Ready” TV’s, which weren’t actually HD compliant because they lacked the key standards equipment and software that followed later on.

    • Not really, the kit is 3.1 ready, it’s all about the architecture. Simple swapping of some line cards and reconfiguration of edge QAMs and good to go.

    • Another swift FYI – 500Mb is available via 16 channel DOCSIS 3 modems:

      https://www.comhem.se/bredband/bredbandspaket

      The newer CPE is 24×8 – 24 downstream, 8 upstream capable. Upstream is trickier but VM can certainly go from delivering the current 400Mb to a service group to delivering 1.2Gb without access network changes and 600Mb+ is certainly doable via 24 channels.

      There are 32 channel chipsets available, too – 1.6Gb/s to a single service group. So long as there aren’t too many modems sharing the bandwidth I imagine an MSO could sell 1Gb with 32 downstream channels given Comhem are able to sell 500Mb with 16.

      DOCSIS 3 has some mileage to go yet and further speed increases can certainly carry on without a shift to 3.1. DOCSIS 3 is, probably, good for a gigabit 🙂

    • Avatar MikeW

      Although it is still the case that just 3 users @152Mbps can saturate the entire shared spectrum, with the current 8 bonded channels. If you multiply the headline speed at the same rate as the channels get bonded, you keep with this limitation.

      How many properties do VM have sharing a cable segment – is it tens, a few hundred, or a few thousand?

    • Avatar DTMark

      I’m not sure there’s any “standard number”. The recent re-segmentation project presumably (he says, guessing) in effect reduces the number on any particular segment thus reducing contention by effectively increasing capacity.

    • Avatar No Clue

      Indeed the more channels the less stress per channel, not sure what the BT horn blower was on about with his typical contention rubbish.

  2. Avatar fttx

    Equipment is easy to swap, it is the cable infrastructure that matters.
    Unlike Twisted pair, Coax is designed for high frequency.

    BT should be concerned, if VM are able to beat BT’s flagship product (330Mb) on their old drop cable imagine what they could do on these FTTP links 😉

    • Avatar DTMark

      With FTTP, BT could then respond, the 330Mbps limit seems an arbitrary one.

      But then there’s virtually no FTTP anyway (0.9% of the UK, of which not all is BT)

      Virgin’s future mobile offerings will perhaps be more interesting/pivotal in the light of the BT/EE deal.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      As DTMark says 330 is just a soft limit

      I’m not sure BT are concerned, as Ignition has mentioned before a few times they don’t seem interested in a speed race/war

      All good stuff tho, go Virgin! 🙂

    • Avatar DTMark

      Sky probably have one eye on Virgin Media’s legitimate advertising claim:

      “Twice as fast as Sky’s fastest package”

      They’ll never counter that using Openreach, they will just fall further and further behind.

      At the moment, it’s only twice as fast. Before long, VM will be three times as fast.

      And VM get all this at cost price, whereas Sky are paying Wholesale prices to BT, so they can never optimally compete for profit with anyone with anything else via anything other than massive volume in a fierce retail market.

      They probably bore this in mind when they chipped in for that joint FTTP trial.

  3. Avatar dave

    I wonder whether the 100,000 homes they will be connecting in London will be using FTTP.

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