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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 13, 2013

Cable's Path to Gigabit Speeds

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

The cable industry and its supporting equipment manufacturers will support Gigabit Ethernet speeds from the network all the way into the home in the future, using existing and near-term technologies. Service providers and vendors provided details on their vision at The Cable Show 2013, held in Washington D.C. this year.

Universal broadband access and higher broadband speeds have long been favorites of telecommunications policy wonks. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association brings its annual event to the Nation's Capital every four years so it can rejuvenate its ties with Congress and federal regulators, emphasizing its $200 billion in infrastructure investment since 1996, the ability to deliver high-speed Internet to over 93 percent of U.S. households, and 96 percents of homes passed by cable services.

"High-speed" means different things to different people, but cable executives spent this week demonstrating how existing technology can deliver gigabit speeds and 4K Ultra HD video. Comcast (News - Alert) CEO Brian Roberts took to the show floor to show off how existing cable plant and DOCSIS 3.0 can deliver over 3 Gbps (let's not talk about the whole 300 GB per month cap the company has right now that begs the question of why you'd need to deliver such speeds or the defensiveness of cable executives when it comes to why any residential customer would want or need such speeds).

DOCSIS 3.1 is on the lips of everyone in the cable industry. When fully implemented, the new standard will have the ability to deliver download speeds of up to 10 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Getting up networks up to that standard is going to be a multi-year project.

"When DOCSIS 3.1 modems become available, carriers can start rolling them out immediately since they're backwards compatible with 3.0," said Phil McKinney, Present and CEO of CableLabs (News - Alert), the cable industry's R&D center. "It's a business decision when they upgrade [the entire network] to 3.1"

Cable equipment further upstream will be upgraded to support the DOSCSIS 3.0 via new software and/or new line cards in equipment. Operators will have to reconsider the way they allocate and use spectrum in order to support the highest data rates available under 3.1. Higher speeds will likely require putting more fiber closer to the customer, especially in older neighborhood that are more coaxial-cable dependent.

"The key point is we have a path to get to 10 Gbps service," McKinney said. "We're already looking at post DOCSIS 3.1 work."

Delivering gigabit and faster speeds to the home is only part of the equation. Comcast and other vendors are moving to a "big gateway" CPE model, with a single large gateway box loaded with connectivity options, including CAT-iq DECT (News - Alert) for HD voice and 802.11ac, the latest and greatest version of Wi-Fi. 

Quantenna, a leading provider of high speed of 802.11ac silicon, announced last week that its solutions are now supported and being incorporated in cable CPE using Intel (News - Alert) Puma 6 reference design. Products using the new silicon will be appearing at U.S. and European operators by July.

"We're the highest performing solution available," Quantenna CEO Sam Heidari said, with raw speeds of up to 1.7 Gbps available over 5 GHz spectrum using four antennas and multiple transmitters/receivers.   

Not only does the 4x4 configuration deliver the fastest data rates in the industry, it enables a single box to provide whole-home Wi-Fi coverage in nearly all instances (Mansions excluded). Cable operators can deliver a single box for high-speed networks without customers having to worry about repeaters or range extenders.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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