Comcast, the largest U.S. ISP, will be upgrading its services to gigabit levels across 26 million U.S. households in early 2016, so the movement is real.
Comcast’s plan to offer all its consumer customers gigabit speeds over hybrid fiber coax networks has strategic implications for cable operators, compared to most telcos and other independent Internet service providers using either fiber to neighborhood or fiber to home networks.
CableLabs, the U.S. research and development entity, predicts 2016 will be the year that most U.S. cable customers potentially could get gigabit connections over DOCSIS 3.1 platforms.
At the risk of seeming overly bearish about prospects for fixed network telcos, consider one key difference between the hybrid fiber and copper networks used by both telcos and cable companies, in recent decades.
Assuming a typical 500-home serving area from a single optical node, Comcast uses a fiber to neighborhood design that is structurally similar to the fiber to neighborhood design favored by AT&T, for example. The difference is that Comcast should ultimately be able to wring downstream speeds up to 10 Gbps from that same network, using DOCSIS 3.1 technology.
The difference in end user capacity is related to the differences between coaxial cable and twisted pair copper in terms of bandwidth, plus the difference between cable “broadband” and telco “baseband” modulation methods.
The differences are huge, allowing Comcast to upgrade with slight, if any changes, to the distribution plant, and upgrading to a gigabit by switching to new modems now, and up to 10 Gbps over time.
A telco fiber to neighborhood network cannot upgrade that much by switching out customer premises gear.
So cable has a clear advantage, in terms of scaling investment to reach higher bandwidth.
Of course, the alternative is to replace the hybrid network with an all-fiber approach. Comcast itself has chosen to do so for about 85 percent of its customers who might prefer to buy a symmetrical 2 Gbps connection instead of 1 Gbps.