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The Next Generation of Broadband

I’m back from the annual Cable Show in Vegas where Comcast CEO Brian Roberts rolled out the next generation of broadband technologies. Demonstrating the new DOCSIS 3.0 standard for broadband over hybrid coax-fiber networks, Roberts moved a 4GB file in just over 3 minutes.

The DOCSIS 3.0 standard gets its juice from “channel bonding” technology. The modem bonds the equivalent of 4 channels of television (which would each be the equivalent of 40mbps), allowing speeds in the range of 160 mbps downstream. The upstream rate would increase as well. While the demo didn’t address upstream speeds, I was able to confirm with DOCSIS modem vendors that the upstream speed would likely increase to the 10-20 mbps range.

That may still seem small compared to the downstream, but is a dramatic increase over the 1mpbs we currently receive.

The vendors also told me that the downstream speed isn’t capped at 160, but actually scales up dramatically. The DOCSIS 3.0 standard allows for up to 32 bound channels – meaning the maximum downstream speed for the standard is 1280 mbps, or just over 1gbps.

At 160 mbps, the new standard puts cable modems far ahead of the current fiber optic offerings (which top out in the 30mbps range). The new standard is expected to reach consumers by this time next year. The interesting effect of all this, I believe, will be the creation of a bandwidth arms race between cable and the telcos. For those who have been concerned with the relative low speeds of US broadband compared to other countries, this should ease that pain.

An arms race between access providers will also limit the possibility of “net neutrality” violations. If customers are continually seeing improvements in throughput and have one significant reason to switch providers, it’s unlikely the ISP would give them another reason by limiting content.

Written by Michael Turk