Cable Operators

Comcast Takes Wider, Faster Broadband Swing

10/25/2008 6:01 PM Eastern

Looking to keep pace with — if not beat — telco competitors on broadband speeds, Comcast over the next few months plans to make its “wideband” cable-modem service with downloads of up to 50 Megabits per second available to 10 million premises in at least 10 markets.

In the next few weeks, Comcast said, it will offer the higher-speed Internet tiers to customers in 100 communities in parts of New England, including the Boston metropolitan region and southern New Hampshire, as well as in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan region, including the surrounding New Jersey suburbs.

The company in April launched the first DOCSIS 3.0-based service in the U.S., in its Minneapolis-St. Paul market. The MSO cited only the two additional markets, Boston and Philadelphia, as next up for wideband.


Comcast customers can find out when wideband service will be available in their area by entering their ZIP code at comcast.com/fastestfast.


Zooming Into the Future

Percentage of North American broadband users by service level:

2008

2012


Less than 1 Mbps

12%

7%


1-8 Mbps

44%

26%


8-25 Mbps

43%

40%


25-50 Mbps

1%

15%


More than 50 Mbps

0%

12%

SOURCE: Gartner

Comcast’s aggressive move to expand the next-generation cable-modem technology was expected, as the company had announced a target of bringing wideband to 20% of its footprint by year-end. The wideband services are based on CableLabs’ DOCSIS 3.0 specification, which gives Comcast the capability to deliver more than 160 Mbps in the future.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts has championed the technology, promising in a keynote at January’s Consumer Electronics Show that the operator would roll out DOCSIS 3.0 to millions of homes this year.

“This will let us deliver speeds of up to 100 Megabits per second over the next two years,” Roberts said at CES.

With the deployment of 50-Mbps service, Comcast is looking to fend off competition from Verizon Communications’ FiOS Internet service, which provides service at 50 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream, and is available in 16 states.

“Verizon is scaling its FiOS business, and cable providers have to be on par to be competitive — end of story,” Gartner research director Patti Reali said. “Cable has to have compelling speeds.”

At the same time, Comcast sees an opportunity to build on its lead over telephone companies’ digital subscriber line (DSL) services, which can’t deliver 50-Mbps speeds.

No other major U.S. MSO has announced specific launch plans for services based on DOCSIS 3.0. Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Cox Communications have indicated that their initial rollouts will occur in 2009. Outside the U.S., Canada’s Videotron, Japan’s Jupiter Communications and others have commercially launched DOCSIS 3.0-based broadband service.

Vendors this year will ship about 1.1 million DOCSIS 3.0-certified cable modems worldwide, representing 3% of the 37 million total number of units that are based on all versions of the spec, according to In-Stat. In 2009, the firm expects 5.1 million wideband units out of 43.5 million total shipped. (The research firm and Multichannel News are both owned by Reed Business Information.)

Roberts has cited freeing up spectrum in cable systems as one of the biggest challenges in rolling out DOCSIS 3.0, which provides higher throughput by bonding together multiple 6-MHz channels. As Comcast expands wideband, the company expects to phase out dozens of analog channels that are simulcast in digital, providing those to basic cable customers via low-cost digital-to-analog converters.

Comcast’s wideband service will be available in two tiers: Extreme 50, offering up to 50 Mbps of downstream speed and up to 10 Mbps of upstream speed at $139.95 per month; and Ultra, with up to 22 Mbps of downstream speed and up to 5 Mbps of upstream speed at $62.95 per month.

That’s a tweak from the initial offering in the Twin Cities, which originally was 50 Mbps downstream/5 Mbps upstream and priced at $149.95. Customers in Minneapolis-St. Paul will now receive the same Extreme 50 and Ultra options.

The current economic climate may make it tough to find many takers for the premium-priced Extreme 50 tier, Reali said. But in the longer term, Comcast’s move puts it in position to bring consumers up the speed curve (see table).

“By 2010, DSL will be the new dial-up,” Reali said.

Comcast wideband customers with the 50/10 tier will be able to download a 6-Gigabyte high-def movie file in about 16 minutes and a 300-Megabyte standard-def TV show “in a matter of seconds,” the company said.

However, Comcast recently announced it would impose a cap of 250 Gigabytes per month on broadband users. That means a customer with the Extreme 50 service could theoretically chew up his or her quota in less than 12 hours with sustained usage.

With the wideband rollout, Comcast also will double speeds for most of its existing high-speed Internet customers at no additional cost. “Performance” tier customers will see maximum speeds increase from 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up to 12 down and 2 up. “Performance Plus,” renamed the “Blast!” tier, will double download speeds to up to 16 Mbps and provide up to 2 Mbps of upload speed.

Comcast is offering a Deluxe tier of service for business customers with 50 Mbps/10 Mbps for $189.95 per month, which includes multiple e-mail addresses, document-sharing services, firewall protection, static IP addresses, 24/7 customer support and other features.

September