News

Comcast Debuts ‘Wideband’ in Twin Cities

4/02/2008 12:00 PM Eastern

Comcast this week will launch DOCSIS 3.0 service in Minneapolis/St. Paul—the first “wideband” cable modem offering in the United States—promising download speeds up to 50 Megabits per second and uploads at 5 Mbps.

The operator said its “extreme” high-speed Internet service, to be available in the Twin Cities starting April 3, will be $149.95 per month for residential customers and $199.95 for commercial customers.

Mitch Bowling, Comcast’s senior vice president and general manager of high-speed Internet, said in an interview the company chose the Twin Cities based on the work his group has done with the local operations team there.

“We didn’t make the decision [to deploy in Minneapolis/St. Paul] based on competition,” he said. “It’s a solid, operational market. We had to start somewhere, and it’s really been great.”

DOCSIS 3.0, which provides higher-speed connections by bonding together 6-Megahertz channels, has been viewed chiefly as a way to compete against fiber-to-the-home services, such as Verizon’s FiOS Internet, which advertises 50-Mbps connection speeds.

Other Comcast markets will soon also launch wideband services, Bowling said, though he declined to identify them. “Comcast is going to be the most aggressive DOCSIS 3.0 deployer in the country,” he said.

Comcast has said it expects to deploy DOCSIS 3.0 to serve 20% of homes passed in its territories by the end of 2008, and complete the rollout to all homes passed by mid-2010. In the next two years, the operator anticipates offering up to 100 Mbps—and 160 Mbps or more in the future.

Bowling said Comcast is starting with a 50-Mbps tier rather than 100 because “that’s where we think the consumer demand is today…As consumer demand grows, that’s when we can and will grow.”

Some observers have questioned the practical use of even a 50-Mbps connection today. Most Web sites and Internet services today are unable to serve that level of sustained bandwidth. Bowling said he expects early adopters of wideband cable modem service to be hard-core online gamers as well as business customers, such as a healthcare firm that needs to transfer X-rays.

But even as Comcast boosts the advertised connection speeds of its Internet service, customers will not have free reign to blast an unlimited amount of data over a 50-Mbps pipe.

Comcast has had a policy of throttling back P2P applications, such as BitTorrent, during periods of peak network congestion. The company is facing a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into the practice, as well as at least two subscriber lawsuits.

Last week the cable operator announced it will work with BitTorrent and others in the Internet community to make P2P run more efficiently on its networks. At the same time, however, under the new policy Comcast said it would continue to impose traffic limits—but on those users who consume excessive amounts of bandwidth.

To offer wideband service in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Comcast deployed Cisco Systems cable modem termination systems that support DOCSIS 3.0, and will give customers Cisco’s wideband cable modems as well.

While CableLabs has certified Cisco’s CMTS for DOCSIS 3.0, it hasn’t given the OK for any 3.0 modems. Bowling acknowledged that “we’re using DOCSIS 3.0 modems but they’re not the final production versions yet,” but said the technology was ready to deploy commercially at this point.

Cable operators outside the U.S. have been willing to move forward on pre-DOCSIS 3.0 channel-bonding equipment, including Canada’s Videotron.

Bowling claimed Comcast Twin Cities has not needed to eliminate any analog channels or perform upgrades of the coaxial cable plant to offer DOCSIS 3.0.

But Comcast may have to perform “node splits” if the wideband service gains popularity. Cable networks are shared at the neighborhood level (served by nodes), with anywhere from 250 to 2,000 or more households on a single node. To increase capacity, a cable system can “split” a node to reduce the number of subscribers that must share the bandwidth back to the headend.

Bowling said Comcast will perform node splits on a case-by-case basis.

“We do node splits somewhere in the Comcast markets literally every day,” he said. “We have all the flexibility we need to continue to provide a great service.”

In addition to introducing the 50-Mbps wideband tier, Comcast Twin Cities will boost upload speeds for existing broadband customers.

For example, the operator’s package with 6-Mbps down and 384-Kbps up ($42.95 per month bundled with video) will increase to 1 Mbps upstream, while its 8-Mbps/768-Kbps tier ($52.95 per month bundled with video) will provide up to 2 Mbps upstream.

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, Comcast currently has 553,683 basic video subscribers, according to Multichannel News’ Top 100 Cable Systems report last month.

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