SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013: First Wave of DOCSIS 3.1 Gear Expected By Late 2014

That Should Set The Table for Initial Deployments in 2015

ATLANTA – SCTE Cable-Tec Expo -- Now that CableLabs is poised to beat its admittedly “bold” prediction to finish up the bulk of the DOCSIS 3.1 specs before the end of 2013, the question now is how quickly products will appear and when cable operators will start to deploy a platform that is designed to scale up 10 Gbps downstream and beyond and more than 1 Gbps upstream.

Although the D3.1 product specs will be published by the end of October, the answers to those questions are still relatively loose. Presuming things proceed at the current speed and avoid any landmines, the initial wave of DOCSIS 3.1 gear is expected out be late 2014, enabling operators to start deployments in 2015.

To support the backward- and forward-compatibility aims of the effort, it’s also expected that the first DOCSIS 3.1 products will be hybrid modems that support both DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1. Network gear that supports the news specs will likely be ready for prime time sometime after the first modems hit the market.

While 3.1 will set a path to multi-gigabit speeds, the goal isn’t to suddenly turn all of cable’s spectrum into IP and start pumping 10 Gbps to the home. The aim is to migrate there over time, and as needed, while enabling cable operators to extract more value out of their existing spectrum than they can today with DOCSIS 3.0.

“DOCSIS 3.1 is about spectrum efficiency. It’s the number one goal,” Jorge Salinger, vice president, access architecture for Comcast Cable, said during a cable operator Monday here during the day-long DOCSIS 3.1 Engineering Pre-Conference Symposium.

The precise launch timing of DOCSIS 3.1 isn’t set and will vary by operator and depend on how quickly vendors can get products developed. Still, MSOs will welcome DOCSIS 3.1-based equipment with open arms as soon as it becomes available. “Anything we can do to expedite the readiness of 3.1 product, whether with CPE (consumer premises equipment) or headend equipment, we will gladly give up lab time,” Jeff Finkelstein, executive director of strategic architecture for Cox Communications, said.

The good news, Finkelstein said, is that vendors have been closely involved in the DOCSIS 3.1 specifications process  and, therefore, “are ahead of the curve,” compared their readiness ahead of the development of previous generations of DOCSIS.

The hybrid nature of the first 3.1 modems will allow operators to deploy that equipment and use it in tandem with DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 2.0 headends even before the new network equipment arrives. “There’s complete flexibility on how to start the upgrade process,” Salinger said.

That said, DOCSIS 3.0, which can already bond enough channels to support max downstream speeds of more than 1 Gbps, still has plenty of legs left as 3.1 products get developed and rolled out. “DOCSIS 3.0 is still fairly early on in reaching its full capacity,” Howard Pfeffer, senior vice president of Time Warner Cable’s Broadband Technology Group, said.

A bigger question is the business drivers for DOCSIS 3.1. While DOCSIS 3.0 can help operators compete with services from fiber-fed competitors such as Google Fiber, DOCSIS 3.1 is poised to help operators scale to 1 Gbps and beyond more efficiently from a spectrum and cost perspective.

While most customers don’t need 1 Gbps yet, DOCSIS 3.1 will give operators a way to deliver fiber-speed services and to drive more capacity over HFC. Cable is also using fiber in some instances, but “it’s nice to have that kind of option available to us,” Finkelstein said.