Speeding Up to 100-Mbps

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Cable operators are continuing to ratchet up the speed of Internet access. The new magic number for future cable broadband services: 100 Megabits per second.

Last week’s Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Cable Tec-Expo in Denver saw at least two product announcements that could accelerate the throughput of data in cable systems to the 100 Mbps range.

Meanwhile, Cablevision Systems Corp. took another step closer to that mark, announcing Optimum Online Boost. That 30 Mbps service will be sold for $14.95-per-month to existing Internet access customers or $9.95 if they also subscribe to its “Optimum Voice” telephony service.

On the technology front, Narad Networks Inc. of Westford, Mass., announced a new switch, known as an Ethernet modular tap, that it says can supply a 100 Mbps connection to subscriber homes.

The tap is placed at a cable drop, the point where a cable operator’s fiber-optic network changes over to the coaxial cable that feeds into customers’ homes.

Data coming in from a cable operator’s fiber network is fed into the switch, where an internal modem places the data stream onto a 1.1 Gigahertz radio channel on the cable. That frequency is well above existing 5 to 750 Megahertz frequencies typically used for cable services.

At the subscriber’s home, television signals flow to TV sets, while a Narad modem links to the 1.1 GHz data channel, supplying up to 100 Mbps bandwidth to a home router or computer.

Supplying 100 Mbps into the home not only keeps up new telco fiber-optic service competitors such as Verizon Inc.’s FiOS, but it also could prepare cable operators for the boom in high-definition video content predicted in the coming years. Narad CEO Michael Collette points to the rising buzz around 1080p, an even higher-resolution format for wide screens that requires upwards of 25 Mbps bandwidth for transporting video content in the MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Experts Group) format.

With that kind of video payload, 100 Mbps into the home doesn’t look like overkill any more.

“I would argue that an operator could use 100 Megabits (per second) for effect, because you can get better quality video in the home,” he said. “As bandwidth becomes inexpensive, the guys with a lot of bandwidth will be able to offer better quality video with higher bit rates.”

Technologies such as Narad’s do require cable operators to extend fiber optic connections farther out into their networks, into neighborhoods. The rising bandwidth pressure for residential and enterprise services “is making fiber an easier discussion now,” Collette said.

Narad isn’t alone in the hunt for 100 Mbps speeds into the home. At the Cable-Tec Expo, Cisco Systems Inc. launched a line of products based on what it calls wideband technology.

Cisco’s technology uses channel bonding, a technique that welds together multiple data channels to boost speeds of data throughput. Channel bonding is at the core of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0 now in development at CableLabs Inc.

In addition to new line cards added to Cisco’s UBR 100012 cable-modem termination system (CMTS) units, Cisco also is launching a new modem from subsidiary Scientific Atlanta Inc. that can bond three 38 Mbps downstream channels to offer 100 Mbps into the home. The system as yet does not bond channels back upstream, from the user to the network.

Cisco decided to launch its wideband products ahead of the DOCSIS 3.0 standard based on demand from its cable customers, according to Cisco senior director of video and IPTV development Kip Compton.

“We chose to bring both those products to market because we had the resources and we saw the market need,” he said.

The demand for 100 Mbps products is primarily coming from overseas operators. In the U.S. markets, cable operators appear to be waiting for the final DOCSIS 3.0 standard — but because Cisco’s technology aligns with the draft specification, operators are indicating that they may be willing to start trials with the Cisco product now, Compton said.

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