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Summary:

Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast Corp., in a move reminiscent of Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ futuristic announcements at CES, today showed off a new modem that uses channel bonding technology that can pump data into your homes at speeds of 150 megabits per second. The […]

Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast Corp., in a move reminiscent of Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ futuristic announcements at CES, today showed off a new modem that uses channel bonding technology that can pump data into your homes at speeds of 150 megabits per second.

The presentation made at the Cable Show in Las Vegas was more posturing for Wall Street and thumbing the nose of telephone companies with fiber less broadband plans. The modem, based on the DOCSIS 3.0 technology, sends data out on four channels.

“Cable continues to lead the competition. We’ve only just begun, from 6 megabits today to 150 or whatever megabits tomorrow.”

Not sure what his definition of tomorrow is, but for me tomorrow means tomorrow. When pressed all Roberts could come-up with “less than a couple of years.”

The big show-and-tell here was: Comcast doesn’t need to spend billions to upgrade its infrastructure like the phone companies, and thus they are a better bet for investors. Wall Street, in recent weeks, has been fretting about the possible capital expenditures Comcast and other companies might have to undertake in order to stay competitive with fiber-based carriers. (I am not sure if $2 billion actually adds up to real money for Comcast when it comes to CapEx.)

The problem is that this so-called modem isn’t really coming to your home anytime soon. Actually not for another two years, at the very least. Even the trials in more broadband-evolved countries are just getting started.

The question that is not being asked is where will Comcast find four empty channels to pump data. There are many basic analog cable switchers who resist the digital set-top boxes, which can receive digital signals. Unless these digital set-top boxes are everywhere, there is no way Comcast can turn off the analog channels and re-deploy them.

You want to gauge Comcast’s desperation, try picking up the phone and asking them if they would give you free set-top boxes for your four-TV set-up. You will be surprised, that they might show up on time for the appointment. They need to go digital, especially if they want to sell faster broadband and compete with satellite broadcasters are touting their Hi-Def capabilities.

And forget all that: from my personal consumer perspective, I don’t care if Roberts showed off this ultra-fast broadband technology. They still have to prove that it can actually deliver 6 megabits per second speeds it touts on a consistent basis. (Which it can’t; try using the service late at night in San Francisco, when the geeks on the late shift are logged in.)

By Om Malik

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  1. I can’t wait for this to hit residential areas in the next few years. I used to be all excited about FiOS but they are having a hell of a time laying fiber and by the time they get around to laying fiber around the US, everyone will have DOCSIS 3.0 service.

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  2. Paul even by his own admission it isn’t going to happen till 2009 – my bet 2012. These guys are all basically spread all this FUD.

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  3. But do you think that by ~2012 there will be comparable ISP offerings other than this DOCSIS 3.0 technology? I doubt there will be much fiber penetration to the home by then.

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  4. well, if not fiber to the home, if not 150Mbps, you would are pretty likely to get VDSL at 10Mb+ via FTTn/FTTc in this decade from Telcos..

    For cable, its not likely any time soon – not wide spread at-least.

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  5. I wonder how much we’re going to pay for the privelege of a 150MB connection, and whether we’ll be able to use this huge pipe to access any and all the content we want.

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  6. Amen Om! No one has covered the physics behind this… just wait till 200 modems are all sharing the same media! They didn’t run that demo!

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  7. Am I missing something here? the articles I read mentioned four cables, not four channels. To me that means laying 3 new cables to every home in the territory. HUGE network upgrade.

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  8. Still confused:
    This says, “… DOCSIS 3.0 … bonds together four cable lines …”.

    But, this says, “Instead of using one TV channel to transmit data, it uses four.”

    Anyone know which it is because there is a big difference.

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  9. Guys -

    A couple of points.

    DOCSIS 3.0 is defined to bond a minimum of four 6 MHz (8 in Europe) channels. The demo Brian showed was four.

    A correction to a point Om made “…this so-called modem isn’t really coming to your home anytime soon.” This is not correct. DOCSIS 3.0 modems will be deployed in volume Q1 2008. Now the question of when will DOCSIS 3.0 class services be offered will be a business decision based on many factors … one of which is not the availability of the technology.

    Where do the channels come from … this is a good question. In the short term, there will be many internal discussions on what is the best usage of the spectrum. In the medium term (perhaps as early as 2008) we will begin to see many markets deploying switched digital technology which will free a great deal of spectrum for DOCSIS 3 bonding groups.

    -p

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  10. Jesse Kopelman Thursday, May 10, 2007

    Om, the reason you can’t get consistent 6 Mbps second service has nothing to do with the limitations of DOCSIS (which can get over 10 Mbps easily) but with how oversubscribed Comcast’s network is. Who knows, all you late night geeks might be contending for a single 10 Mbps Internet connection? Issues such as this have very little to do with choice of last mile access technology. Every network is going to have bottlenecks and despite all the hype, rarely are they to be found on the last mile.

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