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Summary:

The cable business isn’t going to cede its share of the broadband market by waiting around for coaxial cable to become obsolete, and now cable providers won’t have to make an expensive transition to a fiber-to-the-home infrastructure to achieve gigabit networks.

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The cable business isn’t going to cede its share of the broadband market by waiting around for coaxial cable to become obsolete, and now those providers won’t have to make an expensive transition to a fiber-to-the-home infrastructure to achieve gigabit networks. Cable equipment provider Arris will demonstrate on Monday that it can deliver speeds of up to 4.5 gigabits per second by upgrading the existing cable broadband networks.

Today’s cable networking technology, known as DOCSIS, is currently deployed by providers such as Comcast in a version known as DOCSIS 3.0, and ISPs are using it to deliver up to 200 Mbps downstream. But Arris has upped the ante by allocating more channels for broadband and bonding them together, enabling speeds of up to 4.5 Gbps downstream and 575 Mbps up. Doing so takes away from the channels used to deliver actual TV channels, but if one accepts the thesis that television programming will gravitate toward an on-demand IPTV model, this becomes less of a concern than delivering more broadband capacity.

The new technology from Arris is merely a demonstration, but given that right now, about 56 percent of Americans get their broadband from cable providers, and that few large-scale telecommunications providers outside of Verizon are deploying fiber-to-the-home yet, enabling faster and future-proof cable networks will become an important step in keeping U.S. broadband competitive.

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  1. The problems with cable are as follows:
    -Each line is shared by your neighbors. This means that if you have a lot of bandwidth heavy users living around you, your connection speed drops through the floor.
    -Many cable providers are behind on their DOCSIS versions.

    In a fairly tech-centric city in Ohio (yes, there are tech-centric areas in Ohio), the cable offerings are terrible. I have had Time Warner and Insight, and never got anywhere near what I was paying for. Even on a 15Mb/s down plan, I was lucky to go above 5Mb/s, and would often dip below 1Mb/s. To make things worse, both companies are still running DOCSIS 2.0 in my area, and have told me that they have no plans to upgrade to 3.0 any time soon.

    The biggest benefit of FiOS is that you get a dedicated fiber line to your house, eliminating the “pull-down” effect that heavy internet users-as-neighbors can cause on your connection. Even UVerse, which is fiber-to-the-node and then a copper loop shared between the node, you and all of your neighbors is significantly faster and more stable than cable ever was.

    I’m personally more excited about LTE, though. Why are we still focusing on hard-wired technologies that have an insanely monetary and (more and more) legal barrier to entry? On LTE, I often go over 10Mb/s, and the full LTE standard calls for 1Gb/s down for stationary users and 100Mb/s down for mobile users. The future is in the air, as far as I’m concerned!

    1. Stacey Higginbotham M Monday, June 13, 2011

      M–I agree, the shared aspects of cable are problematic, but they also make it cheaper to deploy than fiber to the home, which means the tech should be more widely deployed (at least if the market were truly competitive). That segues into your next point, the fact that many providers (ahem, Time Warner Cable) are lagging at the D3 upgrade, not because it’s that expensive per home, but because DSL is such a crappy competitor they have no reason to.

      As for LTE, it’s an awesome technology, but because of spectral limitations wireless networks will cost more per bit than wireline networks, which makes them expensive and to my mind, impractical for gigabit networks. Those also suffer some network sharing contraints in more densely populated areas.

      1. Stacey,

        I’m flattered to have had you respond to my post!

        I can see your point about LTE, and, to be honest, I’m not sure how bad the effect will be as more people get on LTE. Where I live was one of the first markets to get Verizon’s 4G offering, and back in the days when all I had was my 4G modem (no phones at that point were running on LTE), I was able to peak at 33Mb/s down. Now that the Thunderbolt is out, along with a few other phones (LG Revolution, Samsung Droid Charge), I have noticed my speeds drop from an average of 21Mb/s down to around 15Mb/s down. I understand it’s still a new technology, though, so it’s still unclear what the throughput attrition will look like going forward.

        To me, then, that leaves FiOS as the clear winner in the DOCSIS vs FiOS “war” that’s going on (as far as speed is concerned). The biggest drawback to FiOS is that you have to rip up your yard to have the cable laid, but the service seems to be much better. In smaller countries such as Japan and Korea, Fiber is a dominant connection source and providing speeds that put the inventors of the internet (USA) embarrassingly far behind in terms of speed.

        I still like the idea of wireless internet, though, as it does reduce costs. As technologies continue to converge and move to IP-based technologies (TV, phone, etc), providers will have more incentive to beef up their wireless networks to continue to provide service. Couple that with the fact that it’s far cheaper for both the consumer and the provider to run fiber (or whatever future connection medium we may move to) to a bunch of towers than millions of homes, which has the advantage of making wireless providers far more able to react to changing technologies that would make their offerings faster and cheaper.

    2. M, LTE suffers from the same bandwidth sharing problem as cable, only worse. With cable modems, you are sharing the total bandwidth available with only the people in the neighborhood. On an LTE network, that bandwidth is being shared with everyone using the same cell tower. You may be seeing 10 Mbps now, but that’s probably because there are very few LTE users in your vicinity. Once LTE is ubiquitous, you will probably get less than 5 Mbps of sustained bandwidth. Along with a 2 GB/month cap, which you will exceed in a few days if you use it to watch video.

      But you’re right about fiber, I would much rather have FTTH than cable.

      1. KenG,

        Respectfully, I’m unsure how accurate your statement is about LTE suffering the same woes as cable when it comes to sharing. If I use Verizon’s 3G network as an example (which most people will argue is fairly saturated), I am still able to get around 1Mb/s down wherever I go, which isn’t far off from what the EV-DO standard calls for.

        Additionally, from what I understand, each tower has its own fiber backhaul. This would make LTE it more analogous to UVerse, where you have fiber to a node and then some other shared medium from there. This should reduce the number of people using the same backhaul, raising the amount of bandwidth available per person. It also means that if you aren’t getting great throughput where you are at a given time, you can get up and move somewhere else where you get better service. I am personally serviced by several different towers every day (work/home/etc), all providing me with LTE.

        To me, that is the biggest advantage of wireless technology: mobility. Right now, cable, UVerse and even FiOS are restricted to a few hundred feet from where it is installed (maybe further, depending on your cantenna setup :P ), whereas wireless technologies such as LTE will allow you to take your connection with you wherever you go.

      2. M, it’s not a question of backhaul (although low speed backhaul connections have been the source of problems for many locations, especially ATT), but rather how many people can simultaneously access a wireless network. It is a shared medium (like wi-fi and cable), not a switched one (like Ethernet, and fiber). When your phone is talking with the tower, other devices cannot access the same channel, and must wait. There are multiple channels, but not one for every device that needs access. The 1Gbps theoretical limit of the LTE spec is the total bandwidth available for everyone connected to that point at that time.

        You’re right about mobility being a big advantage of LTE, but that’s what it is intended for. Your home is a different story; the convenience of a wireless connection costs not just money, but also performance. A good analogy is wi-fi vs. ethernet – wi-fi is more convenient, but cannot deliver the BW of ethernet, and performance suffers when multiple users are accessing the network, unlike ethernet (if you have a fast enough up-link connection).

    3. Color me gangrenous with the greenest of envy. I live in the bleeding capital of Silicon Valley and I *still* can’t get above 4 Mbps down on my AT&T wireless and AT&T *still* doesn’t have FIOS available in my neighborhood. So right now I’m still using my overpriced 4 Mbps ADSL. My only option to move up to 21st century home broadband is to pay near on ~$100/month for cable via Comcast. The future seems to have found Ohio (congrats on that by the way) but it certainly doesn’t seem to know the way to San Jose.

  2. i thought we could get rid of the cables on day. Hey wifi researchers buck up.

  3. Well i live in argentina and my download speed is 300kb/s. So don’t worry about 5 or 10mp/s.

    Cheers!

  4. If I could get my cable upload rate above 0.0002 Gps, that would be great!

  5. Brian McConnell Monday, June 13, 2011

    Since I am currently able to watch HDTV streams over my Comcast internet connection (~10Mbps down), I’m pretty happy with what I already have. The criticism of cable Internet being shared among households is valid, but the flip side of that is that if my segment of the network fails, Comcast will know there is a problem and fix it. When I had Internet service through my local phone company, whenever I had a problem, which I frequently did, they had every incentive to blame the problem on me rather than dispatch a truck and technician.

    Besides, cable based Internet is essentially fiber to the curb. If they need to, they can pull fiber to a hub close to endpoints, then use the existing coaxial plant without tearing up streets and curbs. Much cheaper.

  6. Brian McConnell Monday, June 13, 2011

    Since I am currently able to watch HDTV streams over my Comcast internet connection (~10Mbps down), I’m pretty happy with what I already have. The criticism of cable Internet being shared among households is valid, but the flip side of that is that if my segment of the network fails, Comcast will know there is a problem and fix it. When I had Internet service through my local phone company, whenever I had a problem, which I frequently did, they had every incentive to blame the problem on me rather than dispatch a truck and technician.

    Besides, cable based Internet is essentially fiber to the curb. If they need to, they can pull fiber to a hub close to endpoints, then use the existing coaxial plant without tearing up streets and curbs. Much cheaper.

  7. Brian McConnell Monday, June 13, 2011

    Since I am currently able to watch HDTV streams over my Comcast internet connection (~10Mbps down), I’m pretty happy with what I already have. The criticism of cable Internet being shared among households is valid, but the flip side of that is that if my segment of the network fails, Comcast will know there is a problem and fix it. When I had Internet service through my local phone company, whenever I had a problem, which I frequently did, they had every incentive to blame the problem on me rather than dispatch a truck and technician.

    Besides, cable based Internet is essentially fiber to the curb. If they need to, they can pull fiber to a hub close to endpoints, then use the existing coaxial plant without tearing up streets and curbs. Much cheaper.

  8. The people on here talking about Cable sharing and FIOS not probably have not worked on a network before. If you do not think FIOS is shared then think again. Do you honestly think that there is a dedicated “FIBER” to your house? Really? lol…

    1. Cable is such a outdated tech :-) Fibre to home and LTE is the way to go. Indeed, bandwith is shared at some point with all technologies. The thing is – how much is there to share and among how many users. With fibre is more like a few Gigs between a handful of users (max 64 in my case) With LTE is about 1Gig for 1024 users and with cable . . . it all depends on the provider. The more tv channels you have, the less is left for internet. If you sync on cable at a constant 10Mbit per second, considered it as fast. On LTE is ‘a bit slow’. On fibre . . . call your provider because something is wrong :-) And yes, I had/have them all (at some time or other). Friendly greetings from Japan.

  9. FiOS uses PON technology. depending on the version PON (BPON,GPON, or the new 10GPON) you are sharing the bandwidth of the OLT with everyone on that PON node (BPON is 622Mbps, GPON is 2.5Gbps, and 10GPON is 10Gbps) and that could be 32 or 64 or more depending on the laser power budget. Where I work, we deploy Active Ethernet (A dedicated fiber) to the structure. but it still comes back to a oversubscribed link some place….. It’s just a matter of where that over subscription and sharing comes into play.

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