Cable Considers Faster Broadband Standard

CableLabs, the standard-setting organization for the cable industry, is pondering a next-generation cable broadband technology that could deliver up to 5 gigabits per second down, according to Multichannel News. Not only are the speed gains significant, but the standard would be more efficient by doing away with the current way cable companies parse out their spectrum. However, it would require them to invest in new gear, both in their plants and for installation in consumers’ homes, as well as to switch to an all-IP infrastructure.

The proposal is being floated in the cable community, but may never make it all the way to the standards process — or consumers’ homes. However, if implemented, it could solve a problem for the cable industry and perhaps enable cable companies to forestall putting in fiber to the home.

Currently cable companies divide their spectrum into 6MHz channels, each of which delivers about 38 Mbps, the equivalent of two HD channels. The DOCSIS 3.0 standard bonds those channels together to create faster broadband speeds. The proposed new standard would eliminate the 6 MHz channels altogether, which could give cable companies more flexibility in how they manage their assets. It’s the difference between trying to cram blocks into a container Tetris-style and pouring sand in it. With the sand, you use the empty space more effectively.

Such a level of efficiency is something the cable companies will have to deliver as consumers expect both faster broadband speeds but an infinite array of HD (maybe 3-D) content personalized just for them. So far, many of the larger cable companies haven’t committed to true IPTV, but most recognize that it’s merely a matter of time. Changing the network architecture like this would be a first step, although it would mean we’ll still have two different styles of networks in the U.S. for a long time to come.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d): Who Will Profit From Broadband Innovation

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