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Big Cable Betting on DOCSIS 4.0 to be Good Enough

The biggest cable companies are betting that the latest iteration of DOCSIS technology will be sufficient to compete against fiber and XGS-PON, protecting their large legacy investment in coax plant and enabling a product that will be good enough to ward off near-term threats to their established broadband business.

“Anyone would be on pretty solid ground for arguing that fiber is the right way to go if you’re building a brand new network,” said Paul Connolly, Telecom and Networks Practice Leader, Entropy, Inc. “There’s no question for unlimited bandwidth, simplicity in electronics, cheap operation, etc. But we’re in this transition where much of the entire country has hybrid fiber coax in the ground. We have to understand from a cost point of view, do we think that we’re going to rebuild the entire network with fiber and if so, when? That’s the real issue.”

Charter Communications, Comcast, and Cox have tens of millions of homes served with HFC networks that are dependent upon coax cable to connect the customer at the edge of the network. Replacing the coax cable with fiber would be a significant expense that Connolly estimates could run $1,500 per household just to put fiber to the curb with another $700 to connect up the customer.

Multiplied by tens of millions of households, these companies would have to commit billions of dollars to convert their existing HFC customers to all-fiber networks. In comparison, upgrading customers to DOCSIS 4.0 would only cost a few hundred dollars per household and provide speeds between 2 Gbps and 10 Gbps downlink with 1 Gbps to 6 Gbps uplink speeds, depending on what technologies the carrier uses to implement the upgrades.

“The whole point here is to leverage the existing network that’s out there,” said Connolly. “You’re not doing a brand new design for greenfield, you’re trying to figure out, ‘How can I put more functionality into the asset that I’ve already [built] and protect the business?’”

Comcast is starting its first DOCSIS 4.0 build in Fort Collins, Colorado, and intends to add Atlanta and Philadelphia in the very near future. Ultimately, Comcast plans to upgrade 50 million households to 10 Gbps/6 Gbps service with the build completed by the end of 2025 at an estimated cost of less than $200 per household, while Charter plans to upgrade its entire 56 million homes passed footprint by the end of 2025, with different markets being upgraded between 2/1 Gbps to 10/1 Gbps tiers at an average cost of $100 per household.

“They would say if we overbuilt ourselves [with fiber], we’d spend $1,500 per premise,” Connolly said. “But we’re going to upgrade to multi-gig capabilities at $100 [per premise with DOCSIS 4.0].”

To learn more about Big Cable’s thinking on DOCSIS 4.0 and competing with all-fiber networks, watch the latest Fiber For Breakfast.