The Race for Faster Broadband Continues Between Telco and Cable

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Less than a month into 2017, phone and cable companies are determined to crank up broadband speeds to gigabit levels and beyond.  Existing technology will make gigabit speeds accessible for many businesses and consumers this year, while a number of tech roadmaps provide a path to 10 Gbps and faster in the future.

Verizon, a company that once scoffed at the need for anything as fast as 100 Mbps service, is making symmetrical 750 Mbps broadband service available through Fios Instant Internet starting January 14.  Markets in greater New York City, northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Richmond will be able to pay $149.99 a month or $169.99 a month for a triple play bundle with TV and landline phone voice service, according to the company's Web service.  Service should be immediately available for up to 7 million homes and businesses passed today, with more service areas to be added in the months to come.

My initial reactions to the offering and pricing are: A) 750 Mbps is a really odd number, B) Compared to some existing 1 Gbps fiber and cable offerings, $149.99 for less-than-a-gig seems really steep, and C) Wait! Only $20 more gets basic TV and phone thrown in? Isn't that interesting?

Earlier in the month, Verizon touted the first interop trial of NG-PON2 up in its Boston labs, with ADTRAN, Broadcom, Cortina Access, and Ericsson participating. Previously, Verizon has conducted field demos of NG-PON2 on an existing fiber plant in Boston, but not really indicated when and how it might actually deploy the technology.  NG-PON2, a tech ADTRAN is very bullish on, is capable of providing up to 10 Gig symmetrical speeds per customer and the ability, by using different colors of laser light, to deliver up to 40 Gigabits of total capacity across a single fiber.

The cable industry isn't sitting on its heels either.  Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs, says his member companies are shipping and deploying its DOCSIS 3.1 technology today, capable of delivering up to 10 Gbps downstream with 1 Gbps upstream – “It's proven, people are deploying it, it's not a theoretical.”   Service providers with DOCSIS 3.1 in operation include Comcast, Mediacomm, and Charter.

Both industries have high hopes for wireless technology. AT&T and Verizon are working with 5G vendors to develop and field-test fixed wireless solutions capable of delivering multi-gig speed services to customers.

 “Four years ago, we had half a person” on wireless issues, McKinney said. “Now it's one of CableLabs largest research areas.” The opening of 3.5 GHz spectrum once reserved exclusively for naval radar and satellite uses is “very interesting,” commented McKinney. CableLabs is a member of the MulteFire Alliance to ensure next generation LTE standards for working with shared and unlicensed spectrum don't impinge upon existing customer Wi-Fi solutions.  Nobody wants to see in-home wireless clobbered in the rush to increase cellular handset speeds.

Regardless of the last mile, consumers and businesses will continue to have lower cost and faster broadband options this year and for years to come.  The only question in my mind is at what speed and when the race for bigger broadband will start to level off. Does 100 Gig speeds to wireline and 50+ Gig wireless speeds for end-point consumers and most businesses make sense in five to 10 years in urban markets? Remember, not too long ago, Verizon thought 100 Mbps fiber was more than enough for the typical home.


 

Contributing Editor

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