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Comcast, CommScope turned cable's wheels in 2023

Although fiber was the talk of the town in 2023 – with state and federal governments doling out funding to support fiber projects – the cable industry also underwent some changes.

What were cable’s biggest turning points in 2023? Fierce Telecom chatted with Dell’Oro Group’s Jeff Heynen to find out. He also offered some predictions on where the industry will go in the year ahead.

Comcast begins DOCSIS 4.0 rollouts

Comcast previously said it will be in the market with DOCSIS 4.0 by the second half of 2023, and it’s delivered on that goal. In October, it unveiled a new line of symmetrical multi-gig service with speeds of up to 2 Gbps.

Customers in Colorado Springs were the first to get access to Comcast’s new offering, followed by Atlanta and Philadelphia. The operator has said it plans to roll out DOCSIS 4.0 to the rest of its footprint in 2023 but hasn’t announced any other markets yet.

Heynen said while Comcast’s rollouts are pretty significant, it’s important to note its deployments thus far have been “in [its] node+0 footprint, which were always going to be the first to see DOCSIS 4.0 deployed.”

Node+0 networks are those that have no additional amplifiers beyond the node itself, “essentially a fiber to the tap architecture.”

Comcast is a proponent of full duplex (FDX) DOCSIS 4.0, a method that uses noise cancellation to allow upstream and downstream traffic to be transmitted over 1.2GHz of spectrum.

Other cable operators, like Cox and Charter, favor the extended spectrum (ESD) approach. ESD increases spectrum to 1.8GHz and divides it into dedicated chunks for upstream and downstream traffic flows.

“What will be very interesting to watch in the coming year is when [Comcast] deploy[s] DOCSIS 4.0 in their more traditional, node + 6 environments,” Heynen said. “That will be the real test of FDX’s capabilities.”

Node+6 refers to a more standard architecture “with amplifier cascades generally averaging 6 amps between the node and subscribers.”

Comcast wasn’t the only one to turn up DOCSIS 4.0 in 2023. Mediacom, another FDX proponent, started rolling out symmetrical gig and multi-gig service this month in Des Moines.

Extended DOCSIS 3.1

Another interesting development this year was the “relatively speedy evolution” of extended DOCSIS 3.1., Heynen pointed out.

An extended DOCSIS 3.1 system, which CableLabs tested at an interoperability event this year, allows operators to use a 3.1 cable modem termination system (CMTS) in conjunction with a DOCSIS 4.0 modem to hit speeds of up to around 8 Gbps.

As Heynen told Fierce in August, cable operators can extend DOCSIS 3.1 to buy more time before they need to upgrade to an end-to-end DOCSIS 4.0 system.

Talk of extending DOCSIS 3.1 will likely carry through to 2024, he said, when customer premises equipment (CPE) and software upgrades to existing converged cable access platforms (CCAPs) “are made to take advantage of the extra OFDM channels and the resulting speed boosts made available to customers.”

OFDM stands for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, a method of data transmission introduced with DOCSIS 3.1.

Thus far, no operator has publicly announced plans to use extended DOCSIS 3.1, Heynen noted.

“But 2024 will see a number of operators commit to using the technology,” he said.

CommScope sells off home networks biz

CommScope in October inked a deal to offload its Home Networks division to Paris-based Vantiva. The transaction is still pending, but Heynen said it’s “a significant and ongoing storyline.”

Created in 2020, Home Networks focuses on CPE like broadband gateways and set top boxes. CommScope previously had plans to spin off the unit to a standalone entity, but delayed that plan in 2022.

“What happens to that division could have significant ramifications across the entire industry,” Heynen added.

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