Comcast 'rolls out' 'world's first' DOCSIS 3.1 modem, pumping 1Gbps over existing cable

(In one home. In Philadelphia.)

Everyone's favorite ISP Comcast says it has switched on its first live gigabit internet service without having to lay a single inch of new cable.

The lovable American giant has installed what it says is the world's first DOCSIS 3.1 modem in a home in Philadelphia, offering download speeds of 1Gbps without having to install new cables or dig up the street. Just a new modem, and a firmware upgrade to the cable co's equipment, is all that's needed, we're told:

At a home in the Philadelphia area, we took the next important step forward in delivering gigabit speed broadband over our hybrid fiber coaxial network. The test used the standard cable connections that we have in homes across the country. All we needed was a new modem, a software upgrade to the device that serves that neighborhood, and a few good engineers.

Comcast already offers gigabit broadband in some areas of the country, but this involves the tedious job of ripping up sidewalks and laying new cable – in other words, a lot of hassle that a DOCSIS 3.1 rollout will avoid.

It should, in theory, be quick and easy to get 1Gbps broadband to your home using DOCSIS 3.1, provided you already have a standard Comcast cable installation.

The telco has been running tests using the new data communications specification in some of its employees' homes for a number of months, but this is the first public demonstration of the technology, apparently.

Unfortunately, Comcast's prediction in January that it would roll out the gigabit service by the end of the year was way off. Back then, VP Tony Werner suggested the DOCSIS 3.1 service would appear before the start of 2016 – and in one sense that target has been met.

After carrying out some tests, Comcast said in March it would actually have the service ready in "early 2016." That has now been set back to some moment before the end of 2016:

Before the end of 2016, we will begin offering a new gigabit speed choice that works over the existing connections in our customers’ homes in several parts of the country.

The rollout schedule did appear to be rather, shall we say, courageous, especially since the other big player pushing DOCSIS 3.1 – Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) – said it was aiming at 2017 for the service.

The super-fast connection is vital for Comcast, which is facing increasing competition in the US market from fiber companies.

The American broadband market is notoriously oligopolistic with the majority of citizens offered limited choice, especially at the high-speed end, complete with high monthly fees. The big telco companies frequently top the list of the most hated companies as voted by their own customers.

As such, fiber companies and local governments see an opportunity to break into the market by offering faster speeds at lower cost and with better customer service. If Comcast can offer its super-fast internet before its competitors are able to install new fiber lines, it will greatly reduce the number of customers that will switch providers, and so make it less economically viable for those competing companies to expand their networks.

Comcast makes no bones about why the new spec is so valuable to it: "The beauty of DOCSIS 3.1 is that it is backwards compatible, so no digging up streets or backyards."

Following the Philadelphia "launch," Comcast said it will expand its "trials" to Pennsylvania; Northern California; and Atlanta, Georgia. "We still have a lot of work to do, but these tests confirm that DOCSIS 3.1 will work over our existing network as currently configured," the cable co announced. ®

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