Competitive secrecy keeps Comcast mum on speed plans...
A few weeks ago we asked you to throw your questions our direction, and we'd try to get the most popular questions answered by ISP representatives. We recently spoke to AT&T concerning when their U-Verse IPTV service would show up in BellSouth territory
, and Speakeasy on why the company has changed its focus
from residential customers to small businesses.
Another popular question was whether Comcast would be extending their 16Mbps tier to all members. We sat down with Comcast's Charlie Douglas and Jennifer Khoury to discuss the speedy tiers, as well as Comcast's DOCSIS 3.0 trials and plans.It's friggin' huge
Comcast's network is obviously massive. According to Comcast's John Schanz, Executive Vice President, National Engineering and Technology Operations, if you were to pull every shred of Comcast's infrastructure and lay it end to end, it would circle the earth's equator some twenty-two times. The company currently manages some 563,000 plant route miles, 126,000 fiber route miles and 102,000 optical nodes.
Shanz, who addressed Comcast investors last May
, stated that the Comcast network delivers 190 million on-demand views per month, 1.1 billion web pages per day, 1.5 petabytes of video per day and 57 million e-mails per day."When you add all this up, Comcast delivers over 418 terabytes of entertainment communication and information into an average household every month,"
he says. According to Shanz, that's more than 900,000 times more than what YouTube delivers into an average consumer household in a given month.Not all markets are created equal
As it stands, Comcast currently offers a 16Mbps/2Mbps tier named "Blast!"
in only the most competitive markets. For many competing cable operators who do the same thing, usually "competitive"
is defined as markets where Verizon has launched their residential fiber FiOS service. Users in less competitive markets see maximum speeds of 8Mbps under the tier name "Performance Plus."
Verizon is very hush hush
as to where they plan to offer service next, and Comcast is no different. The company wouldn't tell us what determines where they deploy the 16Mbps tier (though we just got done telling you), but they repeatedly insisted that the speeds customers currently get are plenty for the vast majority of users."We often don't provide specific launch information for new products because of the competitive environment,"
says Comcast's Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Jennifer Khoury. "We've increased speeds about four times in the last three years, and landed at six and eight [mbps] as our flagship."
DSLReports is sort of on the edge of what people are looking for for the future, so your readers are looking for what the next step is, but we also have to market this service to 12.4 million customers . . . who are telling us they like the speed that they get.
While Khoury couldn't offer 16Mbps specifics, she did remind us that the company's Powerboost technology, which offers users an extra kick of bandwidth for the initial part of large downloads, does allow 6 and 8 Mbps tier customers to reach those speeds -- albeit briefly. Powerboost has been hugely popular among our forum regulars, and Comcast has subsequently licensed the technology to Cox."Right now, the 6 and 8Mbps service is fast and Powerboost just gives them even more,"
says Khoury. "These speeds are what customers want for today's Internet applications."
Of course, the majority of Comcast customers aren't exactly bandwidth gluttons, though that could change with video -- particularly more mainstream products like DirecTV's VOD broadband plan
The company made it pretty clear to us that while they pay attention to power users, their marketing eye is affixed firmly on more mainstream customers. "DSLReports is sort of on the edge of what people are looking for for the future, so your readers are looking for what the next step is, but we also have to market this service to 12.4 million customers. . . who are telling us they like the speed that they get."DOCSIS 3.0
Earlier this year, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts worked the media into a lather by stating that 150Mbps connectivity would be a reality for the company "within less than a couple years."
Those speeds are courtesy of DOCSIS 3.0, a technology that will allow tuning into multiple 6 MHz channels through channel bonding technology, offering shared downstream data rates of 160 Mbps or higher and upstream data rates of 120 Mbps or higher (per channel).
ARRIS, Motorola and Cisco are all pitching pre-standard
products that will allow cable providers to compete with FTTH deployments until DOCSIS 3.0 takes off (firmware upgradeable, of course). Canadian cable provider Videotron announced last February that the company would be offering 100Mbps cable broadband service using Cisco's pre-DOCSIS 3.0 wideband solution
Comcast says that they're currently engaged in testing, but wouldn't offer any additional details other than what's already publicly available -- namely that they'll be testing the technology this year, with some early market launches planned for 2008. The company also wouldn't specify whether they'll be using any pre-certification DOCSIS 3.0 technology between now and then.
Comcast's CTO Tony Werner last week stated that Comcast will be launching DOCSIS 3.0 in a "substantive portion of our footprint"
in 2008. He also noted that Comcast will be able to reclaim 240 MHz of spectrum by using switched digital video and a new video compression scheme -- which Comcast says should improve bandwidth efficiency on Comcast's network by 50%.
As for new speeds, Comcast will announce them only when they're ready. We can predict with a fair amount of confidence that they won't initially be anywhere close to 150Mbps. We'd expect initial offerings to be somewhere in the 30-50Mbps range to help the company battle FiOS, which is offered in 5Mbps, 15Mbps and 30Mbps flavors. We're particularly interested to see what upstream speeds are offered."There are a number of different technologies we have that have the potential to increase speeds. Docsis 3.0 is certainly seeing the most discussion,"
says Khoury. She insists that extensive consumer research fuels the decisions made in regards to faster speeds. "We continue to want to and will continue to maintain that competitive edge when it comes to speed across the country."Next up:
We'll be asking providers and analysts whether they think the U.S. broadband market will be moving from a flat-rate pricing scheme to a billed-by-the-byte model.