Broadband gigabit services that let cable operators in the EMEA region deliver ultra-high bandwidth and internet speeds of 1 Gbps over their existing hybrid fiber/coaxial (HFC) are ready for deployment in 2017 with more aggressive deployment in 2018, thanks to the DOCSIS 3.1 specification. DOCSIS 3.1 opens the door to new IPTV services and options that cannot be supported on quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), the current format by which digital cable channels are encoded and transmitted via cable television providers.
Cable operators in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are beginning to launch services in some pockets of the region. We caught up with Andy Flickner, Vice President of Product Management for Cable Broadband Products at Connected Home, Technicolor, to learn more about DOCSIS 3.1 and its progress among countries in EMEA.
Flickner: It’s in the early stages. Very few operators have launched as of now, but some of the major operators are going to be launching some kind of DOCSIS 3.1-based services by late this year or early next year. And those that are not launching will certainly be doing trials.
It’s a very important part of the strategy for most service providers, and the key thing about DOCSIS 3.1 is that it’s bringing significantly higher data speeds to the home. Cable operators can now credibly talk about a gigabit-per-second speed at the home. At the same time, it’s allowing service providers to use their networks much more efficiently.
Flickner: Any service provider — regardless of the segment of the region — is first going to consider its competitive situation. If a cable service provider faces competition from, for example, a telco that provides a fiber-to-the-home alternative, then that cable service provider is going to be highly motivated to migrate to DOCSIS 3.1 so it can counter that competitive threat. In fact, where we see DOCSIS 3.1 rolling out first, with the greatest urgency, is where those service providers are facing competition from fiber.
I’d say the second big driver for cable service operators consists of their plans for all internet protocol-delivered television (IPTV). If it’s imperative or urgent for a cable service provider to move to IPTV, then DOCSIS 3.1 is going to be a key part of that migration strategy.
This is going to take some time. But I think we’re going to see a tipping point in the next two to three years — after which it will be very common for cable operators to move away from QAM service completely and go to all IP. At that point, DOCSIS 3.1 will be their bread and butter.
Flickner: The biggest challenge for operators right now is just the cost of the CPE [customer-premises equipment]. There’s currently about a $30 or $40 premium for a DOCSIS 3.1 device, compared to the best-performing DOCSIS 3.0. That’s a pretty substantial price gap, so most operators are going to do the math carefully.
Certainly, we see some operators talking about doing blanket deployments of DOCSIS 3.1 with the hope of getting the volume up high enough that they can close the price gap. It remains to be seen how long it will be until that happens.
As a result, I think what we’re going to be living with for the next couple of years is a two-tiered offering in EMEA in which some cable operators move quickly to DOCSIS 3.1 in certain segments of their markets, while other segments are served by DOCSIS 3.0 technology, with a gradual move to more and more DOCSIS 3.1 over time.