For cable operators that offer bundled services (television, phone and Internet), the past 15 years have given them their fair share of changes in terms of what services and offerings should top that list and occupy the customer focus. As a result of the rapid expansion of the Internet, consumers shifted their level of importance from their former sole line of contact with the outside world – the telephone – to data and VoIP. As such, data has secured the top seed as the focal point of our operations and company technology.

How can cable operators, especially Tier Two and Tier Three carriers, meet this demand?

Today, Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS 3.0) – a server platform that permits the addition of high-speed data transfer to an existing cable TV system – has taken markets across the nation by storm. DOCSIS 3.0 provides faster download and upload speeds by utilizing channel-bonding technology, which leverages existing high-speed infrastructures. It opens Web pages in the blink of an eye, enhances video conferencing and enables lightning-fast downloads of movies and music. Additionally, DOCSIS 3.0 allows more and more individuals to post large files up to the Internet (videos, high resolution photos, etc.) on a frequent basis – something that even a mere five years ago wasn’t a consumer necessity. In fact, when considering technology, the past five years have seen more in advancement than any five-year period in recent memory.

Knology Inc., a residential and business cable, phone and Internet provider in 13 Tier 2 (T2) and Tier 3 (T3) markets across the United States, consistently strives to provide its customers with the advanced services and products they need to keep pace with the changing times. As such, Knology believes it’s vital that its markets are given the same access to technology as such Tier 1 (T1) markets as New York, Los Angeles or Miami.

The ‘Whys’ Of Advanced Data Tech

Since the spring of 2010, Knology has launched DOCSIS 3.0 in eight of its 13 markets: Augusta and Columbus Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Huntsville, Ala.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Panama City, Fla.; and Rapid City and Sioux Falls S.D. – with more launches scheduled throughout this year. In addition to rapid speeds, such additional features now available with DOCSIS 3.0 as security enhancements (with support for 128 bit Advanced Encryption Security [AES]) and IPv6 (the new Internet Protocol addressing method) are being offered.

But why bring this advanced Internet platform to consumers beyond T1? In short, it’s a way of being customer-centric. From households, students and data crunchers in need of quick access to video downloads and uploads to businesses desiring extra bandwidth to allow them to keep pace with the competition, the reasoning behind T2 and T3 DOCSIS 3.0 is twofold:

No one should be behind the changing times. T2 and T3 markets are as important as T1 locations. For example, all Knology employees consider their markets to be “T1,” in that each individual consumer – whether residential or business – who desires the most advanced technology available should have immediate access.

The need for speed and security to drive business and increase competition in the marketplace leaves service providers with little question regarding spending the necessary capital to install the DOCSIS 3.0 platform. In short, it is a must.

DOCSIS Tech Tips

Launching DOCSIS 3.0 throughout T1 and T2 markets technologically is no different than how engineers implement the product in T1 markets. The installation of DOCSIS 3.0 to existing infrastructure is a tiered process, with most of the technological upgrades occurring on the back end. It’s imperative to successful platform installation that infrastructure meet certain specifications to handle new services.

At the onset of Knology’s first DOCSIS 3.0 installation, which began in early 2010, its network operated on DOCSIS 2.0, the reliable but less-advanced platform. As with most cable operators not utilizing DOCSIS 3.0 specifications, it was necessary to evaluate the existing Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) – which at that time operated on two separate connections for receiving and sending signals to customer modems – and then make necessary changes to move forward. The CMTS had to be upgraded at infrastructure level to share upstream and downstream communications or to allow for two-way communication, over the same line – a must for DOCSIS 3.0 incorporation.

The next step had Knology’s engineers pushing down an Internet configuration in each launch market to existing residential and business customer modems, allowing them to exploit the new speeds. A huge perk to its installation was the fact that DOCSIS is a highly flexible platform and allows devices – i.e., customer modems – automatically to fall back to the highest version of the platform each modem can support. For example, if a customer’s cable modem only supports DOCSIS 2.0, but Knology’s network is running the 3.0 specifications, the individual modem connection will be established with enhancements at DOCSIS 2.0.

This being said, those customers with DOCSIS 2.0 modems still receive a considerably large increase in bandwidth with DOCSIS 3.0 implementation. What this flexibility allows, however, is the ability to transition customer equipment over time for those individuals and businesses requiring capacity higher than DOCSIS 2.0 boosts – and Knology was able to do this without the high costs of switching out modems instantly due to DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades. Most of customers have more than enough bandwidth at the enhanced DOCSIS 2.0 speeds for day-to-day Internet tasks, so while Knology’s network in launched markets is – on the back end – running at 3.0, an individual’s outdated modem cannot tell the difference. Only when a person or a company signs up to upgrade their modems to the DOCSIS 3.0-compliant equipment are they then able to experience the enhanced services now being offered.

Knology believes this is a huge asset to installation in T2 and T3 markets, as the most costly factor in transitioning such markets to a common upstreaming network is outdated equipment. With this transition, it can upgrade its platforms in each market without rolling trucks across neighborhoods and businesses to switch out customer-premise equipment. Though its goal is to eventually move all customers to DOCSIS 3.0 modems, it can upgrade slowly and on a case-by-case basis, giving precedence to those customers in need of the speed DOCSIS 3.0 provides (competitive businesses, individuals needing increase bandwidth for downloads, etc.) The remaining customers in each T2 and T3 market can be transitioned over time.

T2, T3 Differences

Though the technology behind deploying DOCSIS 3.0 in T2 and T3 markets essentially is the same, there are slight differences. For one, engineering can be more difficult due to density. Engineers must pay special attention to help ensure the right number of homes and businesses are passed to the right number of nodes – depending on the penetration – and then to roll back on common CMTS slots so that it is engineered properly.

Secondly, capital per sub is a defining factor in T2 and T3 DOCSIS 3.0 deployment. Economics are far more difficult in smaller markets, in that a provider is charged with spreading the same amount of capital over fewer customers as T1 providers are in more dense areas. This presents a unique issue to T2 and T3 providers in finding ways to implement this necessary data upgrade while keeping costs at bay for both the provider and the consumer.

But no matter the barriers, the advantages in bringing DOCSIS 3.0 to smaller markets far outweigh any disadvantages. For the customer, it’s faster speeds, more security and enhanced performance. And for the bundled cable operator, it’s better last-mile network monitoring, better real-time data and enhanced issue reports back to the network.

What Next?

As convergence becomes an even greater part of America’s data-driven culture, the need for increased bandwidth will intensify. Most assuredly, the future will – at some point and time – produce a faster, more efficient and more secure technology than DOCSIS 3.0. However, there is a fundamental reason for T2 and T3 operators to establish DOCSIS 3.0 in all their markets now: This product opens up the pipe, in terms of data, and the pipe is the wave of the future.

Tony Palermo is vice president/Marketing at Knology Inc. Contact him at tony.palermo@knology.com.

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