While the results are preliminary, Videotron, Canada’s sometimes forgotten MSO, and Cisco Systems have joined as partners and technologists to prove that channel bonding, a key component of DOCSIS 3.0 specifications, can deliver 100 Mbps downloads over an HFC plant.

Videotron has been gearing up the channel bonding test since December, using a Cisco CMTS capable of bonding up to 24 channels to deliver signals to Scientific Atlanta modems capable of handling three bonded channels and Linksys modems capable of handling eight bonded channels. For the last month, the tests have been live with 150 residential and commercial customers, and "the feedback has been great," said Pierre Roy, vice president of engineering-IP technology at Videotron.

The tests, to an extent, run in parallel to the still emerging DOCSIS 3.0 specifications at CableLabs, although they contain some of the preliminary elements.

"The technology is based on DOCSIS 3.0 standards," said Roy. "We feel that what has been up to now is great; it’s working well; we have live production equipment, and the people that are on the pilot project are realizing the speeds you can obtain through this technology."

Manon Brouillette, senior vice president of marketing-content/product development at Videotron, was even more upbeat about both the tests and what they’ll mean as Videotron decides whether and how to roll out the high speeds later this year. Launch in ’07 "The fact that we are testing and that we might launch this product in ’07 gives us a knowledge that will benefit in our deployment of DOCSIS in ’07 and in the near future," she said.

There are still gaps. So far the bonded couple has delivered maximum speeds of 98 Mbps, but it will be easy to do more, the involved parties said. The CMTS, for instance, is capable of 320 Mbps, and the DOCSIS 3.0 specs, while setting a foundation of four bonded channels, have no upper limit. There are other niggling details like bonding upstream channels for more speeds, IPv6 and multicast, all of which are part of the DOCSIS 3.0 specifications but not involved in the test.

"When we get closer to the other elements of DOCSIS 3.0 … we will be in a position to talk more about it," said Surya Panditi, vice president/general manager of optical technology and the CMTS business unit at Cisco. For now, Panditi promised, "we are absolutely committed to DOCSIS 3.0 and are working to implement it in phases."

The first phase is to increase downstream speeds without changing the HFC plant, and, according to all three, that’s been wildly successful.

"We did not deploy a new network and new special cable. It uses an existing Videotron hybrid fiber/coax network … that delivers TV services, on-demand services, Internet service and voice-over-cable services," said Roy. "We were able to turn on a customer, and the only thing required was activating more cable modems that support the multichannel functionality."

That, he added, will come with DOCSIS 3.0, which "ensures interoperability for multiple vendors." – Jim Barthold

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