Operators should bypass stopgap efforts and go full steam ahead for DOCSIS 3.0 to counter the telcos’ latest upstream speeds. By Michael Grebb. Michael is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at mgrebb@accessintel.com MSOs have a tough decision to make about broadband over the next several months. It’s a choice that could greatly affect their competitive position versus the telcos, as well as their ultimate bottom lines. At issue is CableLabs’ upcoming DOCSIS 3.0 specification, which will enable up to 160 Mbps downstream and 120 Mbps upstream but won’t be commercially deployed in the field for at least a few years. Some vendors are pushing the adoption of a pre-3.0 stopgap (or a DOCSIS 2.0b spec) as a way to juice cable’s high-speed data rates until 3.0 is ready for prime time. The problem is that 2.0b would allow only capacity-boosting "channel bonding" for downstream data. While that would increase downstream speeds beyond DOCSIS 2.0’s 30 Mbps limit, it would do nothing to improve upstream speeds. The advantage of 2.0b is obviously time-to-market. MSOs basically could implement 2.0b-like solutions immediately with much of their existing equipment, helping to deter the telco threat until DOCSIS 3.0 has matured. But the upstream path is already a weak link in cable’s broadband product, and telcos are moving fast to provide better upstream speeds. For that and other reasons, MSOs aren’t so sure about DOCSIS stopgaps. In fact, cable techies brushed off the 2.0b idea at the recent SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver, fueling subsequent reports that CableLabs plans to concentrate solely on 3.0 rather than pursue a 2.0b spec (CableLabs won’t comment). "I don’t want us to take our eyes off of 3.0," Charter CTO Marwan Fawaz said at one panel. "Channel bonding in the upstream is very important." Even lacking an official 2.0b spec, vendors could offer pre-3.0 solutions, prompting each MSO to determine where—if anywhere—DOCSIS stopgaps make sense. Above all, operators simply want the flexibility to compete. "Whatever labels we apply to these solutions, whether it’s DOCSIS 2.0b, 3.0 or Joe’s SuperFast Modems, the goal is the same: to have equipment in the short and long term that is interoperable and meets our competitive demands for faster and more robust IP delivery," says Jay Rolls, Cox’s VP, telephone and data engineering. But in a world obsessed with short-term gains, it’s refreshing to see some operators staying focused on the longer-term benefits of 3.0. Pre-3.0 solutions may be necessary in some hyper-competitive markets, but DOCSIS 3.0 is the ultimate prize that will empower MSOs to fight the telco invasion long term.

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