Exploring the Benefits of DOCSIS 3.1
A few years ago, DOCSIS 3.1 was announced at a special meeting of the Society for Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). CableLabs officially released the specification in October 2013, putting us a little over two years since its inception. By well into 2015, you may be wondering what is the hold up?
As a reminder, DOCSIS 3.1 provides speeds up to 50% faster than existing DOCSIS 3.0, resulting in a theoretical speed of up to 10 Gbps downstream, and a practical application of 1 Gbps to the home. Compared to current average network speeds, this is a huge increase without a forklift upgrade to the headend or a carte blanche overhaul of an operators’ consumer premises equipment (CPE). In fact, many routers readily available from retailers can handle this throughput with a minimal investment by consumers. And, because cable operators already have HFC to the home, they are in the best position to quickly push these upgrades to homes across their whole footprint, whereas other providers have to dig lines to select areas, at great expense, to match this speed.
As an added bonus, DOCSIS 3.1 is more energy efficient than existing DOCSIS 3.0 standards, allowing cable modems to go into “sleep” mode during certain times of day, much like a digital thermostat. And, it allows for more security options over previous DOCSIS versions.
This is all good news for consumers and cable operators, but DOCSIS 3.1 also benefits content owners. The quantum leap in speed can greatly increase the performance and stability of content delivered to the consumer. Consider these findings from online video optimization firm Conviva[i]: viewing time for live action TV drops from over 40 minutes in HD to just 1 minute, if the viewer encounters buffering. “By reducing buffering, a live content provider could improve revenue (from more viewed advertising) by as much as 8.5%. The revenue uplift from improving video quality is even greater; upward of 11.4%. Combined, the potential total uplift reaches 20%,” its analysis determined. DOCSIS 3.1 can help to reduce buffering and result in a better overall experience for viewers. This is especially important for new technologies which require higher resolutions such as the ability to stream and download 4K content or gaming.
With so many advantages, it is easy to see why the industry is keeping a close eye on developments. Fortunately, the new spec is gaining momentum. Recently, Broadcom unveiled the first D3.1 chip, compatible with both DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0.[ii] As technologies like this, tailored to DOCSIS 3.1, proliferate the marketplace they will help accelerate the adoption across HFC networks and ultimately into the home. Several cable operators are planning tests this year with wide scale availability in the next few years. While challenges certainly exist to making DOCSIS 3.1 – and 1 Gbps to the home – a reality, cable operators are in the best position to create scalable, manageable solutions that can benefit the entire ecosystem.