Comcast demos 150Mb/s cable modem

Facing intense video competition from telcos, the cable television industry got a preview last week of an impressive new high-speed broadband modem technology that can be deployed without major infrastructure upgrades.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, demonstrated a new technology that enables a data download speed of 150Mb/s — or about 25 times faster than current technology. Roberts conducted the demonstration at last week’s Cable Show in Las Vegas.

The channel bonding technology could be available to subscribers within less than a couple years, according to Roberts. The technology is called DOCSIS 3.0 and was developed by CableLabs, the industry’s research arm. Instead of using a single channel to transmit data, it combines four.

Cable operators could use the technology to compete with fiber-based services such as Verizon’s FiOS, a video and Internet delivery system now being deployed. FiOS’ top speed today is 50Mb/s, but the Verizon network is already capable of double that speed, and its fiber infrastructure can handle speeds well beyond that.

The Associated Press described a demo in which a 30-second, 300MB television commercial was downloaded in a few seconds, while a standard modem took 16 minutes. Also downloaded, in less than four minutes, was the full 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica 2007 and Merriam-Webster’s visual dictionary. With a standard cable modem, that download would have taken three hours and 12 minutes.

Comcast is expected to begin trials using the new technology later this year. In one trial, the cable operator will set up an IP video headend to experiment with carrying voice, video and data over a single IP connection.

Announcements at the cable show by Motorola and Texas Instruments indicated the equipment to support DOCSIS 3.0 is well along in development.

Motorola, Singapore-based StarHub, and cable hardware provider Vyyo announced that they have successfully tested DOCSIS 3.0 hardware, delivering speeds in excess of 145Mb/s. Ars Technica reported that testing was performed over StarHub’s hybrid fiber-coax network in Singapore and used a combination of Motorola hardware and Vyyo’s spectrum overlay products.

Brian Dietz, spokesman for the conference host, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said the demonstration was the key technological advance showcased at the conference.