UPC Netherlands ramps broadband to 500 Mbps
In order to counter its competition, last week UPC Netherlands fired up a data service that features 500 Mbps on the downstream.
Liberty Global's Bill Warga, vice president of technology, spoke about the 500 Mbps service during an engineering roundtable yesterday at the SCTE Rocky Mountain Chapter Symposium.
In response to a question about Google Fiber’s 1 Gigabit per second service sand other fiber-based services being a threat to cable opeators, Warga said Liberty Global-owned UPC Netherlands came up with the 500 Mbps in response to a competitor’s fiber service.
“We had to address it head on very recently because of the fiber (competition)” Warga said. “The company is called Reggefiber in the Netherlands. What they’re touting is a 1 Gigabit asynchronous service, so its upstream and downstream. We came out with with a 500 megabit service . We had to build a special modem because (DOCSIS) 3.1 chips aren’t out yet. We had to double up on the chips in the modem and put it out there because we had to have a competing product, if anything just in the press. That was a reaction but that tells you how quickly in a marketplace that something can move.”
Warga said the cable modem was capable of bonding 16 channels, but he didn't say how many channels were being bonded on the downstream.
Most of the panelists agreed that Google Fiber-type services where mainly about politics and marketing, since the majority of users don’t need those types of speed. Ellis pointed out that the cable operators’ highest speed tiers had the lowest number of subscribers.
“I know a few executives have it (500 Mbps) in their homes, but from there I don’t know who is going to sign up for it,” Warga said. “But you’re right, our biggest product is still 25 megs for 25 euros. Not too many ask for more, but in countries where there’s not a lot of FTTH but there’s fiber deep we do over 120 Mbps service. They’ll (the competition) will come in and say they’re 100, or 101 we’ll come back and say we’re 110 or 120, or 130. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse game, but we always feel like we can be ahead. For us 3.1 can’t come soon enough.”
Comcast’s Tom Bach, vice president of engineering, said there was a lot of runway left with DOCSIS and that marketplace would dictate what types of speeds subscribers want. Cable, as evidenced by Comcast CEO and Chairman Brian Robert’s 3.2 Gigabit speed demo at The Cable Show last week, is well positioned to up the speed ante if it needs to.
“Never underestimate the extensibility of HFC,” said Charter Communcations CTO Jay Rolls.
CableLabs CTO Ralph Brown said that cable operators were better positioned to offer the faster speeds while fiber build outs will cost a lot of money.
Ellis also asked each panel member what their top engineering priorities were for this year. Brown said DOCSIS 3.1 was at the top of hs list with specs slated to be finished later this year. CableLabs is also focusing Wi-Fi, namely Hotpoint 2.0, or Passpoint, which allows mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi network based upon preferences and network optimization whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0-enabled area.
Increasing capacity was top of mind for the panel members, including Comcast’s Bach, who also listed implementing cloud deployments correctly as one of his other top priorties for the year.
With Liberty Global’s recent buying spree, which included Virgin Media, in the books, Warga said his company was focused on integating the new properties. All told, Liberty Global has passed Comcast as the larget cable operator in the world with 25 million subscribers across 14 countries in Europe and Latin America. Liberty Global also made a $2.6 billion investment in Charter earlier this year. 
“I have to send my weekly reports to them” Rolls joked.
Charter’s top-two engineering priorities are completing its move to all digital by next year and, in tandem, working on implementing the CableCard waiver that the Federal Communicaitons Commission granted. Last week Charter announced it has completed its first major all digital converion in North Texas .
“There are a lot of interdependencies between those two projects and they’re pretty consuming right now,” Rolls said.
“Our two big engineering projects this year are what we call hosted navigation where we’re moving our user interfae into the cloud for our own set top boxes, future boxes and IP boxes. So that’s a big one in the video space,” said Time Warner Cable Fellow Louis Williamson. The other one is internally what way say is the ‘BDN,’ which stands for the ‘best damn network.’ How do we achieve that? There are lots of things. There’s capacitiy, there’s deploying CCAP, there’s switched digital video; all of that growth so we can make this transtion from QAM-based video to IP-based video. So a lot of our focus is on that.”