Videotron has delivered downstream data speeds of 98 Mbps in a test of Cisco Systems' Wideband, Cisco's name for its channel bonding technology. Videotron has also demonstrated the ability to bond up to 8 channels, which together could transmit data at up to 320 Mbps.

The Videotron test, announced in December, involved 150 customers, both residential and commercial. Videotron and Cisco said it is the first such test in North America. During the test, the two said they were able to download 250 MB video files in 40 to 45 seconds.

Videotron stressed that the upgrade necessary to perform the demo was a modest one, using its existing HFC plant, including CMTSs and QAMs now in place. The additional equipment included new software and Wideband SIP cards for Cisco's standard uBR100012 CMTS at the headend, and new wideband modems for customers.

Videotron tested two modems, one from Cisco's Scientific Atlanta operation, the other from its Linksys division. The Linksys WCM 300 is capable of supporting up to 8 bonded channels, while SA's DPC2505 supports a maximum of 3.

The DOCSIS 3.0 specification, which encompasses channel bonding technology, specifies a minimum of 4 bonded channels. Some operators may not want to wait for the DOCSIS 3.0 spec to be completed before deploying channel-bonding technology, however, and the components for 3-channel set-tops could be made available quickly should any operator decide to go that route.

The DOCSIS 3.0 spec does not put a ceiling on the number of channels that could be bonded. Cisco Wideband CMTS cards currently have the capacity to bond up to 24 channels (simple multiplication suggests that would render a theoretical maximum data rate of just less than 1 Gbps).

Although DOCSIS 3.0 aims to enable operators to provide nearly symmetrical data services, for now, Videotron and Cisco are concentrating entirely on the downstream, although they intend to work on increasing upstream rates eventually.

Videotron said its Wideband tests will continue for a few months. Depending on the amount of progress made, Videotron said it might possibly make this service more broadly available during the 2007 calendar year. The company is aiming to be able to provide subscribers with 100 Mbps downstream, which is five times faster than its current top speed, and double the top speed currently provided by Verizon's FiOS.

"As a leader in providing Internet services to the Quebec market, Videotron is pleased to once again surpass the industry limits with its leading-edge technology, its high performance network and its partnership with Cisco," said Robert Dépatie, Videotron President and CEO.

That partnership has been fruitful; Videotron and Cisco have a history of experimenting with new cable technology. About six years ago, Videotron tried to rollout a secondary-line VoIP service over its DOCSIS 1.0 networks, before QoS-enabled DOCSIS 1.1 technology became available. Videotron instead used a proprietary QoS element from Cisco that was layered on the vendor's DOCSIS 1.0 platform. It was internally dubbed DOCSIS 1.0 "plus." Time Warner Cable also used "plus" for its early LineRunner VoIP tests, but the technology never became part of any official CableLabs effort and never really took off.