Comcast Starts Test Of Super-Fast Next-Gen Broadband Over Existing Cable Lines

Earlier this year, Comcast confirmed that it would soon begin testing next-generation broadband technology that is supposed to provide faster connections than current fiberoptic networks, but over the same old cable lines. Yesterday, the nation’s largest cable company announced that it has taken the first important step in doing real-world testing of this new tech.

Comcast and other cable broadband companies currently follow the DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 3.0 standard for delivering broadband over cable lines. DOCSIS 3.1, which has yet to be deployed on any large scale in the U.S. is the latest version and it’s believed that it could ultimately provide users with access that is several times faster than the top speeds of Google Fiber and similar services.

In a blog post yesterday, Comcast announced that it has installed its first DOCSIS 3.1 modem on a customer-facing network. The company would only say that it’s been placed in a “home in the Philadelphia area.” I’m pretty sure it’s not mine.

The big selling point of DOCSIS 3.1 is that, unlike Comcast’s current rollout of its high-speed fiber-to-the-user network in certain markets, it doesn’t require the company to run new lines to customers’ homes.

“The test used the standard cable connections that we have in homes across the country,” confirms the company. “All we needed was a new modem, a software upgrade to the device that serves that neighborhood, and a few good engineers.”

In addition to the initial Philadelphia home, Comcast says it is testing the tech elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Northern California and Atlanta.

Comcast says it plans to continue testing the new tech and installing the DOCSIS 3.1 modems in additional homes. Customers in some parts of the country can expect to see some sort of new service tier being offered by the end of 2016.

Hopefully, because Comcast would not have to make the same infrastructure investments, it won’t charge anywhere near the ridiculously high prices ($300/month, plus up to $1,000 for installation and activation) it’s asking for its new 2 gigabit service. A city-owned fiber service in Chattanooga, TN, recently began selling service that is several times faster than that for the same monthly rate.

The choice of Philadelphia for the first test — and the fact that Comcast singles out its home city in the announcement — is noteworthy, considering the timing.

While Philadelphia has long played host to Comcast, it only recently concluded a lengthy and testy franchise renegotiation with the cable giant. During those discussions, some in the city leadership wanted to know why Comcast was testing all of its fancy new networks in other cities. Additionally, while Philadelphia is one of the poorest cities in which Comcast operates, the company chose other markets to test expansions of its low-cost Internet Essentials program.

For its part, Verizon has been testing out a new system that provides faster speeds over existing fiberoptic lines. Similar fiber tech has been deployed over a city-owned fiber network in North Carolina.

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