Fiber optics have been claiming the spotlight recently, but recent efforts by DSL providers are showing that metal wires are not entirely out of the race just yet. The latest news is that coaxial wires used to deliver digital cable services might soon be providing 400 to 800 Mbps of broadband performance. Is this is a move to stave off the inevitable onslaught of high-performance fiber optic broadband solutions? Certainly, but that does not mean that the new technology and specifications to reach those lofty performance goals even have their roots in the broadband competition arena.
Where Do These Insanely Fast Specs Come From?
The Multimedia over Coax Alliance, better known by its trendy MoCA acronym, defined the new standard in June in order to provide enough bandwidth to handle the inevitable transition to 3D HDTV standards, both existing and the inevitable refresh that will bring higher resolutions to customers. The additional bandwidth will be required in order to bring not only the future of high-definition television to the homes of consumers, but it will also help placate major studios.
Studios are pushing cable companies hard to adopt the newest MoCA standards because they feel that a 3D-only platform is an anti-piracy measure that will dramatically reduce losses. With big studios pushing digital cable providers and fiber optics pulling in the same direction, it seems very likely that an upgrade to the new standards is in the cards for most major markets. The question is: just how far will they go?
A Tale of Two Standards and a Cap
There are actually a pair of standards being released, a 400 Mbps and 800 Mbps “super speed” standard. Both standards use very similar technology, with distance between repeaters/signal strengthening stations being one of the key factors in determining just which standards can be rolled out to which areas. Customers that live in valleys or other difficult areas to trench and deploy cable are likely to find themselves ‘stuck’ at 400 Mbps more often than not. The same is also true of sparsely populated regions that rely on longer loops and distances between signal strengthening.
Both standards are related, but the 800 Mbps deployments are likely to be few and far between at first. There may be a chance that the 400 Mbps standard will be the top-end offering from most (or all) providers until they are pushed harder by studios and/or customers lured by the appeal of fast fiber optic broadband services. Of course, critical applications will probably be essential to driving adoption and creating wide demand for the 800 Mbps service, though broadband performance freaks like us are already chomping at the bit for 800 Mbps and more.
Broadband caps are also another issue that are likely to become more important as speed continues to increase. With various providers implementing hard- or soft-caps, performance increases are a mixed blessing. Chances are good that the price per performance will remain tied to caps, and that both the ratio and cap will increase in accordance with monthly premium. In short, even though this technology will not cost cable companies much, and they may actually have part of their costs offset by studios, the end result is likely to be only modest decreases in prices for normal broadband services while ultra-broadband services start to create entirely new price points that compete with high-end offerings from the competition.
When Will These Systems be Deployed?
The good news is that the new cable modem standards are allegedly quite cost-effective to deploy, and may require minimal infrastructure investment. Some cable providers have pledged to start trials before the end of the year, but it would seem that with the 100/100 by 2020 standard looming, most digital cable companies will be more forthcoming with deployment plans in the near future. At the very minimum, it would seem logical to expect that the deployments would not begin in earnest until at least the fall of 2011 in select markets. Full scale deployment in the majority of markets may not come until fiber optic services or the high-end DSL offerings begin to truly press broadband providers unless the pressure from studios alone proves sufficient.
What Would You Do With the Extra Bandwidth?
There are many possibilities that become viable when broadband speeds increase. HD movies (even 3D) could begin streaming almost immediately, IPTV could take off in ways that nobody would have thought possible only a few scant years ago, and online backups could go mainstream. We know some of the things that we would do if we were blessed with a devilishly fast Internet connection that was rated in the hundreds of Mbps, but what about you? What would you do if you could sign up for such a service? Download every episode of Lost and 24 in less than a day? Start using online backup solutions? Would there be any real change at all to your online/connected lifestyle?