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May 11, 2007

TV: Cable vs. telecom

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:11 PM

I've been meaning to point out the significance of this since Tuesday. At an industry trade show, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts showed off new technology that enabled a data download speeds of 150 megabits per second, or roughly 25 times faster than today's standard cable modems.

The AP reported that the new technology is crucial because the industry is competing with a speedy new offering called a TV, as well as Verizon Communications' FiOS service, which is currently available in some areas on the Eastside.

Verizon's top speed is currently 50 megabits per second, but the network is already capable of providing 100 Mbps with what some people say unlimited potential. Comcast's current cable modem service is closer to the 6 to 8 Mbps range.

The new Comcast technology, called DOCSIS 3.0, was developed by the cable industry's research arm, Cable Television Laboratories. It bonds together four cable lines but is capable of allowing much more capacity. The laboratory said last month it expected manufacturers to begin submitting modems for certification under the standard by the end of the year.

The question is, why do we need such high capacity when people for the most part find their less than 1 Mbps connection sufficient?

The short answer is high-definition TV, which takes up a lot of bandwidth. If there are two TVs in the house watching two different HDTV channels, and someone is on the Internet, the system is going to get seriously bogged down. I thought I could actually tell you how much capacity this would require, but the numbers weren't readily at hand.

CNET writes that with cable, in particular, there's only a limited amount of bandwidth, and because HD channels use six times as much bandwidth as standard-definition channels, cable and satellite companies have been slow to roll out local HD channels to subscribers.

Regardless of how you do the math, you could conclude the cable industry is worried if Comcast is quick to show off technology that may or may not be available for at least two years.

GigaOm has a good debate going here about the facts of Tuesday's demonstration.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez
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Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim
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Benjamin J. Romano
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