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May 10, 2007

Wideband via Cable

If broadband is good, wideband must be better; right? Well, maybe.  Yesterday an AP story carried on Forbes.com reported that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demoed a cable modem providing downloads at the blazing speed on 150 megabits per second. Comcast’s standard offer around here offers only 6 megabits today so this is a big deal when delivered (depending on price, of course).  Only a new modem is required; not recabling of your home or Comcast infrastructure.

Om Malik is skeptical.  He posts:

“… from my personal consumer perspective, I don’t care if Roberts showed off this ultra-fast broadband technology. They still have to prove that it can actually deliver 6 megabits per second speeds it touts on a consistent basis. (Which it can’t; try using the service late at night in San Francisco, when the geeks on the late shift are logged in.)”

Om also points out that four channels of content will have to be displaced in order to make room to deliver web data at this speed.  The technology works by splicing multiple channels together. 

I’m more sanguine than Om on this latter point; the content is going to move to the web and off channels faster than most people think. Because of the impending collapse of the channel model, Comcast is smart to begin preselling the idea of using the capacity they have from the curb to the house for general web access.  A quote from Brian Roberts seems to indicates that he understands this reality much better than most other phoneco and cableco execs.

“It's an exponential step forward and we're very excited," Roberts said. "What consumers actually do with all this speed is up to the imagination of the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”  He knows he’s selling bandwidth and not content!

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the announcement about upload speeds. I suspect that higher upload speeds will be much harder to achieve because of the design of the cable networks built for a time when rich content was centrally provided.

Moreover, the congestion Om cites may well get worse as more web access bandwidth is provided to each home. The cable network is essentially a party line with not much more capacity on its trunk lines than on the lines running into the individual houses.  Remember, it was designed to bring the same content to everybody at the same time with only a tiny sliver of Internet access, interactive video, and video on demand.  If many people start using 150 megabits of download capacity or anything near it at peak times, there’ll be traffic jams (but they’re curable with reasonable investment; the Internet grows from one prediction of catastrophic traffic jams to another).

Related posts:

Television and the Internet

Television on The Internet – How much Bandwidth is Needed? Where?

Daddy, What’s a Channel?

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