Cisco Blogs

The race to gigabit internet is on, and cable operators can take a shortcut

- July 25, 2016 - 1 Comment

Nobody loves door-to-door salesmen. Unless, that is, they’re offering fiber. Then, they’re more popular than the ice cream truck.

If you’re a cable operator, that’s a big problem. Your competitors—both telcos and new entrants like Google—make fiber sound better than chocolate. They’re rolling it out to the node, sometimes all the way to the home. Your subscribers don’t care how it works. They just know it’s fast.

Here’s the thing: consumers may say they want fiber. But what they really want is faster Internet speeds. Fiber is one way to give it to them, but it’s not the only way. Let’s look at the options.

raceFiber vs. Coax with DOCSIS 3.1

You could gear up for the fiber race yourself. After all, once you have fiber running to every home, you have almost infinite bandwidth. Gigabit speeds today, 10-gigabit tomorrow. Capacity for all-IP delivery of Internet, broadcast, and 4K video on demand. Once you go fiber, you’re good.

The downside is that you’re building out an entirely new network. You’re digging trenches and laying conduits. It takes years. And it’s a huge capital expense that you won’t recoup for a long time.

Now, take coax. It’s sitting in the ground right now. You don’t have to invest in digging up everybody’s yard to build out a new network. And with DOCSIS 3.1 technology, you can achieve gigabit speeds over that existing plant by just swapping out equipment in the home and pedestal. For pretty much all of today’s applications, you can offer experiences just as good as fiber to the home. And at a fraction of the cost.

The downside is that coax is still an older medium. It was designed for a different time and a different set of (almost exclusively broadcast) services. DOCSIS lets you do amazing things with coax, but down the road, it won’t give you the same capacity or longevity.

So which one should you choose? The good news is; you don’t have to.

Running Fiber in Phases

For greenfield sites such as new-construction neighborhoods and apartment buildings, fiber makes sense. The installation costs are comparable. But for existing coax footprint, DOCSIS 3.1 gets you to gigabit speeds and beyond for a lot less. So why not do both?

Start by adopting fiber deep architecture models. By pushing fiber out closer to the node, you eliminate layers of equipment—lowering maintenance costs and power use. You can use new remote PHY technologies to move cable modem termination elements out of the head-end and closer to subscribers. And you can transition to fiber and IP where the installation costs are lower—right up to the pedestal. Then, for new construction, go fiber the rest of the way. For existing coax plant, go DOCSIS 3.1.

Now you’re incrementally evolving to fiber in phases. It makes business sense. And you’re extending the life of your multi-billion-dollar coax investment while you do it.

Weighing Decision Points

Right now, coax with DOCSIS 3.1 meets subscriber demand for a lot less than a full fiber overhaul. But that won’t be the case forever. And it still takes investment to transition to fiber deep architectures and DOCSIS 3.1. If the goal is to one day have an all-fiber network, at some point you’ll want to make the switch. What DOCSIS 3.1 buys you is time.

It might take 10 years or more to achieve the vision of fiber everywhere and all services running over IP. But for now, you can get gigabit speeds over your existing coax plant, even as you build out fiber elsewhere in your network.

Even better, you can compete with the slickest fiber competitors on the market today, without having to match their capital investments. So when the fiber salesman knocks, your subscribers will be too busy enjoying their lightning-fast services to answer.

Find out more

To discover how you could offer super-fast internet to your customers through a phased rollout, head to Cisco’s Cable Access Solutions today.


In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. That's wonderful! music