Monday, April 26, 2010

CableLabs announces 5Gbps cable data technology

Last week, Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs announced that it had developed a new technology that would allow DSL high-speed Internet speeds to reach 300Mbps at distances up to 400 meters, and 100Mbps at a mile. These are hypothetical numbers, and the real-world numbers are likely to be quite a bit lower. Nevertheless, a number of analysts got good and frothy about it; one said that it could "reshape the whole next-generation broadband competitive environment."

The problem is that the competitors aren't standing still. Today, CableLabs, the U.S. cable industry technology consortium, announced that it's working on a new, very preliminary technology that will enable downstream data speeds as high as 5Gbps--more than 16 times faster than the new technology announced by Bell Labs. The CableLabs technology is a radical rethink of how to send data over coax, and isn't compatible with the current DOCSIS standard. That means in order to use the new approach, cable operators would have to throw out all their cable modems and much of their head-end data hardware.

However, even the current DOCSIS architecture still has a lot of headroom; Cisco and Broadcom have demonstrated a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem with a maximum downstream speed of 300Mbps. According to Broadcom, such a device could download a two-hour-long HD movie in approximately two minutes.

Of course, once you can download a two-hour HD movie in two minutes, do you really need any more speed? Probably not today, but new applications always arise that take advantage of whatever bandwidth is available. That's why the high-speed Internet services will continue to leapfrog each other; you can never be too rich or have too much bandwidth.

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