FTTH, Not DOCSIS 3.1, Chosen by Altice USA

Altice USA, formed by Dutch-based Altice Group after recent acquisitions of Cablevision and Suddenlink, is now the fourth largest U.S. cable operator. The company is bucking the system already by announcing it will use fiber to the home (FTTH), vs. Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.1, as its next-generation broadband access infrastructure.

While most U.S. cable operators, including Comcast, have suggested they will use DOCSIS 3.1 to provide customers with speeds close to those possible over fiber, we believe the FTTH option is also a feasible one for cable operators.

DOCSIS is a communications protocol that lets cable multiservice operators provide high-speed broadband connections. The technology was specifically designed to allow the cable TV industry to compete with the high-speed wireless and fiber-based wireline networks of telecom operators. The DOCSIS standard has been widely used by television operators to offer Internet access through an existing hybrid fiber coaxial infrastructure.

The question of DOCSIS vs. FTTH, as we said in our earlier blog, is not really on point. DOCSIS is a transport technology (protocol), and FTTH is an architecture—a physical network structure. Though the subjects are interrelated, more clearly they should be considered separately. Case in point, transport technologies can be used on some architectures but not others. For instance, any version of DOCSIS can be used over an RF over Glass (RFoG) architecture to deliver broadband services to homes over fiber—meaning that DOCSIS 3.1 and FTTH would be deployed together!

DOCSIS 3.1 enables 10 Gbps services to the home over hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks. With the availability of such high throughput, the question became why any operator would replace an HFC network with FTTH, which requires tearing up streets and yards. Altice USA resoundingly addressed this supposition by rejecting DOCSIS 3.1. Instead, the company says it will it will build an FTTH network expected to deliver the same 10 Gbps broadband speed.

Altice USA says it plans to extend fiber deeper into its existing HFC network (Cablevision homes total 5 million, and Suddenlink 2.9 million) within the next five years, using proprietary technologies developed by Altice Labs, the company’s global research and development arm, to create its system.

With this move, Altice USA becomes the first major U.S. cable provider to plan large-scale fiber deployment. Verizon Fios and Frontier Communications also have large-scale FTTH footprints. Altice is reportedly using savings from its energy efficient technology to fund its buildout. Altice, the parent company, has been deploying fiber networks in multiple international markets, including France, with 22 million fiber homes on track for year-end 2022, and Portugal, with 5.3 million by the end of 2020. Altice serves more than 46 million residential and 1 million business customers globally.

Comcast and other cable operators choosing the DOCSIS option are doing so because of its backward compatibility with DOCSIS 3.0, meaning that existing HFC cable lines gain high-speed broadband with a simple switch to DOCSIS 3.1 compatible modems; no digging required.

When choosing next-generation infrastructure, cable operators should consider bandwidth demand, fiber competition, desired bitrates and costs to deliver the desired bitrates. It’s nice to have options, especially ones that can provide improved service for customers.