For over a year now, cable MSOs in the US have been upgrading their broadband access networks to DOCSIS 3.1 – and we are now beginning to see near completion of rollouts. In the past week, two of the top US cable MSOs – Charter and Comcast – have released updates on the status of their network upgrades. Charter, under its Spectrum division, announced that it now offers at least 100Mbps to subscribers in 99% of its regions and that it plans to continue to expand its gigabit service to new markets. Comcast, under Xfinity, reported that it covered 45% of its total footprint with its gigabit service as of end-1Q18. It plans to cover most of its footprint with a 200Mbps service by end-2018.
With these announcements, Comcast and Charter are sending a message to competitors that they will invest in their networks to stay ahead in the US broadband market. Although DOCSIS 3.1 is the most recent DOCSIS-based upgrade, it is just one upgrade to be made by cable operators. In the coming years, across the US, cable operators will continue to roll out advancements on their networks to stay competitive with next-gen DSL, Gfast, and FTTP residential and business broadband offerings. These advancements include implementing DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex to allow for symmetrical bandwidth and SDN/NFV. This will improve the customer experience and serve internal upgrade needs, such as pushing fiber deeper and increased automation.
Another important competitive aspect is the growth of the relationship with the customer at the premises. Cable MSOs continue to up the ante with subscriber add-ons. The smart home market will continue to grow on the back of customer subscriptions and there will be continued forays into the wireless space in the form of MVNOs – which will keep cable operators competitive with telcos' quad-play offerings. We will also see expanded partnerships with OTT providers to appease pay-TV subscribers tempted to "cord cut."
If the phrase "digital transformation" were most suited to a particular segment, it is cable access networks. Cable operators are quite literally upgrading an analog infrastructure to adapt to 21st Century digital demands. Cable operators will continue to spend the capex to retain subscribers and market share. Their competition is not going away anytime soon.
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