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Comcast announced today that it had tested “the last technical component needed to deliver multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds” and said it was on track to deliver multi-gigabit download and upload speeds to at least some cable TV customers “by the end of 2023”. A test using Broadcom hardware provided download speeds of 6 Gbps and download speeds of 4 Gbps, according to Comcast.

Cable broadband lags far behind fiber to the home download speed, a frustration for many Internet users who don’t have access to fiber. Comcast and other cable companies have promised a major download upgrade for years, never saying exactly when the improvement would reach customers.

Comcast is starting to get a little more specific, though the “by the end of 2023” promise doesn’t specify what percentage of customers will get the update when it first rolls out. The renewal of Comcast’s entire cable territory is expected to be a multi-year process.

“Once this test is complete, Comcast will launch live trials later this year and begin providing 10G-based symmetric multi-gig services to customers by the end of 2023,” Comcast said. (10G is a marketing term the cable industry uses to describe speeds of 10 gigabits per second.)

Comcast has not said how much it will charge customers for the multi-gigabit symmetrical service or whether the upgrade will come with any data cap changes introduced in most of Comcast’s territory. While the upgrade won’t require replacing the cables running into customers’ homes, it will take several years to install all the necessary equipment on Comcast’s network.

Comcast’s persistently slow download speeds are starting to pick up

In October 2017, the industry research consortium CableLabs announced the completion version of DOCSIS, which could provide 10 Gbps download and upload speeds. Seemingly envious of the hype surrounding 5G wireless networks, the cable lobby group NCTA in January 2019 launched Marketing company “10G”.. It promised “symmetrical speeds which are up to 10 times faster than today’s fastest networks.”

But actual download speeds remain low on cable networks, originally designed for broadcast television programs rather than broadband. Comcast cable download speed reached 35 Mbit/s for years and customers had to buy a more expensive gigabit download plan just to get 35Mbps downloads. Download speeds on the cheaper plans were only 3Mbps, just like ours wrote last year.

But that is starting to change. Comcast Availability announced on September 8 multi-gigabit cable download speeds and upload speeds ranging from 75 Mbps to 200 Mbps, but initially only in select markets (Colorado Springs, CO; Augusta, GA; and Panama City Beach, FL).

Comcast said that this multi-gigabit version — to make it clear that it’s multi-gigabit download speeds of up to 200 Mbps — will be “available in 34 cities by the end of 2022” and “more than 50 million homes and businesses by the end of 2025”. So Comcast customers will likely get a more modest increase in download speeds before they see the multi-gigabit downloads teased in today’s announcement.

Since 2015, Comcast has also been selling symmetrical fiber to the home Internet, but in much higher prices than cable, and not throughout its territory. The DOCSIS upgrade, which will extend multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds to Comcast cable, will hopefully be offered at more affordable prices than Comcast’s $300-a-month fiber.

Full duplex DOCSIS

Delivering symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds over existing cable will be achieved with a “full duplex” upgrade to DOCSIS, the industry-wide data service interface specification. Comcast said:

Comcast previously completed successful world-first 10G trials networks and modem technologies, including a demonstration of a full 10G network-to-home loop. The test announced today at SCTE EXPO, demonstrated the ability to provide Full Duplex DOCSIS 4.0 (FDX) services on new FDX amplifiers. FDX was originally designed for network environments without RF amplifiers, so the new FDX amplifiers make it significantly easier to extend the benefits of 10G to every customer within network reach.

For the test, Comcast inserted new 10G repeaters based on Broadcom’s reference design into a full 10G network loop using previously tested DOCSIS 4.0 modems and network technologies. The team demonstrated download speeds of 6 Gbps and download speeds of 4 Gbps through a full cascade of six amplifiers, sometimes referred to as “N+6”. This architecture comprises the vast majority of Comcast’s network and is easily and quickly replicated where network environments may differ. As a result, a successful test is key to providing 10G to all Comcast customers.

In addition to boosting downloads and uploads, Comcast said the update “will deliver significant improvements in latency performance.”

While the full-duplex upgrade likely won’t happen as quickly as customers want, Comcast noted the advantage of being able to upgrade speeds without replacing wires. The DOCSIS upgrade will allow ISPs to “deliver increased speed and performance to hundreds of millions of people over connections already in their homes without having to dig up yards and neighborhoods or choose who gets faster speeds and who doesn’t,” Comcast said.

https://arstechnica.com/?p=1882919

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