Bell isn’t convinced DOCSIS can deliver symmetrical speeds

The war of words between cable and fiber supporters raged on, with the CEO of Canadian operator Bell becoming the latest to cast doubt on DOCSIS technology’s ability to compete over the long term. His comments came in response to a question about whether Comcast’s recent multi-gigabit DOCSIS demo has Bell concerned that cable players in the country might be able to put up more of a fight against fiber than originally expected.

In September, Comcast touted a DOCSIS 4.0 test in which it was able to achieve speeds of 6 Gbps downstream and 4 Gbps upstream. It has said it plans to begin rolling out DOCSIS 4.0 and symmetrical multi-gig speed tiers next year.

But speaking on Bell’s Q3 2022 earnings call, CEO Mirko Bibic argued the trial was conducted in a lab environment – not in real world field conditions. From Bell’s perspective, it still doesn’t see a true path to multi-gig symmetrical speeds using DOCSIS.

“The true symmetrical DOCSIS path is quite unclear, and it's going to take a while. And even then, I don't think they're going to come close to our upload speeds, and it's going to be an expensive proposition either way,” he said. Bibic said that means operators have to choose: swallow the cost and deploy fiber or make an expensive investment in DOCSIS that has an uncertain payoff.

Bell, of course, has chosen fiber. The operator is currently working to reach 10 million homes with broadband, including 9 million with fiber and 1 million with fixed wireless. By the end of 2022, Bibic said Bell will hit 7 million fiber locations, with 3-gig speeds available to 5 million of these and 8-gig speeds available to 1 million. The operator began testing Nokia’s 25G PON technology this time last year.

Its bet on fiber paid off in Q3, helping the company overcome copper losses to achieve 89,652 broadband subscriber net additions. That figure was its best quarterly result since Q3 2005. Bibic said 62% of new fiber activations in the quarter were for multi-gig speeds. This growth drove the first top line growth for Bell’s wireline division in nearly two years.

All told, Bell’s consolidated revenue grew 3.2% to CAD 6 billion, but its net earnings fell 5.2% to CAD 771 million.


Fiber also helped propel Bell rival Telus to 36,000 fixed internet net additions in Q3 and an 11% increase in residential internet revenue. Consolidated revenue grew 10% year on year  to CAD 4.7 billion while net income rose from CAD 358 million to CAD 551 million.

Telus executives said during an earnings call its fiber build, which began in 2013, will conclude at the end of 2022. However, they noted the operator still plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in 2023 and beyond to add new passings within its existing footprint and upgrade its networks to XGS-PON technology so it can offer multi-gig speeds.

Executives added government grants and cost-sharing partnerships could help it push fiber farther into rural areas across Canada.

Meanwhile, Rogers Communications added 6,000 internet subscribers to end the quarter with nearly 2.3 million. It added 110,000 homes passed in the quarter to hit 4.78 million. Consolidated revenue rose 2% to CAD 3.7 billion, but its net income fell 24% to  CAD 371 million.

The operator, which suffered a major outage on its broadband network in July, reiterated plans to spend $20 billion on its network over the coming years, in part to improve its resilience.