Charter just pushed back its DOCSIS 4.0 timeline – here’s why

Did someone leave a banana peel in the halls of Charter Communications’ Stamford, Connecticut office? Because its DOCSIS 4.0 deployment schedule just slipped.

Way back in December 2022, the operator said it planned finish upgrading its network with distributed access architecture (DAA) and rolling out DOCSIS 4.0 by 2025. But during its earnings call on Friday, Charter CEO Chris Winfrey said its target completion date is now in 2026. What gives?

According to Winfrey, Charter has finished the first step of its three-phase plan, rolling out high-split upgrades and faster speeds to an initial tranche of markets covering 15% of its footprint. Phase two – which will see Charter begin to roll out DAA with Remote PHY – is set to begin “later this year,” he added. That seems to be a departure from the original early 2024 target start date for phase two.

During the call, Winfrey said the delay was “really about certification of the DAA equipment taking a little bit longer” than expected. That left Charter with the option to either do more 1.2 GHz upgrades to keep its original pace or stall a bit until the certification process is complete to cover more of its footprint with 1.8 GHz high splits.

Given Charter is pursuing the Extended Spectrum version of DOCSIS 4.0, doing the latter would mean more of its customers could tap the “full capabilities of DOCSIS 4.0 over time,” Winfrey explained.

Certify me!

While certification might seem like a small obstacle in the face of such a massive project, Dell’Oro Group VP Jeff Heynen said the term actually belies quite an arduous process for operators.

To start with, Heynen said it’s still fairly difficult to procure Remote PHY devices in large quantities in the first place due to long lead times for certain hardware components. Once an operator like Charter does get their hands on the equipment, the operator has to put it through certification and interoperability testing with its virtual CMTS before moving ahead with field deployments.

That testing…is complicated.

“Although, vCMTS platforms have been deployed for some time now, this is Charter’s first field deployment (that I am aware of) using the technology,” he told Fierce Telecom by email.

“There is a lot of complexity with these platforms when it comes to interoperability. If you also consider that video still needs to be supported and different RPD vendors have different video implementations, then there is an additional layer of complexity that has to be worked through before you even consider running live, revenue-generating customer traffic over these platforms.”

Trickle down

But could Charter’s delay spell trouble for other smaller Tier-2 and Tier-3 cable operators waiting in line for DOCSIS 4.0 equipment for their own deployments? Heynen said it’s possible.

“Charter’s delay likely means it might be more difficult for smaller operators to get their hands on DOCSIS 4.0-capable DAA equipment,” he said. However, he added these operators can leverage the speed improvements DOCSIS 3.1 offers to stay competitive.

By deploying DOCSIS 4.0 modems on upgraded 3.1 networks, these operators can still deliver multi-gigabit speeds.

“The billboard (downstream) speed improvements will be critical for these operators to compete with fiber ISPs. However, the need for symmetric speeds is less pressing for subscribers, as consumption growth rates have returned to normal levels, with downstream usage growing much faster than upstream usage,” he concluded.