Canada’s Shaw reveals plan to fend off fiber competition

Canadian operator Shaw Communications laid out its strategy to fend off competition from fiber overbuilders in the country, charting a course to move from a mid-split architecture to frequency division duplex (FDD) DOCSIS 4.0 by 2030.

Speaking during a session at SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo, Shaw Principal Network Engineer Mike Darling said the operator began upgrading its network to a mid-split band plan in 2017. More than 90% of that work is already done, with the remainder expected to be complete by early 2022.

Darling explained the move has helped slash congestion on its network to a “historic low.” While there’s no need for additional upgrades in the short term to combat congestion, he noted it could start becoming an issue again in 2025. But what will really drive Shaw to continue beefing up its network is competition from telco rivals deploying fiber-to-the home (FTTH) with symmetrical gigabit capabilities, he said.

Shaw debuted service tiers offering 1 Gbps and 1.5 Gbps downstream last year, but does not yet have a symmetrical product.

RELATED: Fiber is all the rage but DOCSIS isn’t dead: CableLabs

He said Shaw considered two primary paths to upgrade its network: leaping straight from a mid-split to full duplex DOCSIS 4.0 (FDX) or a more gradual transition to FDD. While the former would take more time and money because it would require construction of passive plant or FTTH, Darling noted it would provide efficiency benefits since “we won’t have to go back to that node for a long time” once it’s updated.

However, Darling said Shaw is currently leaning toward a phased transition to FDD. Once its mid-split rollout is complete, it will move straight into a high-split upgrade. Around 2024, it will begin deploying FDD with a 204 MHz configuration and bump that up to a 396 MHz implementation starting in 2026.

“While we lose efficiency, potentially having to go back to nodes multiple times, the speed is really important, especially in our context while we’re currently competing with fiber to the home. It allows for a shorter upgrade cycle,” he said of the rationale behind its plan.

RELATED: Canada’s Rogers snaps up rival Shaw in $16B deal

Earlier this year, Rogers Communications announced plans to acquire Shaw for approximately $16 billion, in a deal expected to close in the first half of 2022. It is unclear whether or how that transaction will impact Shaw’s plan.

Several other cable players recently sketched out their plans to take on fiber. In the U.S., Comcast recently focused in on upgrades to a mid-split as a key step on its path to deployment of DOCSIS 4.0 technology, while Charter Communications said it’ll pursue high-splits in select markets. Cox Communications currently has sub- and mid-split configurations, but is looking to shift to a high-split in the near future.