Comcast focuses on mid-split to get to DOCSIS 4.0, stalls wireless infra plan

Comcast zeroed in on mid-splits as a key step on the path to next generation capabilities as it works to accelerate its transition to DOCSIS 4.0, CFO Michael Cavanagh revealed.

During Comcast’s Q2 earnings call in July, Cavanagh noted the operator was planning to pick up the pace on its work around DOCSIS 4.0. He expanded on that comment during a Bank of America investor conference on Tuesday, stating “we’re going to deploy more node splits, more fiber in the network, deeper in the network.” He added “our base case is to do what’s called sort of mid-splits which is least disruptive to our customers, leaves the equipment in their home unimpacted.”

“We’re going to step on the gas a little bit,” Cavanagh continued. “With the success of trialing 4.0 technologies in the last bunch of months, we really see that it’s for real and we want to get ourselves on the path to doing that.” Eventually, its implementation of DOCSIS 4.0 “will give us multi-gig speeds up and down,” he added.

Traditionally, operators have used an upstream band of 5 MHz to 42 MHz. Implementation of a mid-split configuration would bump that range up to 85 MHz, while another option, a high-split design, would go even further to 204 MHz. Earlier this week, Charter Communications CFO Chris Winfrey said it plans to invest in high-split architecture “in markets where we think it’s attractive to do so and maybe as a bridge to us transitioning to DOCSIS 4.0.”

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Dell’Oro Group VP Jeff Heynen told Fierce the shift to a mid-split “can almost double the upstream capacity available to broadband subscribers.” He added both mid- and high-split configurations are becoming more common as bandwidth consumption climbs and cable players look to better compete with fiber players which are advertising symmetrical speeds.

“I think anytime a major operator—particularly the largest operator—makes a strategic announcement like this, it is notable,” Heynen said.

The analyst added band-plan changes to mid-and high-split designs are resulting in increased distributed access architecture (DAA) deployments since moving to DAA “improves the signal quality by reducing modulation errors.”

Wireless walk back

Cavanagh also indicated the operator is holding off on a plan to roll out its own wireless infrastructure to handle mobile traffic offload.

The operator currently offers wireless service through an MVNO agreement with Verizon. However, it previously expressed interest in building its own wireless network in high-traffic areas and in May Comcast Cable CEO David Watson said it was planning to test offload capabilities using its 600 MHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum. But Cavanagh warned “time needs to pass before you see us actively doing anything on that front.”

At the heart of the matter is economics. In late 2020, Comcast struck a revised MVNO agreement with Verizon, which has allowed it to move more aggressively in the market.

The CFO explained “the MVNO service is excellent, our partner’s been great. We know through testing that we have the ability to offload were it ever to make sense. But I think there is going to be forces at work that continue to bring, I think, keep the pricing of buying wholesale in line with what we likely could do with offloading. If that proves not to be true, then we could selectively offload.”