Comcast Business says DOCSIS 3.1, fiber will enable its hybrid MPLS, SD-WAN play

Comcast Business has set an aggressive path to expand its DOCSIS 3.1-based internet service across its northeastern footprint, but the cable MSO says it has an opportunity to use that technology and existing fiber to bolster its pending SD-WAN plans.

Earlier this year, Comcast Business began an SD-WAN beta trial, an effort that will combine its broadband and Ethernet network services and create an offering for midmarket and large enterprises investing in hybrid WAN solutions.

Jeff Lewis, vice president for data product management at Comcast Business, told FierceTelecom that using DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber could be anchors to attract medium and large enterprise customers to SD-WAN that currently use MPLS networks.

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“If you couple an over the top SD-WAN service over a gigabit-powered broadband network, nobody could come close to what that means,” Lewis said. “What we have the ability to do is compare customers that have 3 Mbps and offer them upwards of a gig or 100 Mbps.”

Lewis took a bold step to add that Comcast’s Business’s entry into the SD-WAN market will shake up the wide area networking services market.

“We believe that we may be looking at an industry generational moment where you combine those two technologies and bring that to the market,” Lewis said. “It might be something we look back on three years from now and say, 'wow, look at what we just did.'”

DOCSIS 3.1, fiber combinations

By rolling out DOCSIS 3.1-based 1 Gbps services across its northeastern and mid-Atlantic service footprints, Comcast sees an opportunity to more effectively compete against Verizon and other telcos for businesses that desire higher speeds but don't need a fiber connection. The cable MSO plans to roll out the DOCSIS 3.1-based service throughout its national network footprint, and will deploy on a rolling basis through the fall.

As it rolls out DOCSIS 3.1, the cable MSO is aware that it does not want to cannibalize its fiber-based private line and Ethernet products.

However, Lewis said that its DOCSIS 3.1-based business expansion won’t happen, particularly with larger customers that require the associated symmetrical bandwidth and SLAs that come with its current fiber-based Ethernet dedicated internet (EDI) service.

Comcast has continued to make progress in establishing a foothold in the Ethernet market.

According to Vertical Systems Group’s latest Ethernet Leaderboard, Comcast Business was ranked as the sixth largest U.S.-based Ethernet provider. While cable operators are mainly relegated to their own territories, VSG noted that the cable industry is one of the fastest growing segments in the Ethernet market.

“We’re naturally concerned that companies that may have availed themselves of EDI may go I want that broadband service instead and there are economics between the two,” Lewis said. “We think the likelihood of that is very small because those companies that avail themselves of fiber product want the symmetrical feel and there are some strong lines that suggest those customers would want to stay over there.”

What’s interesting about Comcast’s pending SD-WAN play is that it’s not tied directly to either fiber or the DOCSIS 3.1 services it offers.

Instead, Comcast Business sees an opportunity to potentially give business customers the opportunity to use both DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber to target specific locations for SD-WAN.

“As we talk SD-WAN, it is not exclusively aligned to DOCSIS broadband,” Lewis said. “We have tremendous opportunities with the companies we’re talking to who want to blend DOCSIS and fiber.”

Lewis added that “customers get to choose, and we do think that this higher speed is going to fit well in the market.”   

Hybrid networks focus

The cable MSO, which has been enhancing its presence in medium and large businesses, clearly wants to take more market share away from incumbent telcos and other competitors that have an established MPLS service base.

While Comcast Business is bullish on the SD-WAN opportunity, the service provider realizes that most of its customers aren’t going to just pull out their existing MPLS connection.

“We’re extremely bullish on the idea of a hybrid network or a hybrid WAN,” Lewis said. “This is the concept of we’ll help you make your broadband smart with unbridled speed and you get to choose what you leave on your MPLS network.”

What this suggests is that Comcast Business is following the so-called hybrid networking trend, where businesses will equip satellite offices with SD-WAN while maintaining MPLS circuits at larger sites or those that house sensitive data.

Customers that are participating in Comcast Business’s SD-WAN beta trial can test different SD-WAN configurations: implementing MPLS and SD-WAN connections side by side and putting MPLS on one side and letting the SD-WAN controller manage the traffic on the broadband or MPLS connection.