Cox said today that it is planning to invest multiple billions of dollars to upgrade its network to support multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds “over the next several years.” The company plans to use a combination of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and DOCSIS 4.0 to meet this goal.

A Cox spokesperson declined to answer questions from Telecompetitor about where it would use FTTP versus DOCSIS or whether a distributed access architecture (DAA) using remote PHY and remote MACPHY was part of its plans. He said that at this time, the company is not providing much information beyond what was included in today’s press release.

“Our intent is to remind the market that we are going to continue to aggressively invest in the communities we serve to maintain and build highly competitive networks,” the spokesman wrote in an email to Telecompetitor. 

The Cable Industry Dilemma

Cox may have felt pressured to announce network upgrade plans, as some telcos have begun offering symmetrical speeds of 2 Gbps or 5 Gbps, and the nation’s two largest cable companies – Charter and Comcast — already have been testing technology aimed at supporting multi-gigabit speeds.

It’s relatively easy for telecom providers or other companies that have deployed FTTP to offer multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds. A typical upgrade involves deploying XGS-PON equipment on the same infrastructure that supports widely deployed GPON technology.

XGS-PON can support speeds approaching 10 Gbps in both directions. But supporting multi-gigabit symmetrical speeds is challenging for cable companies’ traditional hybrid fiber coax (HFC) infrastructure. Although the cable industry’s DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 standards call for speeds up to 10 Gbps downstream, upstream bandwidth is more limited.

DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 are just part of the CableLabs 10G initiative which, among other things, aims to enable cable companies to support multi-gigabit speeds. Maximizing symmetrical speeds – and the number of customers who can obtain those speeds – will require other network upgrades, such as taking fiber closer to the customer and/or splitting nodes and moving to a DAA approach to reduce the number of customers served from each node.

A key question for cable companies is whether to invest in DOCSIS 4.0 and in augmenting HFC infrastructure to obtain speeds that might reach 6 Gbps symmetrically, or whether it would be more prudent to deploy XGS-PON. All the major cable companies – including Cox – seem to be wrestling with that issue.

Rural Initiatives

Although the Cox release is short on technology details, it does include some other information about the company’s broadband plans.

The company notes, for example, that it is committing more than $400 million over the next three years to expand its footprint to reach underserved and rural communities. The Cox multi-gigabit release references a “fiber-based network to more than 100,000 homes and businesses in communities near [the company’s] existing footprint.”

In doing this, Cox said it expects to leverage federal funding opportunities – a potential reference to the BEAD program created in the infrastructure act adopted late last year, although the spokesman declined to confirm that.

The company said it hopes to partner with local cities and towns in pursuing these funding opportunities, but here, too, the spokesman declined to provide specifics.

This won’t be the first time Cox has pursued rural broadband opportunities. The company won funding in the 2020 Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to cover some of the costs of deploying fiber broadband in unserved rural areas, and the company received final authorization of that win in December.

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