Charging Into the Gigabit Future


Five years ago, the notion that much of America would have access to blazing fast gigabit internet service seemed like a fantasy. In fact, only four percent of U.S. homes had access to gigabit speeds at the end of 2016. But in just 18 months, cable operators across the country have increased gigabit availability by almost 16 times. Today, fantasy has turned into reality as cable's internet networks are now offering gig speeds in more than 40 states, in both urban and rural communities.

A new white paper from CableLabs®—the industry's R&D consortium—highlights this tremendous gigabit feat and delves into the technology that makes it possible. And for those who are wondering what’s around the corner, the paper explores what it will take to bring the symmetric multigigabit services of the future.

Taking a snapshot of today's gigabit availability shows that America can now be called a gig nation. Survey results from CableLabs show that 63 percent of U.S. homes had access to gigabit service in June 2018—which is more than three quarters of the cable footprint—and that number is expected to reach 70 percent of U.S. households by year end. This growth should come as no surprise as cable ISPs have invested $50 billion worth of upgrades in the last three years alone.

Comcast's gigabit service is now available in 39 states and to 58 million homes and businesses, and Charter has deployed DOCSIS 3.1 to more than 95 percent of its territory and is on track to cover its 41-state footprint by year end. Mediacom was the first ISP to offer gigabit service to an entire state—Iowa—and plans to deploy gigabit service in its remaining communities in 2018-19. Cox's gigabit services are already helping to power smart city initiatives in Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego. And GCI, Eagle Communications, Midco and Sjoberg's have all deployed gigabit services to their rural and often hard-to-reach communities.

Over the past several years, speed tests have shown that internet connectivity has consistently gotten faster and more reliable, and Americans are reaping the benefits. "If you look at internet broadband speeds over time, we're staying pace with those increases. We're right on track with gigabit speeds," said Mark Walker, CableLabs Director of Technology Policy. "Cable operators are poised to drive that [63 percent] number even higher as they continue to roll out DOCSIS 3.1 and make gigabit service available beyond that 63 percent of U.S. housing units." The DOCSIS 3.1 specification—the technology that enables next generation speeds on the network--was completed and released in 2014, and by end of 2017, many ISPs had completed their transition to the technology. 

As for the future, CableLabs and other partners in the industry are currently working on the next generation specs—including Full Duplex DOCSIS, which delivers symmetric gigabit speeds, and further developments in the wireless space including Wi-Fi and mobile—all of which will allow operators to grow network capacity and performance to meet increased consumer demand.  

It's no secret that as 4K streaming, VR, AR, expanded IoT services and emerging technologies enter the market, broadband networks will need to be equipped to deliver these rich media experiences, and to multiple users with multiple devices on the same network. And while no one can be quite sure what the future will look like, the Near Future video series by CableLabs takes the technology and creative work that is currently underway—like sensors, holograms, robots and AR—to show the kind of experiences that await consumers with gigabit connectivity. 

"The Near Future videos are the 'why' to what this [gigabit service] is going to mean for everyone," said Walker. "And we're building a network that is going to allow us to continue to expand those [gigabit] speeds [and experiences] for years to come."

"We're staying ahead of application innovation. The network is the platform for new innovation to occur," explained Rob Alderfer, Vice President of Technology Policy at CableLabs. 

"Having gigabit service widely available enables those next generation applications and technologies to emerge. Without gigabit, we wouldn't see them," added Walker. 

For more information on how cable broadband services are pushing the frontiers of technology through gigabit deployment and development, check out the CableLabs white paper, "Driving Gigabit Speeds from Lab to Consumer."