Solution Providers Poised To Pounce On Gigabit Internet Opportunities

Today’s blazingly fast Internet speeds typically require carriers to build out costly fiber infrastructure that is often geographically limited. But telecommunications giant Comcast has found a way to provide fiber-like connectivity speeds without the expensive network, according to Comcast, and solution providers said they can't wait until they can extend Gigabit-speed services to more business customers.

Comcast is offering a new Gigabit-speed Internet service via a modem upgraded with DOCSIS 3.1 technology that promises cruising connectivity speeds of 10Gbps on the download and 1Gbps on the upload. As a 1-gigabit connection is equal to 1,000 Megabits, this speed is a vast improvement over what the Federal Communications Commission says is the average U.S. connection speed -- about 31Mbps.

While competing carriers are achieving similar speeds through their fiber-based networks, Cox Communications is the only other carrier so far to reveal plans to leverage DOCSIS 3.1 technology, the technology Comcast is using to achieve high speeds using its existing network footprint and a new modem.

"By providing crazy-fast Internet speeds though a modem, this will help Comcast compete with not just Google, but anyone in that [fiber-based broadband Internet] space," said Darryl Senese, vice president of carrier services for Atrion Networking, a Warwick, R.I.-based IT solution provider and Comcast partner. "I'm glad that Comcast is pioneering this technology, and I think good things will follow from the other service providers, too."

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Senese predicts that, like Comcast, competing service providers will continue to build out their Internet offerings to provide more capacity and bandwidth and greater speeds, either via their fiber networks or through technology upgrades using a device. Gigabit-speed Internet services will give service providers’ partners the power to support innovative business applications for their customers, he said.

"Five to 10 years from now, we don’t know what we'll be doing with the Internet -- we didn’t necessarily think a decade ago that we'd be using the Internet to make and receive phone calls," he said.

The most notable difference between Comcast's latest service and fiber-based, high-speed Internet services on the market today is the expensive network infrastructure competing services require. Comcast's modem-based service uses its wide-reaching network infrastructure, which will help the carrier avoid a costly fiber rollout.

The DOCSIS 3.1-based modem would be a welcome option for any existing Comcast customer wanting Gigabit speeds -- especially if the upgrade requires only a new modem, said Jeffrey Lee, vice president and chief technology officer for Carceron, an Atlanta-based managed services provider that partners with both Comcast and Google.

Lee said Carceron looks forward to being able to resell the modem to both its enterprise and small-to-midsize-business customers, and is ready whenever Comcast is ready to let partners in.

Partners could easily get new business customers up and running with the modem-based service, because it doesn’t rely on a fiber network that’s often available only in limited areas, Lee said.

And, Atrion’s Senese said, having technology that can work with a base infrastructure that the carrier already has in place will help service providers bring high-speed connectivity solutions -- like the DOCSIS 3.1 modem -- to market faster, while allowing businesses to upgrade at a lower cost.

The Comcast DOCSIS 3.1-based modem stands to challenge any competing service provider’s high-speed fiber-based Internet service, including Google's Gigabit Internet service, Google Fiber, Carceron's Lee said.

Because many business customers already have relationships with carriers like Comcast, making the switch to Google's service -- if it's available in their area -- won't be as attractive as sticking with their existing Internet service provider, he said.

"It's an easy upgrade when you already have an account with Comcast -- it’s a no-brainer for most customers," Lee said.

Partner: Bring In The Channel Now

While Comcast has yet to unveil a channel strategy or a timeline for when the latest modem will be widely available, the carrier should consider looping the channel in right away, according to Luis Alvarez, president and CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based IT services provider Alvarez Technology Group Inc., a Comcast partner. Many SMB customers don't understand the importance of faster Internet speeds, Alvarez said, especially as speed relates to requirements for their cloud-based applications.

"We are the ones that are going to have to go in and tell our customers it will be worth the additional cost, and we can convince them, because it will be worth it for what they are trying to accomplish," he said.

In February, Comcast announced it would launch modems upgraded with DOCSIS 3.1 in Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta first, with rollouts in Chicago, Detroit and Miami scheduled for the second half of 2016. In March, Comcast began rolling out the new modem to specific neighborhoods in Atlanta after the provider refreshed some of its existing coaxial lines in that area.

"The capabilities of DOCSIS 3.1 are incredibly exciting, and we are the first to market with a Gigabit offering that runs over our existing cable infrastructure," Bill Connors, president of Comcast’s Central Division, said of the latest service.

Despite the initial geographical limitations, the service will eventually be available to customers in all Comcast service areas, the Philadelphia-based carrier said.

The same isn't true for users of competing Gigabit-speed Internet services such as Verizon Fios, AT&T GigaPower and Google Fiber. Customers outside the range of these fiber-optic networks -- which are often run through major metropolitan areas -- are immediately excluded from taking advantage of Gigabit connectivity. But a modem-based technology that doesn't rely on a fiber network would remove such geographical limitations.

In addition to its latest modem-based option, Comcast also has a fiber-based service it announced last year. Comcast's Gigabit Pro is a fiber-based gigabit-speed Internet option that boasts speeds of up to 2Gbps on the upload and download, making it faster than Google Fiber's 1Gbps connectivity speeds.

But unlike some competing Gigabit services, Gigabit Pro is available only for residential users and carries a substantial price tag -- about $300 a month for the standalone service. The service is also limited to customers less than a mile from its fiber network.

Comcast partners speculate that while the DOCSIS 3.1-based business service will be cheaper than Gigabit Pro, the latest service will still be a more expensive option than the carrier's typical Comcast Business Internet plans.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Fiber-based Internet services could play well with modem-based gigabit Internet services. Combining both could be a win-win for both partners and customers because the likelihood of both going down at the same time is very slim, Carceron's Lee said.

For example, because Google Fiber is present in Atlanta, many Carceron customers would be able to take advantage of both services by using one as the primary connection and the other as a backup, Lee said.

"Most of our customers are using the cloud, but those that still have servers in-house need that high speed to be able to run backups to data centers," he said. "Uploads to [the data center] can degrade a business's download speed, so the more bandwidth, the better."

With access to more high-speed connectivity options, Carceron would also be able to help back up its customers' data throughout the day, and even more frequently because backups won't impact the user experience the way it does today, Lee said.

As the influx of cloud and IoT applications continues to stretch the bandwidth limits of existing high-speed Internet services, partners will look to Gigabit Internet services to help meet their customers' needs. Modem-based technology that promises the same speeds as extensive fiber network buildouts could make Gigabit Internet more accessible.

Senese, of Atrion Networking, believes Comcast has taken the first step.

"What Comcast is doing now is foreshadowing things to come in the service provider community with regard to fairly priced, high-speed broadband connections so we can help our clients do all the things they'll need to do," he said.