Cable-Tec Expo 2023 Sends Powerful Message to Fiber Community

By Joe McGarvey, Marketing Director |
megaphone with coax and fiber outlines

In case you haven’t noticed, telecommunication companies and other FTTH service providers have taken to talking about MSOs, in their advertising and at industry events, as if they are obsolete, dismissing cable plants as legacy or dated. It’s difficult to decipher if this eulogizing of HFC is simply a case of spinning reality to achieve market advantage or if FTTH providers sincerely believe that MSOs are no longer capable of delivering an unmatched broadband experience.

If it’s the latter, then FTTH providers are in for a rude awakening when they start going head-to-head with optimized DOCSIS® 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0-powered HFC networks in the not-too-distant future. At least that was the prevailing sentiment at this month’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, where among the gathering of thousands of cable industry professionals the prospects for the future have never been brighter.

Given the built-in ability of the HFC network to evolve to deliver multigigabit symmetrical services and meet subscriber demand for at least the next generation of consumers, maybe it’s FTTH providers that should be a little concerned about their ability to capture market share once their massive network buildouts are complete.

Advantage Cable

The migration to optimized DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0, which are largely in-place upgrades accomplished at a fraction of what it costs to build a new network, gives MSOs the speed and capacity to go punch-for-punch with FTTH-based services for the foreseeable future. Nobody can predict that future, but it doesn’t take a soothsayer to recognize that the multigigabit services the HFC network can deliver will be more than enough to handle everything that is thrown at it over the next decade or so, including deeply immersive applications and even the metaverse.

That fact should send shivers down the spines of FTTH providers, which have been doing their best over the past couple of years to cast cable providers in an unflattering light, perpetuating the myth that cable networks are “outdated” or “legacy.” In psychological circles, that’s called projection. The largest FTTH providers are the ones building new networks because their old networks, copper-based DSL services, are legitimately outdated and legacy, running out of capacity for even mainstream users.

That’s not the case for the last mile of HFC infrastructure, a coaxial network that has been delivering the best broadband experience available to millions of homes for the past couple of decades. Estimates vary, but even the most conservative ones project that coax isn’t even close to running out of steam, with many industry experts speculating that the coax plant could even support frequencies beyond 1.8GHz if needed.

That kind of already-installed capacity buys MSOs more than enough time to migrate their HFC networks to all-fiber, which makes a great lead into another misread of reality by FTTH proponents: That MSOs have something against fiber. Just the opposite is true. The reality is that roughly 99% of the journey data takes across an HFC network is over fiber, and roughly 100% of greenfield cable network buildouts are FTTH. While it may take MSOs another couple of decades to finish their transitions to all-fiber, that’s exactly what they are doing. ATX has chronicled that migration in what we call the 2050 Project, an HFC evolution initiative that projects that most MSOs will be running all-fiber networks by the middle of this century.

Faced with that reality, it’s no wonder that FTTH providers are spending millions in marketing to mislead consumers into thinking their Zoom calls will be clearer, their games more interactive and their virtual reality more realistic on a fiber network.

Beyond Speed

The agility and upgradeability of the HFC network should worry FTTH providers that their brand spanking new networks might not be the no-brainer alternative to cable networks that they were hoping. The nightmare scenario is that the only subscribers they will attract will be those who are currently attached to copper networks based on DSL technology.

If that scenario happens and FTTH providers fail to lure cable customers to their networks in sufficient numbers, the economic fallout will be severe, perhaps even existential for some. Faced with that reality, it’s no wonder that FTTH providers are spending millions in marketing to mislead consumers into thinking their Zoom calls will be clearer, their games more interactive and their virtual reality more realistic on a fiber network.

But perception is a powerful thing and MSOs need to be vigilant in replacing the misperceptions raised by FTTH proponents with reality. The good news is that when consumers figure out that cable networks are just as fast as all-fiber ones, they will start to focus on attributes that cable operators are in the best position to excel at, including reliability, the in-home experience and a seamless integration of entertainment and communications.

The potential market advantages of MSOs when you take speed and capacity out of the broadband competitive landscape, which is essentially what the future HFC network accomplishes, was a major theme at this month’s Cable-Tec Expo. In an ATX Innovation Theater presentation entitled Beyond Speed: Why MSOs are Primed to Deliver the Best Broadband Experience on the Planet, special guests Shane Portfolio, from Charter Communications, and Ed Shrum, of Cox Communications, agreed that cable’s history and culture of delivering a superior broadband experience is something that FTTH providers will have a difficult time matching.

Exaggerated Demise

Mark Twain probably said it best in his reply to public pronouncements of his passing when he quipped that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. The collective enthusiasm and anticipation of a fruitful future for MSOs by attendees of the 2023 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, the 40th such gathering, was a pretty good comeback to a premature eulogy, too.