Cox Communications are looking for the next step in the speed race

Like many US broadband providers Cox Communications has been under pressure to increase speeds – and the operator is deploying a range of technologies to deliver the goods….

With over 4 million broadband subscribers on board Cox Communications is the third largest cable operator in the US with the firm offering services in nineteen states including California, Florida and Massachusetts.

The arrival of Google Fiber into the market has put pressure on Cox to upgrade its networks to offer higher speeds – and the operator has already launched 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) services in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha to new housing developments under its G1GABLAST brand – with FTTP now planned for most greenfield sites.

Cox Communications CTO Jeff Finkelstein says that the challenge now for the operator is also offering increased speeds in brownfield areas via both its current Docsis 3.0 technology – as well as planning for the introduction of Docsis 3.1 once it becomes commercially available.

Aiming high on the speedometer

For brownfield cable broadband subs Cox’s top speed is 150Mbps – although with 1GHz of spectrum at its disposal Cox has the ability to follow in the steps of other cable operators both in the US and Europe and offer much faster speeds on current generation Docsis 3.0 technology.

Interestingly, Finkelstein says that he sees no real benefit in offering subscribers an incremental speed upgrade if Comcast does bring in higher speeds, which suggests that if Cox was to bring in higher speeds for brownfield subs then they would aim for a significant speed increase.

“Speeds are very important from a marketing perspective so there is no point getting involved in penny-ante speed increases – you need a substantial speed increase,” he says.

Change the network or the technology?

Cox has committed to starting its delivery of speed upgrades in brownfield areas by next year and with rival operators such as AT&T, Verizon, Century Link and Google Fiber all deploying 1Gbps services via FTTP – although cable remains by far the dominant access network in the US – the company has some interesting choices ahead.

Google Fiber has already earmarked Phoenix as a target city for city-wide rollout which means that Cox has to weigh up whether it wants to upgrade its Phoenix network to Docsis 3.1 and offer 1Gbps services or whether it embarks on its own FTTP deployment in the city to go toe-to-toe with Google Fiber.

This is a decision that is likely to be repeated in other cities across Cox’s operating areas and will require extremely careful consideration given the huge capital expenditure involved in deploying FTTP in brownfield areas.

Getting out of the speed race 

Going forward Finkelstein says that Cox is aiming to become much more of a “services company than an infrastructure company” arguing that whilst subscribers’ initial choice of provider may be driven by the availability of ultra-fast speed that this does not necessarily help to drive additional ongoing revenues for operators.

Alongside its traditional ‘triple-play’ of pay TV + fixed-voice + broadband services Cox is already offering ‘Smart Home’ services including home security and home automation services and Finkelstein says that building these compelling value-added services will be just as crucial for operators as purely building faster networks.