Operators Face Decisions on 802.11ac

Cable WiFi in Transition The one constant in the world of telecommunications is change. The cable industry, which has embraced WiFi, is looking at another transition: From 802.11n and 802.11g to 802.11ac.

The newest version of the rapidly expanding 802.11 family, which was approved by the IEEE in January, brings a lot to the table. Speed is king, and 802.11ac has it. In theory, it is capable of delivering 1 Gbps by broadening bandwidth to 160 MHz.

The new standard makes good use of advances in antenna technology that have been made in parallel with research on WiFi. Keys are multiple in multiple out (MIMO) and beam forming antennas.

MIMO and beam forming antennas - which direct the power in a specific direction - can be used to dedicate a signal to a specific device at a specific point in time and deliver higher throughput and cleaner signals. On the receiving end, MIMO can take multiple signals from a device and process them using sophisticated algorithms to generate a signal that is stronger and cleaner than any of its composite elements.

It is potent technology, and 802.11ac - along with the new antenna techniques - are expanding rapidly. Earlier this month, Infonetics released a report that found that access point (AP) penetration using “ac” is almost doubling on a quarterly basis and is starting to cut into 802.11n sales.

Last week, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) laid out its plans for 802.11ac. As if to reinforce the importance of the new spec, the bigger announcement of the week - Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus - included the news that the Apple devices will support 802.11ac. The message is clear: The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus announcement is proof positive of the traffic hikes for which operators must prepare, said Eric Shaffer, Comcast’s vice president and general manager for data and mobile. “[802.11ac] is future-proofing the home gateway,” he said.

However, the industry’s move to 802.11ac is far from uniform. Broadband Technology Report contacted the top 10 MSOs via email and asked a series of questions related to their current use of 802.11ac and their plans.

  • Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) responded that it has not deployed at this time and has no deployment plans. The email said it will look at the technology in the future.
  • Bright House Networks said it has tested 802.11ac “in limited areas” but has not yet begun to deploy it.
  • WideOpen West hasn’t rolled out the technology. The MSO’s plans are to be determined.
  • Charter pointed to an April press release that said it planned to roll out “a fully-managed dual-band concurrent 802.11ac wireless router” in mid-May. The router, which is built by Netgear, has capabilities of more than 100 Mbps to end users, according to the release.
  • Cox also is making a significant commitment to 802.11ac at this point. “We have a diverse network that includes a combination of 802.11n and 802.11ac devices,” the company said in an emailed response to the questions. “While we have primarily focused on 802.11ac hotspots in indoor environments, as more 802.11ac capable handsets, tablets and computers become available, and additional spectrum becomes available, we expect to increase the number in our network.

Cox also is using 802.11ac to support its commercial customers. “Recently, Cox Business launched Cox Business Internet Gateway that combines a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and a WiFi-enabled 802.11ac router (enabling the fastest WiFi speeds) into one device. This simplifies device management and delivers the fastest ‘in-office’ WiFi experience available today.”

Business Services Next Up

Comcast went into significant detail about its rollout. The company said its initial 802.11ac device - the DPC3941IT Xfinity Wireless Gateway - is a Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) unit that supports 3 x 3 MIMO antennas, 80 MHz channels and offers 256-QAM modulation. 802.11ac operates in the friendlier 5 GHz bandwidth that first opened up with the introduction of 802.11n.

Shaffer said the initial rollout is the operator’s New England region, a process that will continue throughout the winter, with the rest of the Comcast footprint targeted for next year.

Shaffer said the testing of the device by independent testing firm Allion Engineering Services indicated that the system delivered data at a speed of 700 Mbps using three transmit and three receive antennas. A hallmark of the 802.11 family is that systems are backward compatible.

Naturally, the ability to access the speeds promised by 802.11ac requires the end point device to be using it as well. Access points, Shaffer said, will first look for 802.11ac and, where it isn’t present, will send data in the most recent version of the protocol that is.

802.11ac also will serve Comcast’s business customers. Shaffer noted that commercial and consumer routers have different feature sets. The commercial versions of Comcast’s 802.11ac routers will begin rolling out in a couple of months, he said.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carlw@pennwell.com.

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

Are You Ready for DOCSIS 3.1? The Future of Cable Technology and How to Prepare Your Network

October 2016

DOCSIS 3.1 promises 10x capacity throughput and a range of technical benefits for cable providers and users alike. Are you ready? Discover the technical adva...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.