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Cable is Pulling Away in High Speed Access

April 08, 2014

Cable is Pulling Away in High Speed Access

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

Since about 2009, cable high speed access has pulled away from digital subscriber line, in terms of top speed. The DOCSIS 3.0 standard supports top downstream speeds of about 105 Mbps. AT&T’s (News - Alert) U-Verse (fiber to a neighborhood with copper drops) can achieve about 24 Mbps.

To be sure, telcos can install very high speed DSL or fiber to the home.

But that is something that could happen in the future, not recent history. In fact, telcos are losing DSL customers faster than they are gaining subscribers for their faster broadband offerings.

During the second quarter of 2012, for example, cable companies took a 140 percent share of broadband new additions, according to UBS Research telecom analyst John Hodulik.

Probably not coincidentally, the cable high speed access advantage also parallels the rate of new high speed access customer additions by cable operators and telcos.

So it is interesting that Comcast (News - Alert), in arguing its purchase of Time Warner Cable will be beneficial for consumers, also argues that, “contrary to the picture some have painted of DSL as a defunct service, between December 2008 and December 2012, DSL-based broadband connections grew at an average annual rate of 26 percent, exceeding cable broadband’s pace of growth of 18 percent.”

It isn’t immediately clear what Comcast is counting, in that regard. It should mean the number of aggregate new customer lines purchased by buyers.

But all the available evidence suggests cable high speed net additions are soundly outpacing telco net additions. In 2013, for example, the top cable companies added a net 2.2 million high speed access connections, compared to 477,000 for top telcos.

The difference in speeds offered by DSL providers and cable operators "is pretty big right now and is getting wider," said Teresa Mastrangelo, Broadbandtrends analyst.

"Cable is still king in North America," said Erik Keith, who covers broadband infrastructure for research company Current Analysis (News - Alert). "There's no way around it."

Despite those opinions and facts, Comcast notes--as a way of emphasizing it has competition-- that Verizon (News - Alert) offers DSL service at speeds up to 15 Mbps, Frontier offers speeds up to 25 Mbps, and CenturyLink offers speeds up to 40 Mbps.  

Comcast also notes that AT&T offers speeds up to 45 Mbps through its DSL-based U-verse service and plans to offer speeds as high as 100 Mbps in the future.

Also, there is Google (News - Alert) Fiber. Comcast says fair observers would note there is competition in virtually every market.

But cable is winning the high speed access battle. Whether telcos are willing to invest heavily enough to try and win that battle--and where--is the issue.


Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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