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14 January 2021

Technicolor tops 20m DOCSIS 3.1 gateways, but no sign of 4.0 roadmap

Technicolor has delivered some encouraging news after a troublesome period of business for the vendor. Struggles have manifested for the most part within the Technicolor Connected Home division – from where the welcome ray of sunshine appeared this week.

Shipments of Technicolor DOCSIS 3.1 gateways reached 8.1 million units in 2020, lifting total shipments to 20 million gateways worldwide since 2017. Technicolor says it has exceeded expectations for the technology in terms of shipments, while others would argue that cable technologies have experienced slower than expected deployments due to the heavy consolidation of cable markets across North America and Europe.

From the poorly labeled bar chart provided in Technicolor’s press release, it appears that around 7 million DOCSIS 3.1 gateways were shipped in 2019 and some 5 million in 2018. We could therefore interpret 2020’s shipment total of 8.1 million units as a slowdown that is likely to drop off in 2021.

While a deceleration is likely this year as the DOCSIS 3.1 market matures, this would be an inherently skeptical way of approaching the milestone of 20 million units. Our onus should instead be on the 20 million households worldwide which are now equipped with gateways capable of pushing downstream capacity of 10Gbps and upstream capacity of between 1Gbps to 2Gbps.

With operators and vendors alike seeing so much untapped potential in DOCSIS 3.0 technology, the acceleration of DOCSIS 3.1 shipments would have been surprising were it not for the pandemic, which emphasized the demand for this technology. DOCSIS 3.1 represents a substantial improvement on speeds of 1Gbps down and 200Mbps up capable with DOCSIS 3.0, and it boggles the mind to think the first DOCSIS 3.0 specifications were issued 14 years ago, yet many homes and businesses still struggle to reach anything close to the theoretical speeds enabled by DOCSIS 3.0 technology today, let alone DOCSIS 3.1 and onto DOCSIS 4.0 later this year.

For this reason, Technicolor has underlined WiFi 6 in this week’s self-celebratory press release. Technicolor claims its network service provider customers have cited the integration of WiFi 6 support into Technicolor Connected Home DOCSIS 3.1 CPE as a primary reason for spike in demand. Lower latency and improved management of networking operations are key features enabled by WiFi 6 technology along with increased speeds.

For context, Liberty Global has now deployed DOCSIS 3.1 reaching 33 million homes, while the operator’s primary technology supplier CommScope announced in June 2020 that over a million subscribers at Vodafone Germany were running its DOCSIS 3.1 Touchstone TG3442 gateways, a year after it began offering the devices, which are supported by the vendor’s E6000 CCAP technology.

Similarly, DOCSIS 3.1 services are considered massively untapped, while the latest DOCSIS 4.0 specification was recently released by CableLabs with pilot deployments planned for 2021. The latter is seen as more of an upheaval than an upgrade on previous generations, not just in speed and latency, but in such a manner that will require operators to retrain and retool entire workforces.

Spearheaded by breakthroughs in Full Duplex DOCSIS (FDD) and Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD), 4.0 will bring 10Gbps symmetrical speeds within touching distance. ESD allows for 600 MHz more spectrum on existing HFC networks, boosting from 1.2 GHz available under the current DOCSIS 3.1 standard, up to 1.8 GHz. It’s worth noting that the continued development of fundamental 20-year old data transmission techniques is just as important in DOCSIS R&D as brand new technologies.

Having said that, we have seen not a nugget of evidence from Technicolor to suggest its R&D department is working on DOCSIS 4.0 technologies, although this will likely change relative to customer demand.

It’s also relevant to revisit a deal from a few months ago which saw Plume and Technicolor team up (see another story in this issue for more on Plume), with Technicolor paying for the Consumer Experience Management Platform and getting access to pre-integration of OpenSync for Technicolor’s WiFi 6 CPE. Reading between the lines, we suggested that Technicolor is readying a stronger RDK push – building on the RDK-B assets it acquired as part of the Cisco set top business acquisition which recently passed its five-year anniversary.