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Cable Industry Has Low Latency Software Upgrade for DOCSIS 3.1; <1ms Possible

Phillip Dampier June 24, 2019 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Cox 1 Comment

CableLabs has published a new specification for the DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband platform that will support <1 ms latency, optimal for online gaming and virtual reality.

The new specification, dubbed low-latency DOCSIS (LLD), costs little to implement with a simple software upgrade, but some cable companies plan to charge customers nearly $15 a month more to enable the extra performance.

CableLabs Blog:

VR needs incredibly low latency between head movement and the delivery of new pixels to your eyes, or you start to feel nauseated. To move the PC out of the home, we need to make the communications over the cable network be a millisecond or less round trip. But our DOCSIS® technology at the time could not deliver that.

So, we pivoted again. Since 2016, CableLabs DOCSIS architects Greg White and Karthik Sundaresan have been focused on revolutionizing DOCSIS technology to support sub-1ms latency. Although VR is still struggling to gain widespread adoption, that low and reliable DOCSIS latency will be a boon to gamers in the short term and will enable split rendering of VR and augmented reality (AR) in the longer term. The specifications for Low Latency DOCSIS (as a software upgrade to existing DOCSIS 3.1 equipment) have been released, and we’re working with the equipment suppliers to get this out into the market and to realize the gains of a somewhat torturous innovation journey.

Your provider may already have LLD capability — the updates were pushed to cable operators in two stages, one in January and the most recent update in April. It will be up to each cable company to decide if and when to enable the feature. Additionally, low latency is only possible if the path between your provider and the gaming server has the capability of delivering it. Cable companies may need to invite some gaming platforms to place servers inside their networks to assure the best possible performance.

Cable operators are already conceptualizing LLD as a revenue booster. Cox Communications is already testing a low-latency gaming add-on with customers in Arizona, for which it charges an extra $14.99 a month. But reports from customers using it suggest it is not a true implementation of LLD. Instead, many users claim it is just an enhanced traffic routing scheme to reduce latency using already available technology.

A Cox representative stressed the service does not violate any net neutrality standards.

“This service does not increase the speed of any traffic, and it doesn’t prioritize gaming traffic ahead of other traffic on our network,” said CoxJimR on the DSL Reports Cox forum. “The focus is around improving gaming performance when it leaves our network and goes over the public internet, like a Gamer Private Network. No customer’s experience is degraded as a result of any customers purchasing Cox Elite Gamer service as an add-on to their internet service.”

CableLabs is treating LLD as a part of its “10G” initiative, expected to upgrade broadband speeds up to 10 Gbps. Among the next upgrades likely to be published is full duplex DOCSIS, which will allow cable operators to provide the same upload and download speeds.

T-Mobile Prepares for Boost Auction if Dish Network Talks Stall

(Reuters) – T-Mobile US Inc is preparing an alternative plan if a deal to sell wireless assets to Dish Network Corp falls through, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which is advising T-Mobile, the third largest U.S. wireless carrier, on selling prepaid brand Boost Mobile as part of the company’s concession to gain regulatory approval to buy Sprint Corp, is expected to send out books to prospective buyers in two weeks, one source familiar with the matter said.

While satellite television provider Dish Network remains the front-runner to acquire the Boost assets, Goldman has told prospective buyers as late as Tuesday that it is preparing for an upcoming auction of Boost.

Another source characterized the process being run by Goldman as moving slowly. Among the details holding up an auction is that Goldman is not yet clear what exactly is up for sale from the merger, one source said.

T-Mobile and Sprint did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to a series of deal concessions, including to sell Boost, to gain regulatory approval for the $26.5 billion merger with Sprint, but still needs the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust chief, though his staff have recommended the agency block the deal.

A source close to the discussions said T-Mobile was hopeful it would reach an agreement with the Justice Department by early next week.

The Boost assets have stirred up interest from a variety of parties, including Amazon.com and cable companies Comcast, Charter Communications, and Altice USA, according to sources.

T-Mobile and Sprint are still negotiating possible additional concessions with the Department of Justice, and Goldman Sachs is waiting for the details of the agreement before working on the terms that will be sent out to bidders, one source said.

Two potential bidders told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that they are still in the dark about critical information related to the Boost sale, such as how the Boost wireless deal with T-Mobile will be structured, or financial details about the Boost customers, which the bidders will use to determine the prepaid brand’s valuation.

Dish is also speaking with other parties on potential partnerships with Boost, sources said.

T-Mobile has agreed to negotiate a contract with Boost’s buyer that will allow the spun-off company to run on the combined T-Mobile and Sprint network, according to a regulatory filing that outlined the merger concessions. But the carriers are currently debating whether to provide the buyer an infrastructure-based mobile virtual network operator deal, which would allow the buyer more control over the wireless plans, including control of the user’s SIM card, one source said.

That could help convince the Department of Justice to approve the merger, which has held discussions on how to preserve competition in the wireless industry.

Cable provider Altice is one of the few so-called MVNO partners to have this type of wireless agreement, which it currently has with Sprint. An infrastructure-based MVNO is generally seen as more favorable than a standard deal that allows wireless providers that do not own and operate their own network to piggyback off of one of the four major wireless carriers for wholesale prices.

Other concessions being discussed include whether T-Mobile and Sprint will divest wireless spectrum, or the airwaves that carry data, and the possibility of giving up more retail customers or retail shops from either T-Mobile or Sprint’s prepaid brands, according to one source familiar with the matter.

Reporting by Sheila Dang and Angela Moon in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker

Altice Struggles With Video Programming Costs That Eat 67% of Video Revenue

The reason why many cable companies are no longer willing to cut deals on cable television with customers looking for a better one is that the profit margin enjoyed by cable operators on television service is shrinking fast.

Researcher Cowen found that smaller cable operators are particularly vulnerable to the high costs of cable programming because they do not get the volume discounts larger operators like Comcast, Charter, DirecTV, and Dish are getting.

Researcher Cowen found that programming costs are increasing fast at smaller cable companies. (Image: Cowen/Multichannel News)

Altice USA, which divides about 3.3 million cable TV subscribers between Optimum/Cablevision and Suddenlink, says it paid $682.4 million for cable TV programming during the first quarter of 2019. That amounts to 67% of the company’s total video revenue. If Altice offered complaining customers a 40-50% break on cable television, it would lose money. Cable operators already temporarily give up a significant chunk of video revenue from new customer promotions, which discount offerings for the first year or two of service. Many operators consider any video promotion to be a loss leader these days, because programming costs are exploding, particularly for some local, over-the-air network affiliated stations that are now commanding as much as $3-5 a month per subscriber for each station.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, unsurprisingly also gets the best programming prices. With volume discounts, Comcast reports its programming costs consume about 60% of revenue. Charter Spectrum and Dish report about 65% of their video revenue is eaten by programming costs. Both are seeing dramatic declines in video subscribers as cord-cutting continues. The more customers a company loses, the less of a discount they will command going forward.

According to Cowen, just three years ago Comcast gave up 53% of video revenue to cover programming costs. With programming rate inflation increasing, many smaller cable companies are considering exiting the cable TV business altogether to focus on more profitable broadband service instead.

Starry Wins 24 GHz Spectrum to Launch 200/200 Mbps Unlimited Wireless in 25 States

Starry, Inc., a fixed wireless internet provider, this week announced it has won 104 licenses in the FCC’s recent spectrum auction, allowing the company to launch service to over 40 million people in 25 states, potentially covering more than 25% of all U.S. households.

“We are excited to take this important next step, augmenting our shared spectrum strategy with exclusively licensed spectrum,” said Starry CEO and co-founder Chet Kanojia. “This gives us the ability to provide access to unlimited, affordable, high quality internet access. We built our technology to be agile and operate across a range of frequencies, so that we could take advantage of opportunities like this to expand and grow our network.”

Starry’s internet service advertises 200/200 Mbps speed without data caps for a flat $50 a month, equipment included. The service will now also use licensed frequencies in the 24 GHz band and reach customers over a point-to-multipoint network that serves multi-dwelling residential units primarily in dense urban areas, but can affordably service other areas with a significant population density.

Starry claims to offer a simple, no bundles, no-long-term contract, no-data caps, no-hidden fees plan of $50 per month, and is up and running in parts of Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Denver. Customers give Starry a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 stars in over 100 Google reviews.

Customers like Raphael Peña are fans.

“It’s awesome so far, 300 Mbps down and about the same up,” Pena writes. “The price is right and I can play Battlefield V or any other game with no lag. I just wish you could get this for homes but I’m loving it in my apartment.”

So far, Starry is focused on serving multi-dwelling units like apartments and condos in downtown areas that are increasingly attractive to younger residents. The technology can be extended to serve other customers at an average cost of around $20 per residence. Most of their customers are young cord-cutters or cable-nevers, and Starry only sells internet service, skipping video and phone service. Starry works closely with real estate developers and owners to deploy Starry internet service, sometimes as an amenity to attract new renters and keep current ones happy.

With the latest spectrum acquisition, Starry plans to expand service in phases, starting with Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Miami, Memphis, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Manchester, N.H., Portland, Ore., and Sioux Falls, S.D. But the company also plans to reach cities in the 25 states where it now holds licensed spectrum. How fast it reaches these cities will depend on available funding and subscriber interest:

Starry’s Spectrum Licenses Cover These Communities

State Cities
Alabama Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile
Arizona Tucson
Arkansas Little Rock
Colorado Colorado Springs, Fort Collins
Florida Jacksonville, Tallahassee
Idaho Boise City
Illinois Decatur
Indiana South Bend, Fort Wayne, Bloomington
Kansas Wichita
Kentucky Louisville
Ohio Cleveland, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Columbus
Massachusetts Springfield
Mississippi Jackson
Nevada Las Vegas, Reno
New Mexico Albuquerque
New York Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester
North Carolina Fayetteville, Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh
Louisiana Baton Rouge, New Orleans
Pennsylvania Harrisburg
South Carolina Charleston
Tennessee Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis
Texas San Antonio, Brownsville, Lubbock, El Paso
Virginia Virginia Beach
Washington Spokane
Wisconsin Milwaukee, Madison
Courtesy of: Starry.com

Light Reading’s Mike Dano discussed how to build an affordable fixed 5G internet service with Alex Moulle-Berteaux, chief operating officer for Starry, at the Big 5G Event in Denver on May 8, 2019. (16:41)

Dish Nears Deal to Acquire Boost Mobile, Clearing Path for T-Mobile/Sprint Merger

Dish Network Corporation is in the final stages of talks to acquire assets that include valuable wireless spectrum and Sprint’s Boost Mobile brand for an estimated $6 billion, according to a report quoting anonymous sources published by Bloomberg News, clearing the way for the Department of Justice to approve the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

Dish could announce a deal as soon as this week, but sources caution the talks are still ongoing and a deal might still fall apart. A spinoff of Boost is reportedly essential for the Antitrust Division at the DoJ to approve the merger, because the regulator reportedly wants to preserve four national wireless carriers to protect wireless competition in the United States.

Dish has already warehoused extensive wireless spectrum, much of it potentially valuable for the future deployment of 5G wireless networks, but Dish has historically held its spectrum without launching any significant wireless operations. If Dish does acquire Boost, the deal will come with a pre-existing contract allowing the prepaid Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) to continue to use Sprint’s network to service its customers. Dish would also receive a portion of spectrum held by T-Mobile and/or Sprint with which it could build its own wireless network, but that would require billions in new investments from a satellite TV provider already under financial stress from the impact of cord-cutting.

At worst, the transaction could allow Dish to increase its spectrum holdings while running Boost’s existing prepaid wireless operation as-is, dependent entirely on Sprint for connectivity. If the merger is successful, T-Mobile plans to mothball a significant portion of Sprint’s CDMA wireless network, which could eventually force Boost to find a new host for its wireless services.

Wall Street analyst MoffettNathanson remains skeptical about the T-Mobile/Sprint merger and is even more puzzled by Dish’s reported involvement. The analyst firm released a research note to its clients warning the future of Boost may be bleak:

We’re not sure why that deal is sensible for anyone involved. Dish, remember, already has more spectrum than they know what to do with; what they lack is money and ground facilities, and the deal described on Friday wouldn’t deliver either one. Instead, it would make both problems worse. And while Boost would help provide a baseline revenue stream in return for an upfront purchase price, the fit between Boost and Dish is, at best, superficial. Yes Boost serves a budget conscious consumer, as does Dish Network’s satellite business, but Boost is a mostly urban brand and Dish’s satellite business is an increasingly rural one.

And, more urgently, Boost’s distribution poses a huge problem. Historically, Boost was heavily dependent on Walmart for retail gross additions, but they’ve since lost that distribution channel. They would also, presumably, lose distribution through Sprint-branded stores (and even if, as a condition of the deal, they didn’t, does anyone think that Sprint/T-Mobile store employees would direct any volume to a spun off Boost brand?) That would leave Dish with the brand that has a churn rate as high as 5% per month to be spun off with an inadequate distribution front end, and with no realistic path to replace that front end before the subscriber base was, well, gone.

BTIG’s Walter Piecyk appeared on CNBC Monday to warn investors they are being too optimistic about the T-Mobile/Sprint merger’s chances of being approved. He puts those chances at “less than 50-50.” (5:38)

In contrast, Dade Hayes, contributing editor at Deadline, believes the deal will ultimately win approval from the Department of Justice. He talks to Cheddar about what T-Mobile and Sprint are doing to win over regulators. (8:14)

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  • Ian Littman: The Cox thing doesn't sound like LLD at all. It instead sounds like something similar to the WTFast service that Asus bundles with some of their route...
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  • Ian Littman: The spectrum Starry has won't really work for rural broadband; service only covers a couple miles from the access point. You need something < 6 GHz...
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