Comcast Tests Gigabit-Speed Internet Service in Philadelphia

slowly rolling out to cities across the country, may soon have some competition from an established service provider. Philadelphia-based Comcast has announced that it is testing a new protocol known as DOCSIS 3.1, which it said has the potential to boost download speeds to the gigabit level.

Unlike Google Fiber, which requires laying down an extensive fiber optic cable network to service a community, DOCSIS (data over cable service interface specification) 3.1 won’t require anything quite so drastic. The technology works with the company’s existing network infrastructure, and only requires the installation of a new modem to work, according to Comcast.

Just a Test

But the technology is still very much in the testing stage. Comcast announced only that the company had installed a DOCSIS 3.1 modem at the home of a single customer Relevant Products/Services in the Philadelphia area. Still, the development is Comcast’s first attempt to deploy the technology outside of the lab.

“The test used the standard cable connections that we have in homes across the country. All we needed was a new modem, a software upgrade to the device that serves that neighborhood, and a few good engineers,” Tony Werner (pictured), executive vice president and chief technology officer at Comcast wrote in a blog post on the company’s Web site.

Werner said that Comcast will continue testing the new protocol over the coming months, with an eye toward eventually delivering the DOCSIS 3.1 technology to customers on a broader scale. The company said that it expects to begin offering gigabit-speed service to home users in several parts of the country before the end of next year, thanks to the new protocol.

Catching Up to Google Fiber

Google already has a considerable head start on offering gigabit-speed Internet service to customers. Its Fiber service first launched in 2012, and has already been deployed to almost a dozen communities, with potentially another dozen or so on the way.

But Comcast’s technology has some advantages over Google’s fiber optic-based network. Because DOCSIS 3.1 is backwards compatible with Comcast’s existing, widespread network infrastructure, deploying the service will only require new modems and software upgrades for existing clients.

With Fiber, on the other hand, Google must dig up streets to install an entirely new fiber optic network underground. That advantage could allow Comcast to grow gigabit service more quickly than Google, despite the latter’s three-year head start.

Comcast said that over the coming months, it will continue to activate more test homes with DOCSIS 3.1 technology to observe how it performs in multiple real-world environments and make whatever minor modifications necessary to get it ready for deployment.

The company said it will also continue to expand its trials to locations within its backyard of Philadelphia to additional locations through Pennsylvania, Northern California, and Atlanta, Georgia.