Editor's Corner—Gigaspin gets unspun at SCTE, as operators openly ponder tough existential questions

I arrived at the Colorado Convention Center last week confident that when a midsized cable operator tells me they’ve just deployed DOCSIS 3.1-powered 1-gig services over some podunk town I just flew over, I could be sure there’s some significant level of demand in that place.

And that the download speed being offered is really 1 gigabit per second, and not, say, just 940 megabits per second. 

And that the deployment really just happened. 

Boy did I get played.

My first hint that the multigig speed rush might be heading for hard times came when CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney conceded to me that Speedtest is the No. 1 application for early adopters of 1-gig services. 

Not virtual reality? Not 4K? These guys are just messing around, yanking their own chains with Speedtest.

“You could actually run forty 4K televisions” with a 1-gig download speed, McKinney told me.

An hour earlier, I had sat in on a lunchtime panel featuring newish Comcast CEO Dave Watson, saying cable operators had to get involved and tell consumers what they could use their 1-gig services for. 

The next day, I attend Broadband Technology Report's pretty solid DOCSIS 3.1 breakfast panel. I was surprised at how honest Mediacom’s JR Walden was.

Those turn-of-the-screw announcements in which companies like Comcast and Mediacom declare they’ve rolled into a new region and turned the DOCSIS 3.1 lights on? Mostly spin. 

Mediacom has actually been mostly done making D: 3.1 available across its 22-state footprint for a while. "We staggered the launches to get our names in the paper a little more. It worked,” Walden said. 

RELATED: Mediacom CTO Walden: 'We're done' with DOCSIS 3.1 deployment

But how well did it work really?

Walden later conceded that Mediacom has only 12,000 DOCSIS 3.1 gateways deployed. (Although 10% of new broadband sales are 1 gig, he added.)

“I continue to be a naysayer,” he conceded. “There’s nothing you need a gig for. Still, there’s something magical about 1 gig. They want it. We’ve done focus groups, and users kind of understand that a gig is probably more than what they need. It’s like a security blanket for them.”

Walden’s CTO counterpart at Tier 2 operator Midco, Jon Pederson, was also asked what his customers might use 1 gig for. 

“I don’t care,” he responded. “We’re putting a stake in the ground with this. It keeps competitors away, and customers love it. I mean, why do you buy a car that goes 140 miles per hour? They want to keep up with the Joneses.” 

Midco is up to 4,000 1-gig customers, said Pederson, describing the metric as “great.”

Meanwhile, asked about the biggest challenges associated with launching DOCSIS 3.1, Walden said it was convincing his marketing department that conflating 1 gig with an actual delivering speed of only 940 Mbps was OK.

“I told them, talk to Google, they figured it out,” said Walden, noting that even the giant tech companies fudge this kind of stuff. 

Walden said that Mediacom is currently offering speed tiers of 60 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps, 500 Mbps and 940 Mbps. Demand for the 500 Mbps is almost nonexistent, he says. Those status-conscious folks who want to brag about download speed really need to say “1 gig” to get their name in their proverbial neighborhood papers. 

So what’s the top application for Mediacom 940 Mbps users? “Speedtest,” Walden confirmed.