While Liberty Global continues to prep its HFC networks for DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts, it's not moving ahead with actual D3.1 deployments as quickly as it once planned.
Speaking on the company's fourth-quarter 2017 earnings call last week, Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) executives said they’re continuing to bring their pan-European plant up to speed for the latest version of the industry’s DOCSIS spec. More than 90% of their networks should be ready for DOCSIS 3.1 deployments this year, up from about 75% to 80% last year, said CEO Mike Fries, on the call.
"We are darn near all the way there in terms of having our entire footprint gigabit ready with 3.1," Fries said.
But that doesn't mean Liberty Global is ready to actually pull the trigger on DOCSIS 3.1.Despite initially targeting the fourth quarter of 2017 for D 3.1 field trial trials and pilot deployments, the European MSO is now holding back until an undisclosed later point. Indeed, it made no almost no mention of D3.1 in its earnings release and presentation to financial analysts last week. (See Liberty Global Reveals Next-Gen Plans.)
Only when analysts later questioned Fries did the CEO really address the subject. Emphasizing that Liberty Global already has absorbed most of the capital cost of introducing the new, multi-gig-enabling technology, he basically said the MSO will launch DOCSIS 3.1 when it sees the need and demand from consumers who will pay for higher bandwidth.
"The only cost we'll really incur down the road is for new 3.1 modems," Fries said. "Of course, we'll do that when we're ready and we'll do that in the most economic way possible... We won't just roll out 3.1 indiscriminately; we'll roll it out to customers that pay us more for the higher speeds and the better services."
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In the meantime, Liberty Global is busy boosting broadband speeds it can support with DOCSIS 3.0. On the call, for instance, Fries noted the MSO recently doubled the speeds for half its broadband customer base in Switzerland.
Liberty Global also is furiously deploying its new I-Gg WiFi router, known as Connect Box, to prepare for the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 throughout its 11-nation European footprint. The MSO increased deployments of Connect Box by more than 1 million in the fall quarter, boosting its installed base to more than 6.4 million homes, or 43% of its 14.9 million broadband subscribers, Liberty Global said on the call.
These developments come as Liberty Global, like its cable counterparts across the Atlantic, continues to expand its broadband business. In the fourth quarter, the MSO netted 120,400 data subscribers, boosting its total customer base to nearly 15 million. Germany and the UK led the way with gains of 45,800 and 24,200 broadband subs, respectively.
Europe's largest cable operator reports that both upstream and downstream traffic have jumped since the COVID-19 pandemic hit its markets, with the upstream traffic surging 50% and the downstream up over 20%.
With tens of millions of people now sheltering at home throughout the nation, the three biggest publicly traded US MSOs all reported substantially higher broadband subscriber gains in the first quarter.
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