Broadband Capacity Growth Models - Will the end of Exponential Growth eliminate the need for DOCSIS 4.0? (2022)

By John Ulm, Zoran Maricevic, Ph.D., Ram Ranganathan; CommScope

Internet consumption grew exponentially last decade, doubling every other year. Several years ago, the growth rate began slowing, but COVID turned the world on its head with everyone living, working, and playing from home. This created a bandwidth (BW) bubble, especially upstream. Will this bubble continue, signaling a new paradigm, or return to our previous path?

ARRIS/CommScope has the most extensive broadband capacity monitoring history in the industry. Data collection started in 2010; done every year since; and covers 10’s of millions of modems from numerous multiple system operators (MSOs). The 2022 data is in: this paper analyzes the new normal, quantifies the ’21 COVID bump, and shows our recent consumption or average bandwidth per sub (Tavg) growth rates.

The real multi-billion-dollar question is what’s the BW growth for coming decades? This drives our network investment strategies. Has Tavg growth slowed to a lower rate (e.g., doubling every 3-4 years) or is it no longer exponential? Some folks claim exponential growth is dead, and that BW growth is linear or following the Adoption S-curve. [S-curves have exponential growth in early years, linear growth during middle years, and flattens out in later years.] E.g., will Tavg reach a limit of 2½ ultra high-definition (UHD) streams per home (~25Mbps) and stay there? Or will another S-curve, potentially driven by virtual reality (VR) / augmented reality (AR), start a new era of high growth?

The paper highlights research on all alternatives; creates trendlines for each; and measures how accurately it matches last decade’s data. These BW growth trajectories are mapped out for 5/10/15 years. The resultant spaghetti plots show a cone of uncertainty that grows over time, roughly doubling every 5 yrs.

The 2nd half of the paper plugs various Tavg growth trendlines into the CommScope network capacity modeling tool to analyze 1218/204 megahertz (MHz) & Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications (DOCSIS®) 4.0 plant. It shows their useful lifetime using various growth models and explores whether low growth might eliminate the need for 4.0, or just delay it, giving precious time to transition.

Our wrap up recommends some migration strategies to minimize up front investments while maintaining flexibility to increase network capacity and manage uncertainty risks.

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