Comcast’s Brian Roberts, Broadband’s Tomorrow Man

Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast Corp., in a move reminiscent of Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ futuristic announcements at CES, today showed off a new modem that uses channel bonding technology that can pump data into your homes at speeds of 150 megabits per second.

The presentation made at the Cable Show in Las Vegas was more posturing for Wall Street and thumbing the nose of telephone companies with fiber less broadband plans. The modem, based on the DOCSIS 3.0 technology, sends data out on four channels.

“Cable continues to lead the competition. We’ve only just begun, from 6 megabits today to 150 or whatever megabits tomorrow.”

Not sure what his definition of tomorrow is, but for me tomorrow means tomorrow. When pressed all Roberts could come-up with “less than a couple of years.”

The big show-and-tell here was: Comcast doesn’t need to spend billions to upgrade its infrastructure like the phone companies, and thus they are a better bet for investors. Wall Street, in recent weeks, has been fretting about the possible capital expenditures Comcast and other companies might have to undertake in order to stay competitive with fiber-based carriers. (I am not sure if $2 billion actually adds up to real money for Comcast when it comes to CapEx.)

The problem is that this so-called modem isn’t really coming to your home anytime soon. Actually not for another two years, at the very least. Even the trials in more broadband-evolved countries are just getting started.

The question that is not being asked is where will Comcast find four empty channels to pump data. There are many basic analog cable switchers who resist the digital set-top boxes, which can receive digital signals. Unless these digital set-top boxes are everywhere, there is no way Comcast can turn off the analog channels and re-deploy them.

You want to gauge Comcast’s desperation, try picking up the phone and asking them if they would give you free set-top boxes for your four-TV set-up. You will be surprised, that they might show up on time for the appointment. They need to go digital, especially if they want to sell faster broadband and compete with satellite broadcasters are touting their Hi-Def capabilities.

And forget all that: from my personal consumer perspective, I don’t care if Roberts showed off this ultra-fast broadband technology. They still have to prove that it can actually deliver 6 megabits per second speeds it touts on a consistent basis. (Which it can’t; try using the service late at night in San Francisco, when the geeks on the late shift are logged in.)