Comcast announces 'wideband' launches for Pacific Northwest

Wideband in the form of 50 Mbps download speeds is on the way to Oregon and Washington State, according to a Comcast statement released Monday. And even current subscribers are getting a speed boost.

In the world of marketing-speak, "ultra" (Latin, "going beyond others") is less spectacular than "extreme." The Comcast "Extreme 50" service tier (50 Mbps downstream / 10 Mbps upstream) is thus the more powerful of the two new service tiers for $139.95/month; the Ultra tier weighs in at 22 Mbps / 5 Mbps and $62.95/month. (Both prices require Comcast's cable service.) Businesses have a version of the Extreme tier for $189.95/month.

Current Comcast subscribers will see some speed increases as well (along with a goofy name change). Performance-tier customers will see speeds double to 12 Mbps / 2 Mbps, and Performance Plus-tier users will double to 16 Mbps / 2 Mbps, though they'll be forced to refer to their service level as the "Blast!" tier.

The DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 3.0 specification that makes all this possible was actually settled in 2006. The standard, which is administered by the CableLabs research group, specifies a per-channel maximum downstream speed of 40 Mbps and a maximum upstream speed of 30 Mbps. Channels are bonded in groups of four or more, which means that actual maximum downstream/upstream speeds are 160 Mbps and 120 Mbps, shared among a loop of subscribers.

At press time it was unclear how the new limits would affect Comcast's ongoing conflict with the FCC over bandwidth throttling of peer-to-peer applications, or if new limits might apply to other services such as streaming multimedia.

The new services will be available next month. Curt Henninger, senior vice-president of Comcast Oregon and Southwest Washington, says that ultimately the same combination of DOCSIS and fiber-optic tech should enable speeds of up to 160 Mbps, as per the DOCSIS spec.

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