We are here to change people’s lives, so whenever we talk about what we’re building, whether our products or network, we start with the customer. What do customers want? What do they need? What will they want in the future and can’t yet anticipate?

And in every case, it’s more. More speed, more bandwidth, more connected devices in home, more reliability, more engagement, the list goes on. Today, a third of our customers take gig speeds, which is a thousand times faster than 1Mbps speeds we offered when we first launched our high-speed Internet services twenty-five years ago. Back then, most people couldn’t have anticipated how the internet would transform our lives.

To enable that, our network has transformed in kind.

In 2018, we embarked on distributed access architecture and virtualization journey to usher in the future of connectivity. A critical part of this work was the launch of virtualized cable modem termination system (vCMTS). The vCMTS replaces the analog, physical CMTS with software- and cloud-based technology that gives us the ability to evolve our network by upgrading software rather than replacing physical equipment. Simply put, this means faster speeds, better performance and greater reliability.

Today, more than half of customer modems on our network are connected through our vCMTS platform and by the end of this year, nearly two-thirds will be.

Customers are already seeing the benefits of this work, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of what this technology is capable of delivering. That’s because the vCMTS is running on a Comcast developed edge compute cluster that can run multiple applications—CMTS is just one—bringing the brain of our network the closest it’s ever been to customers' homes at scale across our footprint.

This affords us an unprecedented level of detail and visibility into how our network is performing in any given location at any given moment and the ability to act on it by virtue of seamlessly self-healing when we can and leveraging AI/ML to constantly optimize our service performance. Running our network as code enables us to increase our reliability like never before. For example, we can automatically reroute traffic from one location to another if a facility floods during a hurricane.

And that’s just the beginning of what edge compute can do.

  • It enables us to launch multi-gig symmetrical Internet services leveraging new DOCSIS 4.0 Full Duplex, which enables faster speeds to support more devices and applications.
  • It makes possible our trials of low-latency-DOCSIS (LLD) coupled with AQM, in partnership with Apple, nvidia and Valve, which will dramatically improve quality and experience when it comes to video conferencing, gaming and virtual reality.
  • It adds a layer of security by minimizing the exposure of sensitive data during transit, and by sensing irregular fluctuations in the network. We can implement stronger security measures at the edge, such as encryption and access controls, which allows us to protect customers and mitigate cybersecurity threats.
  • It enables huge strides in customer experience. Today we’re continuously monitoring quality of experience (QoE) via a virtualized service gateway (VSG). The VSG sits in a separate box next to every vCMTS—though soon it will become another application running on the vCMTS edge compute —and scans what runs through it in real-time. When VSG indicates QoE might be compromised, we can take immediate action on the network. And proactively communicate to customers that we’re detecting something, we’re working on it and what they can expect in terms of resolution.
  • It pushes us to rethink how content is ingested on our network, so we can optimize the streaming experience. We aim to push open edge caching down to the vCMTS, which will transform content delivery quality, like the HiFi video we trialed during the Super Bowl (a world first), which combines 4K and High Dynamic Range with Dolby Atmos and the lowest possible latency.
  • It allows us to get creative about what’s possible, like the pilot we launched with Vapor IO to enable third-party edge service providers to host data and applications in our local markets.

And we can still go deeper in terms of pushing brainpower into our network. Last year we announced we would be embedding AI capabilities into a new generation of DOCSIS4.0 capable nodes and amplifiers. This new generation of AI capable amplifiers, which we anticipate rolling out in our network by year end, are equipped with specialized AI-powered chipsets designed to handle real–time network pattern detection. We’ll be able to identify network issues in real time as close to the customer as possible and to optimize their service delivery like never before.

Illustration connecting the different levels of Fiber and DOCSIS to a home. ‘A nationwide transformation from cloud to customer’. Core: disaggregated virtualized network. Headend: Edge compute vCMTS.

For every node, there are dozens of amps, often just a few feet from the customer. In action, they’ll provide millions more data points with real-time pattern detection. They’ll see, for example, whether an issue is the result of a squirrel chewing a wire, water damage, or even a cyber threat emanating from inside a home. And once they see it, they’ll mitigate it, if possible, keeping customers online while technicians arrive to repair it.

Truly, the possibilities of our smart network are endless. But the goal remains singular: ensure our customers are always ready for more.

Elad Nafshi is Chief Network Officer for Comcast Cable.