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Cisco Joins Race to Boost Internet Speeds

05/04/2015 | 11:35pm US/Eastern

Cable companies are preparing a technology shift to help boost broadband speeds and defend their turf from the likes of Google Inc.

Cisco Systems Inc. and its competitors hope to help them.

The networking-equipment giant on Tuesday plans to unveil some long-awaited products crucial to regaining market share among cable companies.

Rivals such as Arris Group Inc. and Casa Systems Inc. scooped Cisco in offering a new class of equipment that can deliver both video programming and broadband access to subscribers. Combining the two functions in one device saves space and electrical power in cable facilities, analysts say.

Such multifunction systems, sometimes dubbed "God boxes," also are expected to exploit an emerging technology standard for moving data at higher speeds over standard coaxial cable. Cisco said its new cBR-8 system will let cable operators offer consumers and businesses download speeds of one gigabit a second or more.

That is the speed Google has been offering in some U.S. cities through fiberoptic networks. By comparison, most U.S. cable users get peak speeds of less than 50 megabits, though services offering rates of up to 150 megabits are available in some areas. (One gigabit equals 1,000 megabits.)

With the new product, carriers can make their existing networks faster "and reduce the cost of delivery at the same time" said Brett Wingo, vice president and general manager of Cisco's cable-access business unit.

Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable provider, said it is among the companies testing the new Cisco device in anticipation of wider deployment. Other users cited by Cisco include Luxembourg's Altice SA.

Cisco retains a dominant position in Internet switching and routing systems, and hopes to restore momentum in the cable market.

Revenue for what Cisco calls its service-provider video segment fell 19% in the quarter ended in January. Boosting sales in the cable-equipment market is a likely priority for Chuck Robbins, a 17-year company veteran who was named Monday to succeed John Chambers as chief executive.

Jeff Heynen, an analyst at market-research firm IHS, estimates that Cisco's share of the market in cable gear used to deliver broadband services declined to 29% in 2014, from 52% in 2013. Arris accounted for 48% of that $1.5 billion market last year, he said, while Casa's share was about 19%.

Cisco is "facing increasing competition and pricing pressure," said Mike Paxton, an analyst at SNL Kagan.

The company's rivals grabbed a substantial head start in the multifunction devices, which are more formally called converged-cable-access platforms, or CCAPs. Todd Kessler, an Arris senior vice president, said it began shipping its converged-access entry in late 2013 and it now serves more than 20 million cable subscribers.

Casa said in April that Time Warner Cable had completed a deployment of its CCAP hardware in New York City.

Cisco executives say its cBR-8 has substantial advantages in speed and capacity over other offerings. But the full potential of such gear won't be unlocked until operators adopt new specifications for boosting the data-transfer rate over existing cable networks.

Mr. Kessler and others expect that technology to start appearing in cable networks late this year and reach subscribers more broadly in 2016. The most obvious impetus for moving quickly is Google, which has launched its one-gigabit service in three U.S. cities and plans others.

"Google has created this gigabit club," said Paul Hanna, Casa's vice president of marketing. "And the race is on."

Write to Don Clark at don.clark@wsj.com

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