The fifth-largest cable operator in the country, Mediacom, is ramping up its network upgrade plans. According to CTO J.R. Walden, the company plans to start live testing full duplex (FDX) DOCSIS 4.0 equipment in Q3 and launch service with a small number of customers in Q4.

Walden claims that Mediacom typically lets larger competitors with more resources, like Comcast, test engineering samples of new equipment before starting its own testing once generally available equipment hits the market. Vendors have stated that this is anticipated to occur in Q3 for FDX gear, he said.

Walden mentioned that two businesses, Broadcom and Maxlinear, have publicly announced intentions to provide DOCSIS 4.0 modem chipsets while three companies are expected to bring FDX amplifiers to market. CommScope previously said it was working on an FDX amplifier and ATX hinted it might do the same. But right now, Walden said Broadcom is the only vendor set to provide chips for those amps, though he noted the industry is “actively recruiting” a second.

Mediacom’s DOCSIS 4.0 play may be a few months away, but that doesn’t mean the operator is sitting on its hands. Walden said it is in the midst of a broad network upgrade which includes four major components.

First, it is tripling the densification of its nodes to serve around 100 homes per node, which Walden said frees up capacity for Mediacom to offer faster speeds to customers. It is also moving all of its RF video traffic to IP services and repurposing that spectrum for broadband. The third change involves the replacement of all of its nodes with Remote MACPHY devices to help it move to a distributed access architecture. And finally, it is making the leap to a 1.2 GHz high split.

In order to launch a new symmetrical 1-gig service, the operator started an upgrade in West Des Moines, Iowa, and has already finished work across more than 30% of the city. It plans to complete construction there by the end of July.

A few factors, according to Walden, are restricting how quickly Mediacom can move forward with its upgrade. The main obstacle is the small number of customers who still have RF set-top boxes.

“Obviously you don’t want to upgrade a node and have those boxes literally shut down and stop working while they’re still in customers’ homes,” he said. “If they’re not taken care of, that’s what will happen.” The longer customers take to migrate, the longer Mediacom will have to wait to upgrade the network and in turn offer faster speeds.

Mediacom already offers a service tier providing 2 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps downstream in greenfield markets in Delaware and Illinois that aren’t constrained by legacy RF issues. As it upgrades the network, that service tier will become more widely available. When DOCSIS 4.0 modems become available, it will be able to deliver speeds as fast as 9 Gbps downstream and 2.5 Gbps upstream without making any further network upgrades. But Walden said what kinds of service tiers it plans to offer with that bandwidth have yet to be determined.