Wideband is the new buzzword for very high speed broadband. Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts showed the potential at The Cable Show in Las Vegas. In the face of fierce competition, cable is fighting back with ever faster broadband connections.

“With wideband, we’re going to unleash a whole new generation of video, voice and data services,” said the Comcast chief executive. “It really is a whole new technical platform. What consumers actually do with all of this speed is up to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

In his demonstration, he downloaded a 300MB Comcast television commercial in a matter of seconds. He also downloaded the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and Merriam-Webster dictionary, over 4GB of data, in less than four minutes.

It echoed a similar demo he gave over a decade ago, then showing off the speed of a 10Mbps cable modem. The latest generation of the technology, known as DOCSIS 3.0, can provide speeds over 15 times faster. It uses a technique called channel bonding to combine multiple bands within the existing capacity of a cable connection. The approach is backward-compatible with current cable infrastructure but will require capacity to be released by removing existing analogue channels.

Comcast could begin deploying the new generation of equipment from next year, which could offer cable customers speeds of up to 100Mbps, the same as a standard home or office network connection. That would enable movies to be downloaded in minutes, even in high-definition.

The need for speed is being driven by competitive pressures from other telecommunications companies. Cable is keen to prove it can deliver better performance than telephone lines without having to provide fibre to the home.

Cable companies are also concerned that their traditional television platforms could be threatened by new internet applications delivered over the top of their networks. While generally dismissive of the threat, cable companies will need to offer consumers ever faster broadband access if they are to remain competitive.