Cable Operators

Allen: Wired World’s Coming

1/16/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Huntington Beach, Calif.— Though his MSO is under siege from satellite competitors, Paul Allen — chairman of Charter Communications Inc. and founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc. — remains bullish that cable’s broadband plant is best positioned to provide connected high-bandwidth consumer services.

The combination of cable’s high bandwidth plant and set-top boxes with more firepower will allow cable to deliver new and better services to consumers, including extensions via wireless and portable devices, Allen said in a keynote speech at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Emerging Technologies conference here on Jan. 12. Allen’s other business interests including Digeo, which provides the Moxi Media Center set-top.

'IN DRIVER’S SEAT’

“We’re in the driver’s seat going forward,” Allen said. “We have the opportunity to take the lead in technology integration,” he said, with a combination of high-bandwidth plant and PC-type processing power in set-tops. “It’s not something anybody else has.”

Charter has launched digital simulcasting, said Allen, moving a step closer to an all-digital network.

Recapturing the 70% of bandwidth allocated to analog means “we could use that for HDTV, [video on demand] and additional data services.

“The picture quality is better than satellite, and it’s great to be able to say that. Everybody is moving in this direction,” he added.

“Digital brings numerous benefits,” he continued. In addition to improved picture quality, there is improved DVR storage efficiency, encryption-based content security and the integration of new digital interactive applications.

Allen also said cable will eventually look at introducing MPEG-4 (Moving Picture Experts Group) compression, which will save bandwidth, with initial deployments of MPEG-4 HDTV content on VOD platforms.

Cable can deliver four big services — video, voice, data and wireless applications — which enables customers to move content and connect devices through advanced set-tops, with download speeds approaching 100 Megabits per second.

The key is the evolving set-top box, with improved PC processing power, storage and graphics. “It’s the central element in residential networks,” he said.

The set-top can be the anchor for portable media players and the foundation for entertainment, information and communication applications, he said.

Set-tops with modems will support telephony, and boxes with built-in DVD players will handle music, photos and links to the PC. “It all flows through the media-center device,” Allen said.

WIRELESS EXCITEMENT

“MSOs need to develop partnerships” with wireless and cellular companies, said Allen, who called interoperability with cellular “a really exciting prospect.”

Allen related how on a recent trip to Japan, he and some other cable executives were shown live transmissions of baseball’s World Series via cellphone. If a phone is a “video terminal device,” he said, “what does that mean for us as cable TV companies?”

He also said cable needed to address some issues. Open standards need to be developed. VOD navigation systems have to improve as thousands of hours of content get added to systems.

“Can I Google a movie?” he asked. “Is the grid really the best tool? Can we focus the consumer on content, not our networks?”

In conclusion, Allen said: “My early vision for a 'wired world’ — high performance computing and high-capacity, two-way data services — is coming together to create a platform for new applications.”

September