Cable Operators

Cable Revs Broadband Engine

12/19/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

In 2011, cable operators stepped on the gas
— asserting their broadband superiority over telco rivals and
sprinting ahead to make watching TV across a multitude of
screens a reality.

DOCSIS flexes its muscles: Does cable need fi ber to the
home? Pshaw.

MSOs this year broadly launched
some of the fastest residential Internet
services in America and increased
speeds on their existing
tiers, using good old coaxial cable.

Comcast, for one, now offers 105
Megabit-per-second downstream
service to more than 40 million
U.S. homes. At the Cable Show in
Chicago this summer, CEO Brian
Roberts demonstrated the industry’s
ability to hit 1-Gigabit speeds
over existing plant with DOCSIS 3.0
gear.

Today, of course, cable’s ultra-fast
tiers are pricey and mainly for show.
But broadband traffic is rising 50%
per year, even as price per downstream
channel on cable-modem
termination systems is falling at
roughly the same rate, Arris chairman
and CEO Bob Stanzione said
at SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo this fall.

Each of the major CMTS vendors
— Arris, Cisco Systems and Motorola
Mobility — has doubled the density
of its platforms in the past year,
“and that will just continue,” Stanzione
said.

As the need for speed over the
next decade increases, cable will
pick up considerable share of the
U.S. broadband market, rising from
60% today to nearly 70% by 2020, according
to Sanford Bernstein senior
analyst Craig Moffett. The telcos’
legacy digital subscriber line (DSL)
service will start to wither away.

“Cable is indeed winning the
broadband wars,” Moffett wrote in
a research note last week. “Cable’s
physical infrastructure is a better
mousetrap for broadband.”

Living the multiscreen dream: Cablevision Systems and
Time Warner Cable moved fast to bring live TV to the iPad —
too fast, in the opinion of some programmers.

Cable customers loved the option to watch TV on a second
screen, but media companies, including Viacom, challenged
the MSOs’ rights to do so under their existing distribution
agreements. One key issue: Nielsen doesn’t track viewing on
tablets, a blind spot the ratings firm is hoping to resolve in 2012.

Pay TV services — including authenticated “TV Everywhere”
content such as HBO Go — are also heading to Microsoft’s
Xbox 360, and a mélange of other devices other than
operator-supplied set-tops.

“We want to be on screens that consumers want us to be on,”
Sam Schwartz, president of Comcast Converged Products, said
at the CTAM in New York conference, adding that the MSO
wants to extend VOD to game consoles from Sony and Nintendo,
as well as connected TVs and devices like the Roku set-top.

Googlers become cable guys? In an unexpected move, Internet
giant Google this summer offered to write a $12.5 billion
check to pick up cable-technology stalwart Motorola Mobility.
The deal was driven by Google’s desire to own Motorola’s war
chest of intellectual property, to ward off legal challenges to the
Android smartphone operating system.

But the takeover bid prompted a wave of speculation about
what, exactly, the company intends to do with set-tops and cable
video systems. Will it try to use Motorola to bring a Webcentric
Google TV platform to cable operators? Or will it leave
the business to its own devices?

Meanwhile, Google also
funded 96 channels of original
programming on YouTube
to the tune of $100 million, attempting
to cobble together a
cable-like lineup of content it
can actually sell ads against.

Cable charts wireless
course:
Strange bedfellows,
indeed. The newest marketing
partner for Comcast, Time
Warner Cable and Bright
House Networks is … Verizon.
The MSOs struck a deal to sell
a chunk of nationwide wireless
spectrum to Verizon Wireless
for $3.6 billion — killing any notion
that they would embark on
the costly buildout of their own
wireless network.

Instead, the cable operators
will promote Verizon Wireless
services as part of their bundles
and by 2015 will have the option
to sell mobile services under
their own brands. “We do not
believe it is feasible to enter the
wireless market as a freestanding
new entrant,” Time Warner
Cable CEO Glenn Britt wrote in
Q&A message sent to employees
about the Verizon deal.

Cox Communications last
week joined the club, announcing
plans to sell spectrum
licenses to the carrier for
$315 million and also entering
into a marketing deal with Verizon
Wireless. That came after
the MSO last month nixed its
own wireless services, provided
through Sprint. .

CableLabs looks for a new boss: Heading into 2012, MSO
executives are canvassing for candidates to step in for CEO
Paul Liao, the former Panasonic chief technology officer who
is leaving the consortium for personal reasons. In his brief
tenure CableLabs, Liao, 68, did realize one of his original
ideas: opening a San Francisco office to build a bridge to Silicon
Valley’s fast-paced and entrepreneurial culture.

“Whether the [next CEO] comes from inside the cable
industry or outside, being able to see what’s going to disrupt
the cable industry is very, very important,” Liao said
in an October interview.