Policy

The Imagination Mover

12/05/2011 8:01 AM Eastern

In a few short years, Terry Cordova has essentially
overhauled a bunch of cable systems to equip
them for the 21st century — letting Suddenlink Communications
deliver advanced services that rival those from
MSOs 10 times its size.

Cordova, senior vice president and chief technology officer with the No. 7 U.S. cable operator, has been the driving
force behind its Project Imagine. Started in late 2009,
the three-year initiative is aimed at reclaiming upwards
of 60 analog channels in most of Suddenlink’s systems, to
carve out room for a host of
new services. Project Imagine
has let Suddenlink nearly
triple its HD-channel
lineups, add significantly
more video-on-demand
and bring high-speed DOCSIS
3.0 Internet access to the
majority of its subscribers.

But it has required a lot
of moving parts, including
deploying digital terminal
adapters — DTAs, which
are low-cost set-tops limited
to receiving linear TV
— to customers across all
markets undergoing a conversion.
All told, Project
Imagine has encompassed
about 500 individual subprojects,
according to Cordova.
The St. Louis-based
operator had 1.38 million
customers at the end of the
third quarter.

Still, Suddenlink pushed
ahead to move as quickly
as possible, while remaining
within its $350 million
budget for Project Imagine.
And as of the end of third
quarter of 2011, the project
is 77% complete — ahead of
the MSO’s original 65%-70%
target for this year.

“Certainly, when you embark
on a project like this …
that’s a lot of activity on the
field,” Cordova said. “We
have gone faster, although
we had to remain cognizant
of the impact on the
field and care centers. You
still have to run the business
day-to-day.”

Now, while Cordova is closing in on the finish line on
the original scope of Project Imagine, Suddenlink is ramping
up its capabilities on the commercial services front
where it sees tremendous potential: “It’s going to keep us
busy.”

‘QUICK STUDY’

Given his contributions to Suddenlink’s expansion and his
technology leadership, Cordova was picked by the editors
of Multichannel News as the 2011 CTO of the Year.

“I’m convinced we would not be where we are today
without Terry as a member of our management team,”
Suddenlink chairman and CEO Jerry Kent said.

Cordova, who got his start in a small Kansas cable system
in 1979, joined Suddenlink in 2003. Kent — who has
known and worked with Cordova for almost 20 years, including
at Charter Communications — praised his CTO’s
intellect and management skills.

“He is not only a remarkable engineer but a person of
great integrity and foresight, a quick study, and an effective
and efficient manager of capital resources,” Kent said.
“Overseeing well over $1 billion in investments since 2006,
Terry has demonstrated, time and again, that he and his
team can deliver outstanding results.”

Cordova returns the compliment, crediting both Kent
and Howard Wood, chairman of Suddenlink’s sister company,
Cequel III, for providing the latitude to engage in
undertaking like Project Imagine and the buildout of Suddenlink’s
national backbone.

“They’ve given me an incredible amount of opportunity
to go off and do the things we think are going to increase
the capability and asset value of what we have here — and
doing it all on behalf of our customers,” Cordova said.

Cordova also drove Suddenlink to become the first major
MSO to have all of its broadband technicians and installers
earn one or more professional certifications from
the Society of Cable & Telecommunications Engineers.
That, in turn, was a key part of Suddenlink’s raising its
customer-satisfaction scores on J.D. Power & Associates by
more than 100 points (on a 1,000-point scale) since 2007,
according to Tom McMillin, Suddenlink’s executive vice
president and chief operating officer.

“Terry deserves tremendous credit for leading with a
view of always putting the customer first, whether it’s in
network design, technical operations or new technology
deployment,” McMillin said. “His positive influence extends
well beyond the technical walls of Suddenlink.”

In addition to driving change at Suddenlink, Cordova
has been actively involved in the SCTE. This past year, he
was chairman of the association’s flagship 2011 Cable-Tec
Expo, coordinating its addition of more educational tracks
and reaching out to new partners, such as Women in Cable
Telecommunications. (And that’s on top of his day job.)

“He lives in a circle of people who don’t know a 40-hour
week,” SCTE president and CEO Mark Dzuban said. “The
commitment is to whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s
working hard and it’s working smart, and he does both.”

Cordova doesn’t reflexively treat people from large companies
any differently from those at smaller ones, Dzuban
said: “It’s not about the hierarchy of the system. It’s about
what you can contribute.”

For Cordova, the SCTE provides not only a key center
of professional development for the industry but also a
sense of community. “There’s the opportunity for collaboration
and knowledge-sharing,” he said. “It’s not just about
climbing poles and carrying tool belts.”

Outside of work, Cordova gets a real workout with his
two teenage sons, who are mad about sports.

“I try to find my balance spending time with them on lacrosse fields and basketball courts,” he said, adding with
a chuckle: “Being a 50-year-old guy, I have to keep myself
active to keep up with them.”

As for what’s next for Suddenlink, Cordova is focused on
how the company’s network
architecture will need to
adapt to accommodate its delivery
of even more services.

The Project Imagine conversion
has given Suddenlink
a lot of runway to work
with. That cleared some
360 Megahertz of space,
and Suddenlink maintains
a 20-channel analog lifeline
lineup that it could decide
to go back to reclaim as
well. But for now, “I don’t see
a need for an old-style bandwidth
upgrade to the cable
system,” Cordova said.

Meanwhile, Suddenlink
is always looking for additional
bandwidth efficiencies
where it can get them.
The MSO is using 3:1 HD
compression — meaning
it’s delivering three highdef
channels in one 6 MHz
QAM — and 15:1 standarddefinition compression via
its national backbone. But,
Cordova said, “we’re not giving
up any quality.”

In the near future, the cable
industry at a high level is
facing inflection points on two fronts, in Cordova’s view:
commercial services and TV Everywhere.

With respect to selling data and voice services to businesses,
“we’re sitting on the three yard line with 97 yards
to go,” Cordova said. “Th ere is so much upside to that segment.
Now we just need to operationalize it and allow ourselves
to step up the sales force.”

For Suddenlink, the commercial segment includes commercial DOCSIS 3.0 services, HD video services to the hospitality
industry, business-class phone and primary rate
interface (PRI) lines.

“Even though it’s a great growth engine, you have to
spend the time on the operations and
fulfillment side,” Cordova said.

Suddenlink is in the process of rolling
out commercial DOCSIS 3.0 services
that provide speeds of up to 50 Megabits
per second downstream and 8 Mbps
upstream. However, if a customer is
willing to pay for even higher speeds or
a 50- or 100-Mbps symmetrical-bandwidth
service, Suddenlink will look at
running fiber to the premises.

WIRELESS PLAN WORKING

Specifically, Suddenlink’s business
of hooking up wireless towers with
fiber connectivity has been going
gangbusters, according to Cordova.
“Looking into 2012, we’re seeing the
backlog ramping very nicely. We’re
seeing carriers with 50 Meg symmetrical
come right back around and want
to step it up to 100 Meg symmetrical.
And once you have the fiber in place
to that tower, you can do that without
much effort at all.”

For TV Everywhere, the shift toward
consumers wanting access to
any piece of video they’re paying for
anywhere — and on any device with a
screen — will inform the development
of cable’s next-generation video architecture,
Cordova said. “That inflection
point is so powerful, especially to a younger generation.
And we’ll have a more-satisfied customer because they
don’t feel tethered to their main viewing area.”

At the same time, Suddenlink and other operators are
seeing competition increase from all sides. And, although
cable has adapted well, “we need to be faster at innovation,”
Cordova said.

A good example of that is multiroom digital video recorders,
he said: “I would have loved to have that
three years ago.” Suddenlink turned to TiVo to
supply its next generation of hybrid boxes and
plans to deliver the multiroom-capable Premiere
Q in 2012.

Cordova cited CableLabs’ establishing an office in San Francisco as helping steer the industry
toward up-and-coming companies that have
innovative technology.

“I know our vendors are working hard, from
the standpoint of innovation,” Cordova said. “At
times, though, they are challenged because they
need a consistent direction from the MSOs and
they’re maybe given too many ideas, different directions
on products.”

HYBRID GATEWAYS COMING

As for the shift to IP-delivered video services,
Suddenlink is looking to hybrid gateways that
will allow a migration “in a graceful manner,”
Cordova said.

“We’ve spent a lot of money, from a QAM perspective,
so we want a gateway in the home,” he
said. “We’ll solve IP inside the home. Then we get
the benefit of low-cost IP tunerless devices.” One
thing is certain: Suddenlink will look as different
five years from now as it did five years ago.

“I’ve been in this business since 1979, and back
in 1979, we had 40 channels of analog,” Cordova
said. “Looking back on my career, it’s just an incredible
business to keep evolving yourself as an
industry with more and more capability.”

BIO BOX: TERRY CORDOVA

Title: Senior vice president and chief technology
officer, Suddenlink Communications

Age: 50

Current responsibilities: Oversees Suddenlink’s
130-person technical operations and engineering
team, including technical training; residential and
commercial security operations; carrier and commercial
engineering; and network, voice, digital
video and data-engineering operations.

Prior experience: Division vice president of engineering
for Charter Communications’ Southeast
Division, serving about 3 million customers
in nine states, from 1999 to 2003. Previously
spent 16 years as vice president of engineering
at Galaxy Cablevision, a cable operator based in
Sikeston, Mo.

Education: Bachelor of science degree in engineering
from Kansas State University

Organizations: Longstanding member of the Society
of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, as a threeterm
SCTE board member, currently vice chairman
and chairman of the 2011 Cable-Tec Expo program
committee; has served on the boards of the YMCA
in St. Louis and South Carolina.

Awards: Inducted into SCTE Hall of Fame this year;
named to Cable TV Pioneers class of 2011.

SOURCE: Multichannel News research

INSIDE ‘PROJECT IMAGINE’

Cordova has headed Suddenlink’s $350 million, three-year
Project Imagine effort since early 2009. Some highlights:

Overall, the project was 77% complete as of Sept. 30, 2011 —
ahead of schedule and on budget.

About 60 of the MSO’s 165 distinct cable systems have
reclaimed approximately 60 analog channels, freeing up 360 MHz
of spectrum.

DOCSIS 3.0 service is available to 84% of subscribers; the
operator last year launched 107 Megabit-per-second service in
select markets.

Video-on-demand is available to 82% of subscribers,
offering up to 8,000 titles with capacity for up to 20,000
hours of VOD.

HD channel counts have grown from an average of 24 to 72, with
some markets topping 90.

SOURCE: Multichannel News research

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