Executive Of The Year: All-Digital On The Fast Track  


Over the past few years, Insight Communications has had to put some network projects on hold as it wound through its break-up with 50-50 partner Comcast and the possible sale of the company. But with the Comcast situation behind it and the sale on hold at least for now, Insight is steaming ahead with an all-digital initiative that should free up channels for high-definition television and eventually super-high-speed Internet service using the DOCSIS 3.0 platform.

But first, Insight will begin with digital simulcasting and laying the groundwork to take its network all-digital sometime in the future. according to CEO Michael Willner, the company is working on a simulcast strategy now.

Willner said that the sales process — since aborted — held Insight back on digital plans because the company didn't want to commit to a strategy that a new owner would have to unwind or change course.

“That probably put us about a year behind, but we're catching up now,” Willner said

Insight also had other issues on its plate: it was completing the split from Comcast and was finishing the roll out of voice-over-Internet protocol phone technology across all its markets and was finishing up the migration of its high-speed Internet service from the AT&T network onto its own network.

The latter move was key, Willner said, adding that five years ago Insight had the lowest high-speed data penetration in the industry; today it has the second highest.

Another milestone was the ten-fold expansion of its Network Operations Center in Louisville in 2007.

Executive vice president of central operations and chief technology officer Hamid Heidary said the increased sophistication of the network meant that Insight needed a way to monitor more closely the critical components of that network from a central location.

The NOC and Insight's fiber-loop architecture played a significant role when Insight's largest market, Louisville, Ky., was hit by Hurricane Ike earlier this year. High winds from the storm socked the city, felling trees and communications lines and leaving about 300,000 homes without power for days.

“Basically we were the only operator that did not even blink in provision of services, other than the areas where our drop lines to the home were cut off by a tree on it, but the core delivery of the service itself was up and running through the seven-and-a-half days of no power in the city,” Heidary said.

On the all-digital front, Willner said that he believes that most operations will be basically all-digital (some basic video channels will remain analog) within two to three years.

Going all-digital will free up additional channels for HDTV (Insight will have 59 high-definition channels by the end of the year) and will also give the MSO the ability to introduce DOCSIS 3.0, the platform that allows cable operators to offer speeds of 100 Megabits per second to 150 Mbps. Heidary said that Insight probably won't offer full-blown DOCSIS 3.0 right off the bat, instead offering a 50 Mbps version that customers can grow into.

Heidary offered no timeframe for DOCSIS 3.0, but added that it would depend on how many analog channels are eventually freed up.

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