Retail Modem Market Small, but Active

Zoom uses Motorola brand, Linksys re-enters market to challenge Arris, Netgear
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Though the vast majority of cable high-speed Internet customers still lease modems and gateways from the operators, vendors have been ramping up their game in pursuit of the smaller retail market.

Zoom Telephonics, for example, is already seeing sales spike following the launch of a DOCSIS modem product line emblazoned with the Motorola brand. Linksys, meanwhile, has reentered the retail cable modem market under its new owner, Belkin.

Both companies are looking to challenge competitors with a sizable lead in the retail market. Arris had about 57.7% of the retail share for DOCSIS modems, followed by Netgear (26%) and TP-Link (3.4%) , according to NPD data from late October. Linksys hasn’t been back in the fold for long, but it has already secured about 5.2% of the market, NPD said.

They are all fighting for a slice of the overall DOCSIS consumer premises equipment market. Jeff Heynen, consulting director and senior research analyst in SNL Kagan’s Media & Communications unit, estimates that retail sales make up 10% to 15% of the total market.

He projected total DOCSIS CPE shipments in North America will hit 24.14 million units, meaning that the retail split this year will likely be in the range of 2.4 million to 3.62 million units.

RENTAL FEE SAVINGS

A Linksys-sponsored survey of 1,007 U.S. adults conducted last year by IDC found that one-in-five consumers purchased their cable modem from a retailer, and three-quarters did so to avoid monthly rental fees.

“People still, by and large, rent their modems through the operators,” Heynen said, noting that cable operators have been adept at bundling in WiFi and managed services, as well as integrated devices that support their VoIP services. “They’ll accommodate [retail], but they certainly won’t go out of their way.”

Linksys formally rejoined the cable-modem retail market in June, debuting a trio of DOCSIS 3.0-based modems based on Intel silicon, including a high-end model that can bond up to 24 downstream channels. Its renewed focus on retail followed Belkin’s acquisition of Linksys from Cisco Systems in 2013 and added it to Belkin’s home-networking business (Cisco acquired Linksys in 2003 for $500 million).

Linksys, which hawks modems at outlets such as Walmart, Best Buy and in its own online store, has seen a “nice lift” in sales since it started selling the new product line in April, a spokeswoman said.

Also making noise is Zoom, which introduced its first Motorola-branded retail cable modem products in February.

The product launch followed a five-year licensing deal announced in May 2015 that gave Zoom the exclusive rights to use the Motorola brand in cable modems/routers and set-tops (as well as cable modems inside set-tops) sold at retail in the U.S. and Canada. Motorola branding rights were previously with Arris, which now uses the SURFboard brand.

Zoom has since secured worldwide rights to the Motorola brand for modems, gateways, WiFi routers, range extenders and other WiFi products.

Zoom, which uses its own moniker as a “value brand,” has already seen a lift from the Motorola brand, which it uses for “premium” level products. Its Q3 revenues reached $6 million, up 78% from the year-ago quarter and up 51% from Q2.

Zoom expects to expand to six Motorolabranded products before the end of 2016. Frank Manning, Zoom’s CEO, said in an interview that the company is also working on a Motorola modem based on DOCSIS 3.1, cable’s new multigigabit platform for hybrid fiber-coax networks, and hopes to submit it to CableLabs for certification testing this year. “All the sales growth is coming from the Motorola brand,” he said on the company’s recent Q3 earnings call.

SHELF SPACE NEEDED

Zoom estimates that it has cable modem placements in more than 5,500 retail outlets, and offers products in stores such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target stores, as well as outlets like Amazon.

“We need to get more SKUs [stock keeping units] and shelf space,” Manning said. He sees $30 million of sales per year as Zoom’s break-even point, and an annual revenue run-rate of $50 million as an “achievable” goal.

He said dislodging incumbents from that shelf space has been “harder than expected … There’s a position of power when you’re on the shelf.”

And though retail is Zoom’s primary focus, Manning also opened the door to direct deals with MSOs. “We’re seriously looking at giving it a try,” he said, noting that Zoom is already in discussions about a potential hire focused in that area. “Think of it as an experiment; [there’s] no guarantees that we’ll be successful.”

Though the vast majority of cable high-speed Internet customers still lease modems and gateways from the operators, vendors have been ramping up their game in pursuit of the smaller retail market.

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