Before we Start Over with a New Year, here’s a Look Back at 2012 through the prism of CED’s Broadband 50, which is now 12 years old. We have scoured the cable world to come up with the people, stories and trends that were the most meaningful. As usual, we have also enlisted the anonymous help of various luminaries in the cable industry, so if your story, person, event or product didn’t make the list below, blame them.
So cue up Barbara Streisand’s “The way we were” on YouTube or whatever multi-screen device you happen to be using. Pour yourself the beverage of your choice, be it single malt, hot cocoa or Lapsang Souchong tea, put a log on the fire and commence reading.
“Memories, light the corners of my mind. Misty watercolor memories of the way we were.”
1. DOCSIS 3.1: Cable’s endgame
Don’t be fooled by the “dot-one” part of the name; this is no simple rev. The new spec will transform DOCSIS, ensuring cable remains competitive, possibly until humans are bred for telepathic broadband.
D3.1 will accelerate HFC networks from tens of megabits per second to up to 10 Gbps. There will be a switch from single-carrier modulation to multi-carrier modulation (OFDM), and from Reed-Solomon to the more compute-intensive LDPC forward error correction technique.
Meanwhile, hundreds of megahertz will be shifted from the bottom range of the cable spectrum, taking from the upstream to give to the downstream, while similarly vast tracts of spectrum will be added to the upper range to compensate. Expect there to be a lot of “little” details to take care of, too.
It may all seem overwhelming, but the roadmap is designed to be implemented in stages, as much for technological reasons as to ease the pressure on capital budgets – so don’t hold your breath for a gigabit stream. – Brian Santo
2. Cable finds its wireless groove
After several failed attempts at partnering on wireless services, including the Sprint-based Pivot service and Clearwire, cable operators found solid footing in 2012 as the partnership with Verizon Wireless yielded cross-promotional deployments with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks.
While it wasn’t ebony and ivory living together in perfect harmony, the deployments gave the big cable operators a true answer to the 3G/4G conundrum while enabling that elusive fourth wheel of the quad play.
Minus the fetters of partnerships and cellular build-outs, the top MSOs in the country were also free to further develop their Wi-Fi strategies, as evidenced by the roaming agreement that Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks announced at the Cable Show in Boston.
Cablevision has long been the Wi-Fi flag bearer for the cable industry, and last year it had 50,000 hotspots in its tri-state footprint, while Comcast, Shaw Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks also were active in setting up more access points. In a year or so, MSOs will debut routers with partitioned bandwidth, most allocated for the subscribers in whose homes they’ll be installed, but some set aside for customers roaming nearby. Which brings us to a paraphrase of Homer Simpson: “Mmmm, Wi-Fi. Is there anything it can’t do?” – Mike Robuck
3. Home networks: Stay relevant
On one side, consumers desire seamless, ubiquitous connectivity that works when they’re mobile, when they’re home and when they’re moving from one environment to the other. They can’t get it yet.
On the other side, advertisers desire comprehensive customer information. At the moment, they can get only incomplete, fractured views of consumer behavior, with data that cannot easily all be correlated from multiple partners: MVPDs, mobile carriers, over-the-top sources.
The home network is the point of convergence for a good chunk of the Broadband 50 through the last few years – multi-screen delivery, whole-home DVR, second screen integration, Wi-Fi, game consoles, gateways, HTML5, program guides, interactive advertising. …
Control the home network, and you have the means to make both your subscribers and advertising partners happy. You can also offer new features and services and be a useful (and possibly necessary) enabler to anyone else who wants to hook into that network. You never become a dumb pipe. – BS
It seems like everyone wants a piece of the multi-screen pie, including, and most importantly, consumers.
Managed service providers, telcos, MSOs and satellite broadcasters are all facing intense competition from those pesky ol’ OTT service providers such as Netflix and Hulu, and to respond to these challenges, the providers are implementing an open multi-screen service delivery platform, enabling full control over the multi-screen user experience. Everyone knows it can no longer wait.
As for the actual content, in December, Comcast announced that its tablet and phone app now lets subscribers download and store movies and TV shows from some channels for offline viewing. This is the first cable operator app that allows offline viewing. Expect a lot more of that.
A subset of the multi-screen phenomenon is that people have been using tablets and smaller devices during program-watching for social networking and for accessing supplemental information. The service provider response was first to enable those devices as remote controls, and now to use them for their own apps and advertising opportunities. – Traci Patterson
5. Comcast’s X1: The future is now
Comcast’s hybrid IP/QAM platform makes the top five because it contains all of the elements of where cable is headed. To wit: X1 combines cloud-based navigation, personalization and search functions with an interactive programming guide, HTLM5 with customized apps and social media features. Currently, Comcast is using a set-top/gateway developed by Pace, which includes a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, but it could source other vendors at some point.
In addition to being a migration path to IP, X1 also lets Comcast customers enable their iPhones and iPod Touch devices as gesture-driven remote controls.
At last year’s Cable Show in Boston, Comcast announced that the first X1 deployment was imminent in Beantown, which was followed by rollouts in Atlanta and Chattanooga. And X1 is now in parts of California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno and Santa Barbara.
“Finally, the hope for a common standard for media assets,” wrote one of CED’s contributors to the Broadband 50 list.
With X1 in the field, Comcast’s IP X13-H box made its way through the Federal Communications Commission last year. The IP-HD client device, which in this case was made by Humax, can work in tandem with future versions of the X1 boxes and will further Comcast’s IP ambitions. – MR
6. Business services still chugging along
When compared with cutting-edge technologies, such as the cloud, HTML5 and CCAP, business services lack some pizzazz, but unlike most of those new fangled technologies, business services contribute directly to cable operators’ bottom lines.
According to research by Heavy Reading, cable operators were poised to pass the $7 billion revenue mark for business services last year, which was 14 percent higher than 2011. In the third quarter of last year, Time Warner Cable’s business services revenue increased 27 percent year-over-year, while Comcast’s was up 34 percent.
In particular, cell backhaul, Ethernet services and cloud applications were bright spots last year for cable operators and will continue to shine over the coming years. Cox and Time Warner Cable were ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, last year on Vertical Systems Group’s U.S. Business Ethernet Leaderboard.
Cable operators have become firmly entrenched in the small- to medium-size business sector and are working their way up into the enterprise market. Once cable operators iron out the interconnect agreements, they’ll be able to pass customers along between each other’s respective footprints. – MR
7. Home automation/security taxiing for takeoff
Home automation, which includes home security, could be the next big product offering from cable operators. Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox Communications, Suddenlink and Bright House Networks have all tuned in and turned on home automation services.
Sure, cable faces keen competition from the entrenched home security providers, such as ADT, as well as Verizon and AT&T, but cable has existing relationships with the customers (can you say single billing?) and the all-important broadband pipes into homes.
While consumers are able to remotely track when a door is opened or control their lights and thermostats from afar, cable operators are hoping to gain incremental revenues and reduce churn by offering home automation services.
Someday, your home automation system will be able to tell you when you’re low on eggs in the refrigerator and put them on a shopping list, but for now, just knowing what time your daughter got home and who was with her via a picture is plenty of peace of mind. – MR
8. Open the gateway
Judging by what the semiconductor companies are doing with their planning for future products, OTT and home networking will continue to be the primary areas of concern in CPE. On the OTT side, the emphasis will be on enabling tighter integration of Web and broadcast content, while on the home networking side, the emphasis appears to be shifting to new implementations of Wi-Fi ruggedized for distributing HD video.
For today’s gateways, North American MSOs tend to favor the superset of Ethernet and MoCA for connecting to their set-tops and Wi-Fi for connecting to mobile devices. Powerline might be included in North American CPE; that option is more popular in European and other markets.
As for Comcast, it’s using its Reference Design Kit (RDK) to develop its Pace-made “Parker” boxes that are being used for its X1 service. The RDK is also the basis for Comcast’s IP XI3 client device that will work in conjunction with the cable operator’s XG1 hybrid gateways.
MSOs are jazzed by the idea that these things could replace set-tops, but there remain too many questions. The only way to get clarity would be to throw a few out there and see what happens. Don’t everybody jump at once. – TP
9. Coming soon: CCAP
By combining cable modem termination systems and edge QAMs, among other features, such as being more energy-efficient, cable’s Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) will provide the building blocks for the next generation of cable services, be they DOCSIS 3.1, IP or some combination of both.
Comcast continued its CCAP trial last year in preparation for mass deployments this year. Also of note, CCAP products made their debuts at show booths. Casa Systems was first out of the gates publicly with two models on display at The Cable Show. Arris, CommScope and Harmonic showed their CCAP wares at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando, while Motorola and Cisco were providing views of their respective CCAP platforms behind closed doors.
From an equipment standpoint, not every cable operator may be ready to jump in with both feet on a full CCAP rollout of equipment, but cable operators can still take advantage of the CCAP-enabled edge QAM capabilities as they expand their narrowcast services. According to Comcast’s Jorge Salinger, this approach doesn’t “strand the investment” in the short term, and it allows cable operators to migrate to full CCAP at a later date. Even without full-on deployments, CCAP is already impacting the purchase in edge QAMs. – MR
10. McKinney: A new hope
The cable industry has been on a convergent path with consumer electronics and computing and has understood for some time that it has to get its collective butt in gear to match the pace of those other industries.
That was demonstrated when cable hired Panasonic CTO Paul Liao to run CableLabs in 2009. And when Liao moved on, the industry recruited PC industry vet and recognized innovation guru Phil McKinney.
In six short months, McKinney has already got CableLabs positioned to become a technology incubator with a new R&D lab in Silicon Valley. – BS
11. HTML5: Come together
Key elements of the TV experience are best done on the Web, notably navigating program guides, searching for content and social networking. HTML5 is still in development, but it is already being adopted in cable to support TV-based apps and is heading for a big role, which will happen at the expense of EBIF and tru2way. Meanwhile, more and more TV is going IP, and since IP is HTML’s natural habitat, HTML5 has the potential to become the common platform for all video assets. – BS
12. Retrans/programming costs
Last year started off with MSG Network pulling its programming from Time Warner Cable’s lineup. A couple months later, Tribune Co. yanked its signals from DirecTV. At about the same time, Hearst television stations were pulled from Time Warner Cable.
In April, the CEOs of Time Warner Cable and DirecTV co-signed a public plea to Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to revise the rules on retransmission, or “retrans,” consent.
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt and DirecTV CEO Mike White accused programmers of taking the most popular programming “hostage” as leverage in negotiations. Of course, broadcasters claim they are the victims.
And the battle rages on. …
The breaking point might be sports. Oscar fans are genteel folk, but mess with Pac 12 coverage, and you have agitated the wrong people. Toss in angry advertisers, and who knows? Maybe there’s some critical mass for reform this year. – TP
13. TV Everywhere for everyone?
Well, not quite yet, but the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable operators are working on it, and they’re keenly aware that they need multi-screen services in order to fend off AT&T and Verizon in their respective footprints.
Vendors are certainly aware that small- and medium-size cable operators want TV Everywhere services. One avenue is to partner with TiVo, which Cable One, Suddenlink Communications, Mediacom Communications, RCN, Grande Communications, GCI and Midcontinent Communications have all done.
Smaller cable operators have also developed their own TV Everywhere platforms internally. Massillon Cable worked with CableLabs on a TV Everywhere authentication process that was so successful that the NCTC decided to make it available to its members.
“Once it gets where it needs to be, Netflix has a big, big problem,” one of CED’s contributors said. – MR
14. Basic tier encryption: Finally
After 20 years of technological progress, the FCC could no longer justify continuing to bar basic tier encryption. MSOs aren’t completely unshackled, though. They have to be all-digital, and if they have customers who adamantly do not want a set-top box, they have to offer CPE for free for a few years. But so what? This is going to save everyone time and money on CPE and service. Invisible hand? Did someone mention Michael Powell? – BS
15. CE and cable
The relationship is important when it comes to home networking, but also of note: the recent news that Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, TWC, Cox, Verizon, Charter, AT&T, Cablevision, Bright House and CenturyLink, as well as manufacturers Cisco, Motorola, EchoStar and Arris, have signed a formal agreement to continue to improve the energy-efficiency of set-top boxes through the next five years, and to begin installing energy-saving models – starting now. New STBs will conform to Energy Star 3.0 specs this year.
The CableCard imbroglio left wounds that still haven’t healed, but multi-screen video, Smart TVs and other important developments have forced both sides to make nice. And what if Apple does start making TVs? It could happen. OK, if you keep laughing that hard, you might end up snorting your milk out of your nose. – TP
16. Wheelin’ and dealin’ Gangnam Style in 2012
A wave of consolidation washed through the cable operator ranks last year, with the following deals: Time Warner Cable wrapped up its purchase of Insight Communications, WOW took Knology private and Cogeco came south of the border to buy Atlantic Broadband. Then there were also deals by Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent and his cohorts to purchase the company, while execs from WaveDivision teamed up with capital venture firms to purchase Wave Broadband.
On the vendor front, Google/Motorola dominated the news, even after the deal was done, as Google looked for potential buyers, which included Arris and Pace, for what was left of Motorola. Cisco closed on its deal to buy NDS. At press time, Cablevision was in a bidding process to sell the former Bresnan systems, with Suddenlink and Charter reportedly interested. – MR
17. IP: Lifeblood
Carbon-based life forms rely on this one particular element so heavily that nobody really bothers to mention it that often. IP is getting to be something like that in the context of networking. The shift among MVPDs to IP is enabling the prophesized convergence of communications, computing and consumer electronics, leading to new products, new features, new services. MPEG will be around for decades yet, but it is most certainly on the path to extinction. We know they said that about vinyl LPs, but this time they mean it. – BS
18. Green: Byproduct
In the early ’70s, Earth Day was a punch line: “Hey, look what the dirty hippies are doing now!” Forty years later, pretty much the entire communications industry has so fully bought into the idea that saving energy is a critical element of doing business that they dismiss being green as a fringe benefit. And if that isn’t enough, green energy sources are frequently the ones that keep pumping juice when a natural disaster has crippled cheaper energy alternatives. Hear that noise? That’s the sound of aging hippies laughing last. – BS
19. Comcast: It’s good to be king
Last year started with Comcast striking an encompassing, long-term deal with Disney that put the Mouse’s assets, including ESPN, Disney Channel and ABC Family, onto various screens and websites in live and VOD modes.
Also last January, Comcast was the first MSO to start cross-promoting services with Verizon Wireless and continued aggressive deployments throughout the rest of the year.
On the multi-screen front, Comcast notched 219 million viewers during last year’s Summer Olympics, set up micro-sites for election coverage and its fall lineup, and launched Streampix. Comcast also booted up a data tier with a downstream of 305 Mbps to wrest bragging rights away from Verizon. Comcast also licensed numerous vendors for its Reference Design Kit. – MR
20. Canoe Ventures sinks
Despite the backing and efforts of the top six MSOs in the nation, Canoe Ventures pulled the plug on its ambitious iTV advertising plans last year. Canoe Ventures, which was formed in 2008, laid off the 120 employees from its New York City office. Most of the remaining 30 employees moved forward on dynamic ad insertion out of Canoe Ventures’ Denver Technical Facility.
While Canoe was in front of 25 million EBIF-enabled households, which were mostly Comcast subscribers, in the end, its cable operator backers decided it was better to pursue iTV on their own. – MR
21. HD DTAs blossom
For what was originally conceived as a cheap device to convert signals in consumers’ homes, digital terminal adapters (DTAs) have proven to be both versatile and far-reaching. Last year, Comcast conducted a large field of HD DTAs ahead of installing them in customers’ homes, while BendBroadband struck a deal to use Evolution Digital’s HD DTAs.
HD DTAs allow cable operators to offer a one-way, low-cost HD service that is affordable and easily deployed in hotels and MDUs. Evolution offers a wall plate version, which mounts over existing cable junction boxes, that cuts down on theft of equipment. Pace, Motorola, Huawei and Technicolor also have HD DTAs in their product lineups. – MR
22. Charter: Movin’ on up
Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge officially started his tenure with the nation’s fourth-largest cable operator early last year after leaving his Cablevision post in December 2011. Rutledge proceeded to get the old band back together by hiring former Cablevision execs Jim Blackley, Jonathan Hargis and John Bickham, among others, to work at Charter.
Rutledge’s boldest move of the year was moving Charter’s headquarters from the St. Louis area to Stamford, Conn., which was closer to where Rutledge and many of his former Cablevision execs lived. Charter, which planned on investing more than $10 million in its new corporate digs, was aided with the move by state incentives. – MR
23. Compression: That’s much better
MPEG-4 is still in the process of being adopted, true, but it’s also nearly 15 years old. Meanwhile, H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 has been around for a decade. As algorithms go, that’s, like, 73 in dog years, and all the while, video is consuming bandwidth like crazy.
MPEG-DASH and HEVC (the former will support the latter) have been shown to be capable of compressing video by more than another 50 percent and are on the verge of commercialization this year. We’re in the camp that believes bandwidth-strapped wireless broadband carriers will have to bite first, but opinions vary on that. – BS
Toward the end of December, Charter was expected to make an offer to Cablevision, in the first round of bidding, for the former Bresnan Communications systems, which Cablevision renamed Optimum West. Speaking of leaving Cablevision for Charter, that’s exactly what Tom Rutledge, Jim Blackley, Jonathan Hargis, John Bickham and Scott Weber did last year.
On the other hand, the new guy might be just the ruthless shark her new bosses didn’t realize they needed. – TP
25. Google: Your friendly fiberhood ISP
It’s Google’s world, and we’re just livin’ in it, but world domination is on hold for now. Google’s $12.5 billion mega deal to buy the Home division of Motorola Mobility passed muster in May of last year. Google promptly stripped out the patents that it deemed the most valuable and hired former Charter CTO Marwan Fawaz before putting the set-top box and other cable-related hardware assets on the market. As last year came to a close, Pace and Arris were among the serious suitors.
Cable operators are no doubt fine with a friendly vendor owning the Moto set-top box business, since Google installed its own fiber-based data service in a few neighborhoods, which it calls “fiberhoods,” and businesses in Time Warner Cable’s backyard in Kansas City. – MR
26. Bandwidth management: Always
Even though the cost of a bit keeps plunging, once you start aggregating the little suckers into gigabytes and sending them hither and yon, all of a sudden you’re talking real money, which explains why we don’t all have fiber-to-the-home yet. And, thus, bandwidth remains a limited resource that, being limited, needs to be managed. For a long time to go, this will remain a juggling act: How little can you pay to get just past where you need to be? – BS
27. The Grand SCTE
The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers is always busy. Last year, the organization formally adopted as standards two sets of recommendations regarding energy management. SCTE 184 establishes recommended practices for energy management, while SCTE 186 defines common environmental and sustainability requirements for equipment within those facilities. We like energy-efficiency.
And in its ongoing efforts to be a more eco-friendly industry, the SCTE formed a Recycling Working Group as part of the SCTE Standards Program’s Sustainability Management Subcommittee (SMS). The working group is responsible for identifying and codifying recommended practices that are designed to ensure proper management of e-waste. We like recycling.
We also like its Veterans Network (Vet-Net) program. – TP
28. TiVo: Savior or evil Succubus to cable?
Where to begin with TiVo? On the one hand, small- to mid-size cable operators, such as RCN, Suddenlink, Midcontinent, Cable One, Mediacom Communications, GCI and Grande Communications, have struck deals with TiVo that not only enable home networking, but also multi-screen viewing.
On the other hand, TiVo has won patent settlements against Verizon, Dish and AT&T, with one pending against Time Warner Cable. Overseas, Virgin Media is a big win for the DVR pioneer, but Charter got cold feet and called off last year’s announced deployment with TiVo.
For an unbiased look at TiVo, we give you this quote from one of our industry sages: “TiVo is screwing the pooch strategically. Suing, winning lawsuits and taking the money instead of taking it out in guaranteed future business. Very short-sighted, especially given things are moving to the cloud where their patents have limited value, and remember, their guide is also Flash-based in the box. They are driving others to work around them and not do business with them – d-u-m-b.” – MR
29. TWC: Catching up
Back in June, Time Warner Cable was out of the starting blocks with the first launch of its cloud-based VOD application in Syracuse. Subscribers see richer graphics on TWC’s VOD menu; the box art is cloud-based, as are the metadata servers and the signup and search functions.
TWC also signed on to use the Comcast Reference Development Kit, which provides a streamlined approach to the development and deployment of advanced set-top, gateway and system-on-a-chip (SoC) platforms.
Take that, Comcast. – TP
30. Liberty Global sees new Horizon
It took a village of vendors, but Liberty Global’s Horizon TV platform, which enables home networking, TV Everywhere services, personal recommendations and Internet applications to TVs, was, after some delays, launched in the fall of last year. Liberty Global developed Horizon TV in collaboration with a total of 15 vendors.
Horizon TV features its own app store that blends online services, such as YouTube and Facebook, onto TV screens. At launch time, customers could log in via the app or via the dedicated website with their personal account info to stream 80 live TV channels and access 3,500 television shows/episodes and nearly 2,000 movies. – MR
31. AT&T/Dish/DirecTV: Broadband paupers
These guys are constantly dismissed because they don’t have this or not enough of that, and then they cobble together something that addresses each lack just adequately enough to satisfy their subscribers – all 38 million of them. Dish sister company HughesNet has begun residential satellite broadband, and AT&T will start accelerating its DSL just enough this year, while DirecTV keeps doing just fine with its NFL package, thank you very much. – BS
32. NCTA: The Man
Remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the unassuming Oz is discovered behind a curtain pulling levers and knobs to produce smoke and sound effects? Now imagine a guy hiding behind a curtain and pulling levers and knobs that actually do something useful – you’d have Michael Powell. Everything in D.C. has become easy: the spectrum sale to Verizon Wireless fizzled as an issue; basic tier encryption was rolled back; MSOs can now buy telcos. – BS
33. MSOs boot up usage-based billing in 2012
Whenever an all-you-can-eat buffet turns into ordering off of a menu, customers generally aren’t happy, especially the gluttons. Such is the case with bandwidth caps, which returned in 2012.
After a bandwidth cap debacle four years ago, Time Warner Cable trialed its low-cost Internet Essentials tier in Texas early last year before rolling it out more broadly across its footprint.
Comcast took a different approach by abandoning its 250-GB-a-month bandwidth allowance in favor of thresholds that started at 300 GB a month, with the option to pay for more gigabytes as needed. Mediacom turned on a bandwidth-surcharge meter last year, while Suddenlink also had a usage-based billing process in place. – MR
34. TWC, BHN, Cablevision finally score with NFL
Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cablevision were glaring holdouts when it came to scoring a deal with the NFL Network, but that finally changed last year.
Time Warner Cable’s deal with the NFL was 10 years in the making, but all three cable operators signed multi-year agreements that also included NFL RedZone. The new agreements gave the cable operators’ subscribers access to the 24-hour NFL Network channel and its live Thursday night games.
“A bone to the cable operators while they sell the big prize to DirecTV,” groused one industry insider. – MR
35. IPv6 … yawn
World IPv6 Launch Day came and went mid-year. In one way, IPv6 is old news in that many communications companies are already supporting IPv6 in at least parts of their networks. But that was a necessary prerequisite for content sources to begin supporting IPv6.
World IPv6 Launch Day was neither a start nor an end to the rolling out of support for IPv6, but was one of the earlier midpoints in a long and gradual process that will include dual support for both IPv4 and IPv6 for many years to come.
Again, yawn. According to one industry insider, “It’s not a big deal yet.” According to another, “It’s as exciting as waiting for Windows Vista.” Bring back Y2K. – TP
36. Bright House Networks shines in 2012
Bright House Networks was in the national spotlight as the service provider of choice during the Republican National Convention that was held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The nation’s sixth-largest cable operator also made a news splash when it announced late last year that it had signed a deal to buy cloud provider Telovations in order to offer more business services across its national footprint.
In November, Bright House Networks started its cross-promotion campaign with Verizon Wireless in Orlando. Also last year, Bright House Networks worked with long-time partner Fujitsu on increasing the transmission rates on its metro networks to 100G last year. For the seventh consecutive year, J.D. Power and Associates ranked Bright House Networks highest in the South Region for customer service satisfaction for its residential phone service. – MR
37. Authentication: Let’s see some ID
Consumers are expecting seamless connectivity on their devices, even as they move from place to place, connecting to different networks that might be operated by different companies. On top of that, any given consumer has different rights to different content in different locations.
This creates a logistical nightmare involving entitlements and authentication. Solutions began to appear in 2012; expect them to start being widely deployed this year. – BS
38. Small cable operators rise up
BendBroadband launched its TV Everywhere service last year with the help of HBO Go and rolled out an iPad app in conjunction with Arris. Midcontinent also got on the TV Everywhere scorecard by working with Synacor. BendBroadband also cranked up its own LTE service last year.
On an SCTE Cable-Tec Expo general session panel, Massillon Cable technical operations manager and general manager Kelly Rehm said his company had a project in place for this year to go to 85 MHz on the upstream return path, which will be one of the first forays into the 85 MHz mid-split range. Also noteworthy was Buckeye CableSystem’s 110 Mbps wideband tier. – MR
39. Everything in the cloud
Well, almost everything. Putting aside the numerous vendor cloud-based services and applications for now, Time Warner Cable Business Class launched a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering for small- and medium-size businesses last year, as well as a cloud-based video-on-demand application. The cloud-based VOD app was a starting point en route to the deployment of IP-based set-top boxes late last year or early this year.
As noted in #5, Comcast’s X1 platform relies on the cloud, while Cablevision, an early cloud adopter via its relationship with ActiveVideo, planned for more cloud-based services and applications last year. – MR
40. BSS/OSS: Distractions
You’d think that service providers are completely ready to take advantage of all those new features and services and products and stuff enabled by IP and the cloud and enterprise networking and multi-screen and wireless broadband and stuff, and you’d be wrong. Knocking down silos remains an intractable problem for many, but rather than fix that once and for all, everyone is excited about supporting business services and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, which means adding yet another BSS/OSS silo. – BS
41. Verizon, again
As a foe, Verizon launched its 300/65 Mbps tier in June and cut the price on the 150 Mbps offering that competes more directly with cable’s D3-based tiers. The 300 Mbps tier does give it bragging rights as the fastest residential service in North America, but its price tag of $209.99 a month and $204.99 per month with a two-year contract is steep. Of more concern is Verizon’s 150/65 tier, which was cut from $209.99 a month to a standalone price of $99.99 a month, or $94.99 with a two-year contract. But Comcast took over bragging rights with its 305 tier.
As a friend, Verizon Wireless sold its 700 MHz A- and B-block spectrum after regulators approved Verizon’s acquisition of 150 AWS licenses from Cox, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House in August. – TP
42. Advanced advertising
Canoe Ventures pulled the plug on its iTV advertising plans last year, as mentioned in #20, but advanced advertising is still alive and well.
And it’s not just advertising on the television anymore. It’s also advertising on PCs, and smartphones and tablets. The way that content is consumed, and the way that content is delivered, is changing drastically, and this is changing the way advertising is delivered to both linear TV and the new IP-connected devices. The future: Advertisements inserted into IP content streams that are geared toward specific zones or locations.
Mo’ devices, mo’ problems.
As a Broadband 50 contributor noted, “Someday we will be able to replicate what Google does on the Internet side.” Oh, Google. – TP
43. Wrong way, Huawei
Chinese telecom infrastructure manufacturer Huawei Technologies found itself in hot water with the House Intelligence Committee after a report said the vendor was a threat to national security. The congressional concern caused some heat for Huawei’s U.S. customers, which include Comcast, Suddenlink and BendBroadband.
Australia blocked Huawei from submitting a bid to supply its national broadband network, while Britain’s parliament started an inquiry into Huawei. – MR
44. 4K TVs/Ultra HD
Sony Pictures content is coming pre-loaded on a video player bundled with Sony’s first ultra-high-definition TV, a massive 84-inch set that retails for $24,999.99 and features nearly four times the resolution of typical HDTVs. Ultra HD is widely regarded as the next evolution in TV technology, but with LG’s 84-inch version retailed at $19,999.99, it sure ain’t for everybody. – TP
45. UIs: Juggling for klutzes
The grid is a horror show, albeit comfortingly familiar. Onscreen search is hopelessly awkward, so second screens are becoming popular for search and navigation, which is promising, but search tools are of wildly variable quality. Gesture input is, by several accounts, a complete failure, and voice input is unreliable in too many instances. Social media? How many of your Facebook friends share your tastes? More research. – BS
46. Internet on the TV!
Sure, Hulu and Netflix pose a threat to cable, but they aren’t the doomsday prophecies they once seemed to be. Some subscribers have cut the cord, and some people have become “cord-nevers,” never to be seen as a pay-TV subscriber of cable, but the trend is slight. “It’s not the threat people thought it would be,” a Broadband 50 contributor said, with relief. – TP
47. Location-based services
At TelcoTV last year, David Price, head of business development at Ericsson, said his company is able to provide zone targeting, and he believes one advantage will be the ability to provide location-based services. If you can identify that a customer is on the road at a conference in Las Vegas, it makes no sense to push an ad for a restaurant in that customer’s hometown, but it could be very valuable to serve an ad for a restaurant in Vegas.
But there just aren’t enough advertisers ready to take full advantage of the capabilities that companies like Ericsson are making possible, dangit. – TP
48. Familiar faces in different places
Former Canoe Ventures CTO Arthur Orduna landed at security firm ADT last year after Canoe downsized, while Paul Liao left his position as CEO of CableLabs. A large chunk of Cablevision’s executive team left only to resurface with former COO Tom Rutledge over at Charter. Former SeaChange exec Yvette Kanouff bucked the trend and was hired by Cablevision.
One interesting move was Kyle McSlarrow’s departure from Washington, D.C., to Salt Lake City to become regional vice president of Comcast’s Mountain Region. The former CEO of the NCTA was Comcast’s go-to guy in D.C. as its president of Comcast/NBCUniversal. – MR
49. Private ol’ Cox
Cox Communications can claim to be the first video provider to sign on for new TV Everywhere services from Starz Entertainment. Cox can offer its authenticated subscribers Starz Play and Encore Play for free via Starz’s websites. Starz also said it would launch MoviePlex and MoviePlex Play with Cox and announce additional launch agreements with its distribution partners in the future. And a new deal with Disney allows Cox to carry its programming across all devices. – TP
50. Network management: AI
There’s talk that if networks can be made smarter, they will be able to start managing themselves, at least a little. Adaptive bit rate (ABR) transmission is a start to that.
Now network boffins (we’ve been watching the BBC’s “Sherlock”) are talking about intelligent networking and content-aware networking and the like. The idea is to have the network make decisions on the fly based on end-user requirements, available network capacity and other factors to optimize traffic flow. At the moment, it’s a balm looking for someone who’s been burnt bad enough by traffic conditions to consider it. – BS
Area 51 is reserved for those stories that didn’t quite make it into the Broadband 50. Officially, it doesn’t exist, so take care when reading.
Aside from the Huawei and ZTE fright, in mid-December, a U.N. conference weighing possible Internet rules shifted into a high-stakes showdown after advancing a proposal for greater government oversight. The proposal was a blow to U.S.-led efforts to keep new regulations from touching the ’Net.
Aereo was actually in one of our CTO’s top five (hint, his company begins with a “C.”) But Aereo, which is offering over-the-air live TV signals via Internet-connected antennas, also received some of the lowest ratings by the CED insiders. Naturally, broadcasters and cable operators were opposed to the Barry Diller-backed video service. Aereo was in a federal appeals court late last year, with the outcome still pending.
“Aereo would be a big deal if it wins in court,” said one of the contributors to the Broadband 50. “It survived the injunction, but those in the know put the probability of success at less than 50 percent.”
Cable operators still pledge their support to both, but members of our panel wrote things like “Aarrrggghhh! Is it dead yet?” and “Agreed. Little engine that couldn’t. Feels like pouring upgrades into that old IBM PC XT.” Hey, what did you expect us to do, pick on CableCards?
Sure is great to go to those 3-D movies in theaters, but ESPN, Sony, Panasonic, Discovery and the Consumer Electronics Association were hoping for more 3-D clamor in customers’ homes.
Apple is coming to cable!
Or is cable coming to Apple? The rumor was spurred on in the Steve Jobs biography that he was interested in partnering with cable operators. And then an analyst kick-started the rumor again about midway through last year. Apple’s set-top box has, to date, been nothing more than a hobby, but cable operators were reportedly looking at the infrastructure needed to support such a device. This is all a long ways away from any money passing hands.
It was a rough year for Clearwire, as Time Warner Cable sold its 7.8 percent stake and Comcast took steps that would allow it to divest its stake in the company, as well. In December, Sprint, which owns a 50 percent stake in Clearwire, sprung a deal to buy the rest of the company. Expect Clearwire to upgrade its WiMAX to LTE now.