Canadian cable player Shaw Communications, facing the same challenges posed by the evolution to digital video and wireless as is most of the industry, imminently is expected to disclose new strategies, including a leapfrog plunge into 4G wireless broadband.

Calgary, Alberta-based Shaw had been expected to jump into wireless with the launch a 3.5G HSPA+ (high-speed packet access) wireless network, which it had been building. But Shaw now has put the brakes on that work following a decision by Telus, Canada’s third-largest wireless carrier, to start upgrading its own HSPA+ network immediately to Canada’s first 4G offering using long-term evolution (LTE), with commercial service launching next year.

“With the rapid development of wireless technology, including LTE options, and the dynamics within the wireless industry evolving at a swift pace, we are currently evaluating technology and strategic alternatives with respect to our wireless initiatives,” said Shaw CEO Brad Shaw, who replaced older brother Jim as CEO of the family-run company fewer than six months ago (far earlier than most observers had expected) in a recent Canadian securities filing. “We plan to slow our wireless build activities as we carefully consider all options in advance of the launch of a wireless service.”

Shaw has made it clear it is interested primarily in wireless data and not voice.

Meanwhile, on its traditional video turf, Shaw is struggling with new competition ranging from Netflix to Telus, which has fielded an IPTV service dubbed “Optik” that has been eroding Shaw’s traditional cable-TV base. To counter that, Shaw is about to roll out a new set-top box that can feed as many as six TVs and includes the ability to receive digital content from PCs.

Shaw explains its strategy like this: “We continue to focus heavily on the strength of our core business and intend to make important investments in new technology platforms, digital reclamation and broadband capacity in order to ensure we maintain our technological leadership.”

That includes an immediate boost in the middle range of its broadband speed offerings, from 15 Mb/s to 25 Mb/s, with no price increase. More is to come, the company says: The speed bump is “just the first step” in an overall revamp of Internet packaging it now is crafting for the big reveal this summer.

The cableco also is rumored to be readying significant new content plays, including a sports channel of its own. Its content strategy is being built around the former Canwest Global Communications broadcast assets – the Global TV network and 19 specialty channels – it bought earlier this year for $2 billion.

As part of the aggressive refocusing of wireless, digital video and content, Brad Shaw in March slashed 500 employees from the payroll, a quarter of them in middle management. Finally, as if to emphasis its confidence in the changes, the Shaw family on April 20 disclosed it had purchased another 1,000,325 Class B non-voting shares in the company, bringing to 51,586,354 the total of Class A and B shares the family holds.

Stuart Zipper

The Daily

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