Chris Bowick is chief technology officer for Cox Communications.
Last year you described how telephony helped raise the bar on technical operations. Does Cox’s nearly 10 years in voice give your team a unique perspective (among MSOs) on the telco competition?
I think this unique perspective is best exhibited by our continued focus on operations excellence and the development of a suite of telephone products and services that are unmatched in the industry. This isn’t just any old LEC-replacement service anymore. From an operations excellence perspective, we’re on a never-ending quest for continuous improvement and an absolute focus on the customer experience. I believe receiving four consecutive J.D. Power and Associates honors for telephone customer satisfaction in the Western Region, and similar honors this year in the Northeast and Southwest regions, bear this out. Not to mention the highest honors we received in a J.D. Power and Associates 2004 bundled long distance study. Our continued focus on refreshing our telephone products and converging the phone platform with our CHSI platform with Phone Tools—thus giving our customers a converged address book, control of their class features via the PC, unified messaging capability, etc.—also bears this out and allows us to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Soon you will also see wireless/wireline convergence, and even more convergence with the TV via our iTV platform.
Cox is using PacketCable Multimedia technology nationwide to increase the efficiency of the “speed previews” offered to data customers. Any other PCMM-enabled applications on deck?
There is no doubt that as we look to the future, in addition to raw speed, broadband content and applications will continue to become more and more important to our customers. We are certainly planning to leverage the PCMM platform to improve the delivery of other new applications and services (beyond the Speed Preview application) to differentiate our customers’ broadband experience from that of our competitors. While we are testing a number of new applications on the PCMM platform, we have not yet decided which of those applications we will deliver. After initial testing, we plan to solicit customer input to help us prioritize our deployment plans. We really want to gather customer feedback to help us make good decisions about how best to use the PCMM platform.
Apart form PCMM, any other technical advances on the high-speed data platform? Is DOCSIS 3.0 migration in the planning stages?
Yes, we are in the early stages of DOCSIS 3.0. We have been very involved in the CableLabs DOCSIS development and certification process and will continue to stay involved. Along with the other large MSOs, we see the clear benefits associated with a DOCSIS 3.0 deployment and want to encourage the equipment and technology suppliers to continue their work to develop DOCSIS 3.0 products. In addition to DOCSIS 3.0, we’ve been working to deploy our version of Comcast’s speed “boost” capability—thus further increasing the customer experience for quick downloads. We’re also continuously improving our Webmail client, increasing our customers’ mail storage capacity, improving our Internet safety and security suite and parental control capability, and migrating our national backbone to an MPLS full-mesh capability. Product and technology enhancements in this space will continue to evolve very quickly.
From a network and systems engineering perspective, has Cox’s aggressive push into business services posed any special challenges?
Cox has been in the business-services sector for as long as it’s been in the telephone business, so our “aggressive push” has been going on for at least 10 years. We anticipate that the commercial sector will be a $1 billion business for Cox within the next few years. For a business that’s growing this rapidly, there are always challenges in scaling the network and back office for such growth, but our team has met these challenges every step of the way—as evidenced by Cox Business Services’ recognition with yet another J.D. Power and Associates top honor in its business data study for small/midsize businesses. While Cox has always had a company-wide focus on providing outstanding customer service, operations excellence and absolute network reliability, these areas of focus are extremely critical to the business sector, with guaranteed performance and service level agreements (SLAs) being the norm. But as we continue to raise the bar for the commercial sector in products, performance and reliability, it can’t help but drive continuous improvement in our performance and reliability in the residential sector as well. Some unique technical challenges that have been driven by the commercial sector include T-1 over DOCSIS, hosted IP and IP Centrex solutions, and high-bandwidth (>20 Mbps) symmetrical services over HFC.
Cox has accelerated its launch of enhanced and interactive video technologies recently. What can we expect in this area over the next 12-18 months?
We’ve been making a lot of progress on the iTV front. We’re currently in the process of deploying an iTV suite of applications—first to our S-A markets, and then, later in ’07 and into ’08 to our Motorola markets. The deployments are based on the TVWorks (formerly known as Liberate) “TVNavigator” middleware, also known as “On Ramp to OCAP” since it is a subset of the broader OCAP spec.
The suite of applications being deployed includes information services (news, weather, sports); entertainment info (horoscopes, movie listings, simple games); bill view and pay (an early T-commerce application); upsell/self-provision (e.g., order and provision HBO or Showtime, order DVR service, order HSI service); email viewer (a blended application available to Cox Digital Cable and Cox High Speed Internet customers); and caller ID to TV (a blended application available to Cox Digital Cable and Cox Digital Telephone customers). Beyond this, we’re working on a “remote scheduling” application, allowing DVR scheduling from Web and wireless interfaces.