The heat surrounding business services – the focus of the SCTE’s "Hot Topic" symposium last month – is rising.

First, there are the internal mandates for "double-digit growth" that Time Warner Cable SVP Commercial Services Ken Fitzpatrick referred to in his welcoming remarks at this event. Second, there are the intensifying competitive realities. "We’re in a war," Fitzpatrick said. "It’s cable companies vs. telcos."

Cable’s offensive into the telcos’ business stronghold is only one aspect of today’s strategic landscape. The two industries are also competing over voice, data and video, bundled or not, on the residential front.

But that’s not all. The day after Fitzpatrick offered those opening remarks at the Atlanta symposium, I counted 17 pages of advertisements in USA Today for DirecTV’s high-definition service.

These ads featured a dozens of programming icons. In some, they spread like stars in the night sky, the object of earthbound consumers’ upward gaze; in others, they were blazoned across a stylized, orbiting satellite.

The reality is something less, and more, than the images convey. DirecTV’s HD programming will be less than the stars in the sky, and it’s not just one large but several satellites that carry these transponders.

Not withstanding problems with spot-beam capability, the massive DirecTV-10 satellite launched in June is driving DirecTV’s claim that it can now deliver more than 70 HD channels. But it’s when they are stacked in a geostationary queue that these birds pose an even greater threat to the cable industry’s own HD video aspirations.

Other weapons lie in wait. Phased array antennas, a non-parabolic technology initially applied in military aircraft, sooner or later will enable residential dishes to "tune" to several non-stacked satellites.

The upshot could be another huge increase in direct broadcast satellite (DBS) bandwidth.

All the more reason for cable operators to accelerate the rollout of switched digital video and pay close attention to technologies that offer commensurate boosts to cable’s own usable spectrum.

Sustaining double-digit growth will be a challenge. This war is heating up on multiple fronts.

Jonathan Tombes, Editor

The Daily

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