Consolidation, competition and advanced technologies were several of the themes that surfaced at the 52 nd annual European Cable Communications Association (ECCA) congress, which drew some 600 delegates to Vienna, Austria, last week. In U.S./North American terms, ECCA plays a role similar to the National Cable Telecommunications Association in terms of government lobbying and to CableLabs through its relationship to EuroCableLabs. ECCA represents 31 members in 20 countries, representing more than 55 million customers. The event in Vienna featured dozens of speakers, including Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, who keynoted the event. ECCA’s largest member, Liberty represents 19 million customers, with operations in 19 countries, including several in Latin America and Asia. As big as Liberty is, Fries said that national limits on industry size were "absurd," especially in light of incumbent telecom carriers. "We just need a level playing field," he said, fingering national powers rather than the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels. "Many of the battles we’re fighting are local." Austria itself is home to some 150 smaller operators, suggesting room for further consolidation in at least one EU country. Competition and technology Fries reflected cable’s skeptical party line on telcoTV competition: "Telcos are going to struggle in this area… Video is hard." As for the over-the-top providers, he indicated a noteworthy eagerness to engage and co-opt the threat that they pose. "I take it so seriously that I think we can copy what they’re doing," he said. About 40 mostly technology exhibitors were on hand to advance cable’s international agenda, as outlined by other executives from Cablecom (Switzerland), ComHem (Sweden), UPC (Netherlands/Central Europe), Kabel Deutschland (Germany), Ono (Spain), J-Com (Japan), Telenet (Belgium), and ntl (United Kingdom). Motorola, Nortel, Philips and Scientific-Atlanta demonstrated "state-of-the-art" cable living rooms that underscored the event’s official theme: "competing for the digital home." Liberty’s Fries offered a stark view of that competitive landscape: "Digital TV is our biggest opportunity and our biggest weakness … 30 percent of our customers are getting 30 analog channels." Like their North American counterparts, ECCA’s members are pushing other technology borders, wireless in particular. "It’s not just about the digital home," Jans Vorstermans, EVP, Technology and Infrastructure, Telenet, said. Echoing one of Fries’ points about innovation, Vorstermans said, "if you stand still on the highway, a truck will hit you." Among those new technologies, DOCSIS 3.0 clocked considerable podium time. It was the focus of the entire presentation by Dr. Steve Upton, ntl, managing director, networks. Ntl is already in trials with a pre-standard, bonded channel 100 Mbps solution from Arris, but Upton noted that early adopters face a dilemma in deploying gear that has not yet benefited from economies of scale. As to whether the enterprise market could spur the adoption of DOCSIS 3.0, Upton admitted that ntl generates considerable revenue from business services, but emphasized his company’s residential focus in its access network. – Jonathan Tombes

The Daily


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