If Dave Woodle, chairman-CEO of longtime cable vendor C-Cor ordered a bowl of alphabet soup, he’d probably pick out every letter but two. Woodle, as he made abundantly clear at the Friedman, Billings, Ramsey (FBR) 2007 Growth Conference in New York City this week, loves IP, and his goal is to make cable equally as excited.
"That means growing voice-over-IP, data-over-IP and video moving more and more to be IP," he said. "That’s where the industry is going, and that’s what C-Cor is all about: building a robust network and then managing the rollout of these IP services."
That, friends, is a single-minded agenda with multiple thought skeins shooting off like shavings from a fast-spinning lathe. Once an IP base is established, there are all kinds of fun things to keep cable and vendors profitably busy for years to come, he said.
"The crux of C-Cor’s strategy is the fact that the consumer will be in control. The consumer is going to be able to dictate what they want to do," he said. Push and pull That, of course, is the opposite of a video world where the operator delivers what it wants when it wants in the format it wants, and the subscriber sits down on the sofa and uses the tvCompass remote to surf through the selections.
"That’s more of a push environment … and we want to change that; we want to say, ‘I want to watch the show under this premise, at this time, and I want it in HD format, and I want it routed to follow me as I go to my second house, or as I go on the road or whatever,’" Woodle said.
That’s partly happening with DVRs built into set-tops and could be expanded with network DVRs, if that storage arena ever comes to fruition. IP, of course, is only part of the equation, and that’s where Woodle falls back on C-Cor’s historic strength: networks. Cable, he said, must go to 1 GHz networks and switched digital video.
"The big driver here is high definition," he said. "When they see satellite announcing 100 channels of high def … cable’s trying to ask how it can compete."
The first thing to do is split nodes. The second is to install 1 gig equipment when doing so. Future proofing "They want to future-proof themselves," Woodle said. "I hear cable operators saying, ‘We’re not turning on 1 gig yet,’ (and) that’s true, but you want to buy equipment so you don’t have to replace it when you go to 1 gig. And they’re going to have to go to 1 gig over time."
The other way to handle new bandwidth demands is to use a switch to beat the competition. That’s not big deal, Woodle said, because for C-Cor, "switched digital is no more than fast tuning movies," he said. "You don’t need a whole separate system switched to do that. We have this up and running, and we’re working with multiple people."
Those multiple people include the almighty Comcast, with whom C-Cor is participating using modified versions of existing VOD technology and who, Woodle told the assembled bankers and analysts, is willing to spend about $150 million on switched technology this year. C-Cor’s ready to step in and grab a piece of that.
"We had to do some tweaks with it but we can fast-tune the edge QAM so that you can switch that in," he said. "We feel very positive about switched digital, where it’s going."
There’s no rush to get there.
"It’s not something that they’re (cable operators) going to miss a window if they don’t do it tomorrow," said Woodle. "Switched digital is all in front of us."
Something else that’s in front of the cable industry – and if you listen carefully, you might hear it boiling on the front burner – is DOCSIS 3.0. C-Cor’s equipment doesn’t really play there, but Arris‘s does, and it’s a primary focus for the Atlanta-based vendor, said Jim Lakin, president of Arris Broadband Group, who also addressed the FBR conference. Darwinian policy DOCSIS 3.0, according to Arris, evolves from DOCSIS 2.0 – even though the two are significantly different, and 3.0 is multiple times more complex.
An evolutionary strategy, though, "provides an investment protection scenario for our customers," Lakin said. "Eighty percent of what they buy today is DOCSIS 2.0 product … and it will be reusable as a DOCSIS 3.0 product when that standard becomes adopted."
A modular CMTS that significantly reduces the cost and complexity of segregating upstream and downstream capability has been mentioned as a piece of DOCSIS 3.0.
"The upstream receivers in the CMTS are the expensive part. If all I want is more downstream capability, then I would want to separate the downstream from the upstream," Lakin said. "That’s what modular CMTS does. It’s a companion standard – it’s not DOCSIS 3.0; it’s a companion standard."
Whatever it is, it’s usually associated with DOCSIS 3.0, as is channel bonding, which delivers blazingly fast data speeds – like 160 Mbps – across conventional cable networks. Of course, there are those who wonder who wants that much speed.
The Asian market wants it, Japan and Korea in particular, where high density population centers make it easy for telco competitors to build fiber-to-the-premises and blast high speeds that scorch cable operators, said Lakin.
"That threat is very real there, and where that threat is real, they are spending the capital dollars," he said.
In the United States, higher data speeds are like digging a hole on the beach in the summer; as fast as you dig it, the tide comes in and fills it. As quick as you add speed to a cable network, applications and services will fill that bandwidth.
"As we start to give people choices to what they want in terms of the service, cable has to respond," Lakin said. "Are they going to do something right away? No."
That’s because DOCSIS 3.0 and the modular CMTS architecture are "evolutionary," he said. "It’s going to be a graceful migration, and I think the current product … can gracefully migrate to this much wider band service as the need arises with competitive threats."
It is, as Woodle said, part of cable’s strength to be flexible enough to use what it has now to benefit tomorrow.
"We’re in the very early stages of this total transformation in the next coming years," he said. – Jim Barthold