It’s not now, nor has it ever really been, "business as usual" for Cox Business, the commercial arm of the nation’s third largest MSO, Cox Communications. That’s why the news that the business unit surpassed the 200,000-customer mark was somewhat ho hum. How they’re going to keep growing beyond that number, though, is anything but boring.
Cox has been in the business of business long enough to know that delivering just voice and data services via fiber for large enterprises and HFC for small-medium businesses (SMBs) won’t stand out among an increasingly competitive crowd of providers. To juice up its business, it’s looking at things like commercial video beyond traditional cable TV entertainment; putting more emphasis on nailing the hospitality space, especially using what’s being learned from its hotel-rich Vegas franchise; and how DOCSIS 3.0 and other bandwidth use schemes will draw more mid-sized companies into the fold. A ‘wave of change’ "We’re going through a wave of change in terms of the experience and what we can bring to the table for business customers," said Kristine Faulkner, vice president of product development and management at Cox Business.
About three-quarters of Cox’s 200,000 commercial customers fall into the sub-50 employees group, but most of the money the business unit brings in (Faulkner didn’t say how much) comes from the bigger players operating in the 18 markets where Cox offers service.
"Verticals such as healthcare, education, government … you look at our top 10 customer list in any market, and it’s peppered with those types of businesses," she said.
The bigger players, fed directly by fiber, are generally more tech savvy and don’t need any prodding to move beyond traditional telco services into the cornucopia that is IP. Smaller customers need more of a nudge in the high tech direction.
"Their eyes glaze over in looking at some of the technology and how they can embrace it, use it, take advantage from it and how it can make them more productive," Faulkner said.
As those decisions are made and that hand-holding occurs on the front lines, behind the scenes Cox wrangles with issues like what types of video packages it should include for business customers and what types of networks will best serve a group that falls between the small end of the SMB and the giant fiber-fed multi-level corporation. The new business model "We have a lot of focus on commercial video," she said, pointing to traditional and non-traditional spaces like hotels, bars and restaurants, waiting rooms and "increasingly, just general office environments where they’re looking for business and news-type lineups. We’re spending a lot of time right now working on commercial-oriented lineups to address those needs and to get to a deeper level of channel lineups that align with the customer needs more than they do today."
Cox Business would love to smash apart the satellite-dominated hotel room video business, even possibly by developing an addressable deal for Cox subscribers who can sign in and get their home lineup on the hotel’s network, although that last concept is a bit far-fetched.
"I won’t say it’s an impossibility," fudged Faulkner. "I’ll leave that to the engineers (who love to say everything’s an impossibility, although it’s unlikely that’s the message she intended to deliver). Let’s just say we’re naturally thinking about how to evolve that experience."
Cox is also thinking about how to evolve the tons of existing coax is has to deliver attractive services for a mid-market business segment that wants more bandwidth, but doesn’t merit a fiber feed. Leveraging coax "DOCSIS 3.0 (with channel bonding) helps, but there is a tremendous amount we can do even before DOCSIS 3.0," she said. "There’s a lot of entrenched coax. As we further the capabilities of coax, that opens up the mid-market segment better than before."
While waiting for DOCSIS 3.0, Cox can explore such business service-enablers as PacketCable Multimedia and Vyyo, which operates on existing coax networks, but in a higher spectrum strata to deliver the SLAs and QoS that mid-market players demand.
Finally, there’s the network within the network where Wi-Fi or even femtocells could broaden the voice experience within and without the business space.
"We’re continuing to look at things like fixed-mobile convergence … bringing the elevated experience to our voice customers in terms of more mobility, features and recognition … and bridging capabilities that wherever you are, you can be connected and have full management of your call routing and your voice service experience," Faulkner said. "Certainly, everyone is looking to cut costs, and to the extent that we can use Wi-Fi and our own broadband to offlay the minutes on the cellular networks, that’s effective."
Passing 200,000 customers is a big commercial milestone. Getting the next 200,000 will mean doing more of the same and then some. – Jim Barthold