The Cable Show marks the first NCTA convention where operators can evaluate their deployment of wireless phone service. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox have rolled out Pivot, developed by cable’s joint venture with Sprint, in Boston (Comcast), Austin (Time Warner) and San Diego (Cox — please see Meet the System, this issue), among other markets. Bright House Networks, the fourth operator-partner in the JV, has yet to introduce Pivot. John Garcia, president of the Sprint/MSO joint venture, will be in Las Vegas meeting with JV partners and soliciting interest from other operators. Before his trip he told us to expect rollouts in 40 markets this year and that the popularity of local video and handset preferences have been early surprises.

What lessons have you learned from the initial rollouts of Pivot?

John Garcia: Customers are interested in having their services work together better. The anecdotes generally are about being surprised at what the phones can do together with the cable service. This is an indicator that customers are anxious to use more high-end applications if they work together better and easier. Also, video on a mobile device has a pretty good level of attraction if it’s bundled together in an easy-to-use way.

What kind of video?

Garcia: One pleasant surprise is the addition of local content video. Time Warner Cable in Austin produces a highly rated local news, weather and traffic channel. We’ve made it available on the wireless phone. Customers can see familiar anchors they see on TV over wireless, in the same format they’re used to seeing on TV. The cameras the channel sets up at various highway intersections around town to cover traffic are also available on the phone, and customers find that appealing — watching traffic go by on their phones. [Ed. note: Comcast’s Pivot service in Boston and other New England markets now include local/regional news and weather updates.]

How easy is it to access video?

Garcia: What we want to do with video, and all of our services, is make the interface as familiar as possible. On most wireless handsets, including ours, it may take five to seven clicks to get to a piece of video. We’re trying to get that down to two clicks. That makes the service less threatening from a tech standpoint, and allows the customer the ability to explore other features a bit.

Any other surprises with these early rollouts?

Garcia: We underestimated the impact of the handset. Initially, we rolled out with four handsets, trying to simplify the number of choices to make the sales process a bit easier. What we found are that handsets are also very personal, so we extended Pivot availability to all Sprint handset models. Also, while video is very exciting, we’ve tried to build this service in a way for customers to do all kinds of things. Some customers are email-centric, and have a personal email address they’ve never been able to take with them before. Some want easy access to their home voicemail from the road.

Who is buying Pivot? Triple-play customers? Non-cable customers?

Garcia: There’s no pattern developing yet. We don’t call this the quad play. You can buy wireless anywhere. Why would you buy wireless from the cable company? We deliberately made wireless an integrated ingredient into how customers experience these services. And Pivot works better if the customer takes multiple services from their cable operator.

Are operators showcasing the triple play and Pivot in Sprint stores?

Garcia: Yes. Some MSOs are more aggressive about that than others, but everyone is enthused about the idea. You can go to some Sprint stores in an area and buy wireless and the triple-play bundle. We’re intrigued by the Connect experimental store Circuit City runs with Comcast in Boston [see CableWorld, March 5, or Cable360.net]. It may be the beginning of things you’ll see third-party retailers do with cable operators.

How quickly will Pivot roll out, and when can we expect announcements about other MSOs participating in the JV?

Garcia: We plan to be launched in about 40 markets by the end of the year. The complete rollout among our four operator partners will take us into 2008. With new operator-members, we’re talking to a number of people. The obvious folks I can’t name, and you can expect the conversations to keep going. You’ll see some announcements later this year. Once we strike a deal, it will take about six to nine months to deploy their first market, depending on what needs to be done with billing and other logistics.

What will draw your attention this week in Vegas?

Garcia: Innovation. I’ve been impressed the last few years with the outstanding job cable operators have done in adding high-value features. The bundling magic they’re spinning today is great value for customers, and I’ll look for some new wireless applications to complement it all.

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