Martin Kull is chief technology officer of com hem in Sweden.
Does com hem have plans to move toward a “quad play” model? What are the main technical challenges linking fixed and wireless services?
Our fixed VoIP sales are still very successful. Fixed-mobile substitution is not really here yet in the Swedish market. However, we want to be the No.1 operator for the entire communication needs of the homes we serve. A mobile service would therefore complement our current triple-play offering very well. The main challenge in fixed-mobile convergence is the fact that our cable subscribers do not own dual mode handsets. These handsets are still a bit on the expensive side, and the battery life using the WiFi radio is not impressive.
When we spoke last year, you said the main technical challenge had been IP telephony. How successful has your IP telephony strategy been?
The strategy to initially mimic the POTS service (using EuroPacketCable) has been extremely successful. Currently we count 140,000 VoIP subscribers, and we are by far the fastest growing fixed telephony operator in our market, winning more than 10,000 subscribers per month from the PTT and pre-select operators. We are now at a stage where we can start exploiting the IP nature of the service to develop new functionality.
With most cable operators looking at more progressive VOD and á la carte services, what will com hem do to take its TV strategy to its next level? Could you tell us about your on-demand plans?
In the broadcast offer, most of our 130 digital channels are offered á la carte. Our subscribers could even form their own package with eight favourite channels. We are inspired by the U.S. operators and some of the early VOD deployments in Europe and are currently revising business plans, looking at on-demand services mainly as a means to increase customer loyalty.
What impact will the new DOCSIS 3.0 specifications have on your business?
We are disappointed with the delays of the standardisation work. On the positive side is that for the first time ever, the U.S. specification goes hand in hand with the European specification thanks to hard work and cooperation between CableLabs and EuroCableLabs. We are currently doing lab tests with pre-DOCSIS 3.0 gear, showing impressing results, and we will be able to make market test on a limited scale soon. However, we will need to have EuroDOCSIS 3.0 compliant EMTAs reasonably priced before launching in full scale.
Could you tell us about com hem’s home networking strategy and the technical challenges in making this a success?
By deploying hybrid set-top boxes, with both a coax DVB interface and an Ethernet IP interface, our vision is to make the TV set the center of the home network. The IP interface will not only allow on-demand services, but eventually also effective multi-room solutions and home network functionality. We believe that home networks will be built either as fixed Ethernet, WiFi 802.11n or with HomePlug AV. Challenges to overcome will be found in content rights management and in end-to-end quality of service.
What would you say are your main technical achievements over the last 12 months? If we have this conversation at the same time next year, what major technology achievement would you like to have executed?
In June, we implemented our new 10 Gbps IP routed backbone, covering all of Sweden in three redundant rings and reaching 44 main headends. Also in June, we acquired UPC’s Swedish assets (300,000 homes connected, adding up to 1.75 million homes connected). The integration of the two product portfolios and networks has just now resulted in telephony launch in the former UPC network and a launch of a high-end broadband service, 24 Mbps downstream and 8 Mbps upstream, in the com hem network. Finally, growing the telephony platform in pace with customer growth has been an achievement. Twelve months from now, I anticipate having a VOD platform in operation.
With telcos moving en masse into IPTV, and therefore triple play, what can cable players to leverage the strengths of their networks?
We must use our historically strong position in television, making the best content deals. Furthermore, we need to exploit the very large bandwidth available in the HFC plant (The com hem network is 862 MHz all over and only carries 13 analog channels, giving plenty of bandwidth for digital broadcast channels and IP services). DOCSIS 3.0 is, of course, an important development in fencing off xDSL competition on broadband. HDTV will also do the trick.
What is your organization’s current balance among video, voice and data technologies? How do you see that portfolio shifting or evolving over the next three to five years?
Counting both analog and digital video distribution, we are still a bit heavy toward the video side. Convergence and the strong development of IP-based services will make this distinction of services difficult within the timeframe suggested.