Patricia Steadman is chief executive officer of Incognito.
What products or services are you developing over the next few years, and why are they important to cable?
We are in the midst of developing our next generation provisioning platform, which incorporates latest CableLabs SIP specifications and DSL Forum’s provisioning, activation, configuration and management standards. The initial provisioning standards produced by CableLabs were geared towards a fixed premises high-speed data model—meaning a device came online and received a configuration file that enabled/disabled its access to the network. Provisioning standards for PacketCable layered on configuration of multimedia terminal adapters (MTAs). PacketCable 1.x lacks a concept of user profiles, sessions or management of devices behind the cable modem/residential gateway.
During your meetings with cable operators, what areas of concern do they mention most frequently?
Their main concerns are remaining competitive. There is a sense of urgency to deploy triple play and offer a truly carrier grade, highly available network. It is no longer acceptable to have network outages or back office systems that are not always on. Customers have choices, and they are exercising them. Lastly, we live in the world of the blog. This means that one vocal unhappy user’s conversation with a CSR is no longer confined to the operator’s call center and can gain instant visibility on the ’Net.
Do the smaller, independent operators have different agendas or technical requirements than the large MSOs?
Yes, smaller operators have much different agendas than large MSOs. Small operators have limited staff, technical and marketing budgets and in some ways need to be much more creative than the larger operators. They are living in the present—how do I upgrade my plant, roll out cost-effective high-speed data and VoIP, contemplate outsourcing, etc. Larger MSOs constantly need to research the next big thing, compete head-to-head with the carriers, then develop and execute their vision.
Do you have an international presence? If so, what’s your strategy?
Very much so. Incognito’s solutions were adopted internationally before they were implemented in North America. A lot of this had to do with the timing of our entry into the cable market (early 2001). Since a number of international MSOs were just starting to evaluate provisioning systems in 2001-2002 and were early adopters of VoIP and more advanced business models, we were included in their benchmark testing (BMT) and as a result were selected for our superior architecture and performance. Our strategy has been and continues to be through optimizing our partner and distribution channels. Since provisioning is part of an end-to-end solution, we tend to partner with hardware vendors that require our software to activate their hardware. Motorola has played a huge role in our success with global MSOs.
If you had to pick one area for the cable industry to become more focused on, what is it and why?
Billing and back office systems. Everyone tends to talk about more glamourous things like triple play, quad play, PCMM, IMS. Cable’s biggest obstacle is their legacy, unsophisticated billing and back office systems. Mobile and wireline operators have billing and back office systems that allow them to bill per transaction, location (i.e. roaming), multi-person, amount of data, etc. Upgrading back office systems of this magnitude takes years, not months. Although cable operators can technically deliver new services effectively, their back office systems limit their ability to create new business models and support the latest devices.
Incognito is focused on creating technology that will allow cable operators to move to these next generation networks and support new business models expediently. Since the standards are evolving for next-gen networks, the hottest devices tend to support SIP standards, but are vendor-proprietary in the way they are managed and provisioned. Incognito’s new Web services architecture allows it to quickly support vendor-specific implementations as well as the emerging standards. Incognito believes that an operator’s business should drive its choice of customer premises equipment, not the boundaries of its provisioning system.
Which is the biggest threat to the cable industry: telcos, satellite or over-the-top providers?
I believe that cable has two threats: Apple/Google direct content providers and telcos with wireless/mobile assets. Content delivery is changing. Apple has revolutionized the way we buy music and is on its way to doing this with video. Google is fast becoming the largest video content provider by raw number of subscribers, driving mainstream content toward them. Major networks are even offering their prime time content in time delayed Web download direct to the consumer.
Consumers have already bought into the concept of time-slicing and are more selective about what they watch and when. With this change, consumers are less dependent on their cable (or DSL/satellite) provider for traditionally delivered content, but are dependent on their Internet connection. So the big intelligent pipe is very important, as well as triple/quad-play services. As a network provider in a highly competitive field, you will need every consumer dollar that you can get. Flexible billing models, bandwidth, quality of service, ability to offer fixed and wireless networks, and new business models will all be necessary to owning the subscriber. These parameters would lead one to conclude that telcos have the upper hand.
What service or product will have the biggest impact on cable subscribers over the next five years?
The service or product that will have the biggest impact will be one that addresses the mass market of subscribers—not the garage techies who already have home networks and stream content from PCs to TVs. With this in mind, it will be the ability of the operator to offer globally syndicated content anywhere, any time. Wireless technologies will play a large role in allowing content to be received in the house—providing the “anywhere.” Next generation video on demand (VOD) services will provide the “any time.”
What is the defining moment for your company over the past five years?
In June of 2000, I received a call from Motorola asking us if we would be interested in extending the capabilities of our enterprise DHCP software to create a cable device provisioning solution that would be superior to Cisco’s CNR. This call started our foray into providing solutions for cable and carrier networks and defined Incognito as a provisioning company.