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Cable Confident in Face of Telco Video

While remaining respectful of telco video aspirations, top cable-technology executives told attendees at last week’s National Show in Atlanta that the industry will be able to compete with IPTV and fiber-to-the home services with switched-digital-video and channel-bonding technologies.

Verizon Communications Inc. is laying fiber across its footprint to deliver higher-speed Internet access and video services, while AT&T Inc. plans to use IP technology to deliver video service.

“We treat them seriously,” said Dave Fellows, chief technology officer at Comcast Corp., “but we have a pretty good platform.” While Verizon is building 860-megahertz plant with FTTH, it’s using coaxial cable inside the home to connect TVs together, he added.

Cable has extended fiber to within several miles of the home, he said, which makes the most economic sense. “We are fiber to where it makes money,” Fellows added.

“I think our network is better, and one of the main reasons is because it exists,” said Mike LaJoie, CTO of Time Warner Cable, which drew some laughter from the crowd. “We have fiber-rich architectures and we can make surgical investments that anticipate consumer demand.”

LaJoie acknowledged that the telcos “forced us to step up our game in some markets where they have built. But I think competition will be good for the cable industry.”
Cox Communications Inc. CTO Chris Bowick said Cox had looked at building FTTH architecture in parts of its New Orleans system destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“We looked at everything possible and costed it all out and came back to hybrid fiber-cable coaxial because it is an absolutely extensible architecture for the future,” he added.

Rolling out switched technology will be one of Time Warner Cable’s priorities this year, LaJoie said. Instead of broadcasting all 150 channels of a cable lineup to each home, the company broadcasts only the most heavily used channels. It will switch between 60 and 80 channels at hub locations which serve 20,000 homes, saving bandwidth from the hub to the home for other services, he added.

“We’re switching now in three cities, and it’s really going quite well,” LaJoie said, including launches in Columbia, S.C., and Austin, Texas.

While the CTOs were respectful of the telco competition, they also let fly some zingers for their telco and Internet competition.

“They have almost 95% of my telephone subscribers,” Fellows said, “and that is something I intend to correct over time.”

“They have a much bigger pie for us to go after,” LaJoie added. “Fiber is all they have to talk about. There is no service they can launch that we can’t. Our challenge is to maintain that leadership position.”

LaJoie also took issue with Internet companies, like Google Inc., using the “Net-neutrality” phrase for political gain.

There is nothing “public” about the Internet, he said. It is “an unmanaged federation of privately managed networks.” And because it’s based on the TCP-IP protocol, LaJoie said, certain bits get through faster than other bits today. Routers from the same company, like Cisco Systems Inc., pass through bits faster than bits that travel through routers owned by different companies, he added.