Every facet of the cable business is feeling pressure as competition spans across voice, video and data, causing operators to shift and evolve their current product lineups while pursuing new lines of business. Cox Communications is no different, and the Atlanta-based MSO has plans in place to offer Gigabit speeds across its footprint and develop a next-generation video platform that could end up mixing in over-the-top options, while also keeping a close eye on potential mobile voice services. Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner recently caught up with Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, to get an update on these different, yet connected, initiatives.
MCN: What are your top priorities these days?
Kevin Hart: The first is enabling growth. We're seeing some good growth with new products and services. Second, we're doubling down on the customer experience, putting in new e-commerce capabilities, self-install capabilities, really trying to improve the [customer] touch points. The third one is around operational improvement. We've got teams and efforts around truck roll reduction and better practices around our network [and] product maintenance, and better communication internally with our call centers.
The last one is more technology-centric investment around enabling the future. We've got our network transformation plan … pushing fiber deeper. We've got our [1-Gigabit-per-second] deployment. With all-digital, we're making great progress. We kicked off our IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) initiative, and we've made great progress on a host of our next-generation, future-state video products and services.
MCN: Get us up to speed on your 1-Gig deployments and some of the lessons you’ve learned early on.
KH: Phoenix was where the initial focus was with our first 1-Gig deployment, but since that time we're also gone live in Orange County [Calif.], Omaha [Neb.] and Las Vegas. And we have many, many dozens of new builds going on across our entire footprint, particularly around the MDU (multiple-dwelling unit) enablement.
We've got to continue to improve some of the procedures around some of the actual deployments of the build, but that just comes with additional time and practice. We've learned a lot and have built repeatable practices in terms of how we're architecting the infrastructure and enabling the service. We've made a lot of investment there with our back-office provisioning platforms and our service assurance tools.
MCN: When you announced the broader 1-Gig initiative last year, you said DOCSIS 3.1 will factor into those plans. How is that part of the plan progressing?
KH: We're doing a lot of testing internally … and staying in close alignment with other MSOs that have talked about their testing progress.
MCN: Have you decided the direction your next-generation video project will take, or are you still vetting that?
KH: We're still vetting that. In the meantime, we're still having great sales success with Contour (Cox's current-gen video interface for set-tops and mobile devices) and continue to enhance that experience and continue to upgrade the code. We're getting some good, strong feedback about the capabilities around the DVR and the personalized recommendations.
We're also looking at a couple of different varieties of video platforms. We've talked about the X1 platform, where we're doing a technical trial [Cox confirmed that X1 testing with Cox employees will be the next step]. We've made very good progress from the technical trial and have the platform up and working properly, so that has great promise. We're also looking at two or three other platforms with some other providers in the industry.
We're also evaluating our options, down the road, for some over-the-top offerings, leveraging some of the infrastructure that we already have in place. We did the [FlareWatch] trial a while back, so we have a lot of the components and the experience … kind of vetting maybe two or three different approaches here.
MCN: When do you expect to finalize those decisions?
KH: I would think by the third or fourth quarter of this year, we'll have a solidified plan for the future-state video roadmap.
MCN: How is 4K factoring into your roadmap?
KH: I would say it’s embedded with the various options that we're looking at. We've done some technical trials around 4K ... it will probably be a component of our go-to-market with whatever the two to three options that we end up going with. I would say it's a priority, but not a high priority in terms of that being the lead initiative.
MCN: Is everything on track with your all-digital product?
KH: It is. We're ready to turn on the full encryption in our first market and then we've proceeded in three or four additional markets recently that we started in the Northeast. We're making excellent progress there and are getting good positive customer feedback around the quality of the solution — it's an HD-DTA (digital transport adapter) with a guide embedded. There's a self-install kit — we've spent a lot of time thinking about the customer experience, making it very easy and intuitive to install.
Now, we're moving into Tulsa and Omaha and some other markets in the Midwest. We're on track, with the goal of completing this by the end of 2016, which coincides with the DOCSIS 3.1 readiness.
MCN: Cox is involved in the Cable WiFi roaming group. What's the status of your deployment?
KH: We've got thousands of Cox WiFi hotspots [deployed]. We're in Virginia, Connecticut, Omaha, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, Tucson, and we've got more markets that we'll be adding throughout the year, including Rhode Island this summer. Our strategy is particularly around embedding the Cox metro WiFi hotspots in coordination with some of our G1GABLAST rollouts in the various markets.
MCN: Are you also looking to open up secondary SSIDs in your home WiFi gateways — homespots — that could be accessible to other credentialed Cox customers?
KH: We are. We're doing some readiness work around that particular approach as well as through our Cox Business customers as well … similar to the Comcast approach.
MCN: There's been a lot of talk about cable a "WiFi-First" approach to mobile that uses cellular as a backup, or even a WiFi-only services like Cablevision Systems’s Freewheel offering. Does Cox have any interest in those models?
KH: We're definitely evaluating WiFi-enabled voice service. As I mentioned, we're starting up our IMS platform, which is a key input to enabling this. I would think that we could go down the route of enabling an application as opposed to a CPE-centric solution. It's part of our evaluation and we're keeping an eye on Cablevision and a few other folks to see what kind of early results they have.
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