CTO Spotlight: Comcast's Tony Werner

Tony Werner doesn't spend sleepless nights pondering a fiber-to-the-home strategy for Comcast.

Werner, the operator’s chief technology
there’s still
“lots of
gas left in
and that Comcast has successfully tested
downstream speeds of 1 Gigabit per
second over coaxial cable in its labs.

Instead, he’s been more anxious to get
digital terminal adapters, low-cost devices
that replicate analog channel lineups in
digital format, into the hands of millions
of Comcast subscribers — a move that
frees up space for new high-definition
channels and faster Internet links.

Werner sat down with Multichannel
technology editor Todd Spangler at Cable Show 2010 earlier this month
to discuss these and other topics.

MCN: How is the DTA rollout progressing?
Tony Werner:
I’m very happy with that. I
think we’re ahead of schedule, about 43%
[of Comcast’s footprint] complete. We’re
approaching 9 million devices. It’s been a
key for us to call back the analog … With
DTAs, we can reclaim all of [the basic-cable
lineup] in six [6 MHz] channels.

It was a big bet a year ago. My biggest concern
was customer care when we went all-digital.
But it turns out the call rates are
lower [in DTA markets].

MCN: Critics say DTAs are a technology

Some people may say that because
they’re not MPEG-4. But we have 26 to 27
million MPEG-2 boxes out there anyhow.
So we will be supporting MPEG-2 for a
while. Also, our penetration of advanced
boxes went up as a result of DTAs.

MCN: Broadly speaking, how is Comcast
thinking about IP video?

It’s an evolving process for all of us who
are looking at this. It all starts with the consumer
— there are two different competing
consumer demands and they’ve lane-shifted
back and forth.

Two years ago, my concern was there was
an emerging class of IP devices people wanted
to watch video on. Then there was Internet
content people wanted to watch on the television.
… A real crystallizing device here
has been the iPad. It’s probably the second-highest
video consumption device, after the
television. Yet there’s not enough video for it
— consumers are hungry for video.

MCN: When will Comcast need to do fiber-to-

I don’t see it as a necessity, almost ever.
Ever is a very long time. But I spend no time
awake at night on this. Running that fiber the
last 100 feet to the home costs a lot of money.

I think we have lots of gas left in DOCSIS.
… In our labs, we’ve tested 28 channels bonded
with DOCSIS — that gives you a Gigabit
[per second]. And we’re looking at using 1 to
2 GHz spectrum; that’s looking promising
now. There are more and more possibilities.

MCN: That said, isn’t even 100 Megabits per
second overkill today?

We think there’s a renewed interest in
speed, as consumers are continuing to use
more bandwidth. About 20% of our customers
subscribe to a tier that’s 16 Mbps or
higher. To your point, 100 Mbps is in excess
of what most people need today. But look at
how many new Internet devices are coming
out and need more bandwidth.

MCN: How much work is needed on 3DTV?

I really think there isn’t a ton of work
to be done. … Some of the graphics are just
starting to get fixed. I do think it’s like the
early days of HD. You’re going to see sports
is the killer.

MCN: Do you see Web technologies being
adopted for interactive TV at some point?

I think you’re going to see convergence
at different levels. EBIF [CableLabs’ Enhanced
TV Binary Interchange Format] is
a lot more than interactive TV. Part of it is
a conduit for communicating with the set-top.
But the rollout of EBIF doesn’t mean
you can’t have [Adobe Systems’] Flash or
HTML 5.0 residing on the set-top box. In
fact, they’re highly complementary.