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IPTV: It’s For Everybody

Earlier this year, Kip Compton returned home. The Comcast Corp. vice president of video and media architecture rejoined Cisco Systems Inc. as a senior director of video and IPTV development within its cable-products group. Compton had worked in Cisco’s network-equipment division from 1998 to 2002, helping the company launch its cable-modem product line, before joining Comcast in 2002. Multichannel News technology editor Matt Stump caught up with Compton on April 9 at the National Show, to discuss Compton’s new duties and the evolving state of the cable network.

MCN: What made you decide to leave Comcast to go to Cisco?

Kip Compton: It was a lot more about the opportunity at Cisco. It was a tough decision and I told my staff I wish I could do both jobs, but I can’t.

We’re at an inflection point in the industry from a technology perspective. It feels like the days when we shifted from proprietary cable modems to DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications] modems. There’s a tremendous opportunity … to help advance the vision that’s come from the customers, this next generation architecture project in North America.

MCN: What’s your title and responsibility?

KC: My job title is senior director of video and IPTV development and my responsibilities fall into two categories. One is driving product development in a few areas, the video products that aren’t inside SA. We’re also doing some work on IPTV acceleration in the network — what the network can do to make IPTV and IP video work better.

MCN: What’s the Compton definition of IPTV?

KC: I use the term when it’s end-to-end IP [meaning content travels only as digital packets, from its origination point to the set-top box]. The magic in IPTV has a lot to do with being end to end, and the fact you can introduce new functions by just changing the inputs. It’s different from legacy video in the same way voice-over-IP is different from circuit-switched [telephony], in that you don’t have to make changes each step of the way.

With that definition, I don’t view IPTV as a telco phenomenon. It applies to cable as well and, in fact, my personal prediction is that things like wideband and DOCSIS 3.0 may achieve critical mass of IPTV before many telcos.

MCN: The cable industry has been criticized for not acting quickly enough with potential competitive threats. How much do you buy into that?

KC: You go in these cycles where there is heavy investment in infrastructure. What you have going on right now is tremendous platform building in the cable industry, at least on the engineering side and among the vendors. You have these massive platforms — the converged IP networks themselves and the content-distribution networks. All these things are enablers. And what you’re trying to get to is an end-to-end IP signaling path. IP is a good answer for everything but the two end points. A lot of those projects (Open Cable Application Platform [OCAP], digital signaling gateways, downloadable conditional access security) are focusing on the end points, mostly the set-top box.

It could appear as lack of innovation on the services side, but in fact they are realizing that this service velocity thing is really important as this industry comes into a more and more competitive situation. What they are doing is investing now so that they have the platform.