Cox Communications is getting ready to up the ante on multiple service fronts, with a particular emphasis on broadband and video. On the high-speed end, it’s already moving ahead on a plan to bring 1-Gigabit capabilities to all customers in the coming years while also weighing the path forward on a next-generation video platform. Cox will also be looking to free up precious spectrum for DOCSIS 3.1 and other services via an ambitious all-digital transition that will soon be in full swing.
Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, recently talked with Multichannel News technology editor Jeff Baumgartner about the MSO’s top priorities and an update on its key tech projects. An edited transcript follows.
SCTE DAILY: What are your top priorities for the rest of 2013 and into the start of 2014?
KH: No. 1 is our continued network transformation. We’re in the process of doubling our speeds across our footprint this year, up to 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps for our two most popular tiers. We’re also in the process of launching our Gigabit service.
No. 2 is our all-digital project — not only network readiness, but the full back office and the customer experience. There’s lots of good preparation around that with the launch coming up in the fourth quarter.
No. 3 is our future-state video, as we think about the future platform for our video framework and our transition to IP. We have two or three different trials going on around our future-state video platform.
Fourth is the enablement of Cox Business commercial sector. We’re getting very close to launching some of our new sales workflow enablement capabilities for Cox Business.
SCTE DAILY: Can you offer more detail on your future-state video platform?
KH: We’ve been very pleased with the launch of Contour — primary screen, secondary screen, the storage on the set-top box, etc. — and now we’re thinking about, what’s the next generation of that solution? We’re got a couple of things going on internally that we’ve looked at from our own development and we’re also looking at partnering with others across the industry around different trials. [Ed. note: In January, Comcast announced that it was in talks with Cox about licensing its X1 platform. At the time, Cox said X1 was one of the options it is assessing.]
SCTE DAILY: When do you expect to decide on a direction?
KH: We’re likely to have trials in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year, [followed by] post-evaluation of different options, including some things we’re doing internally, as well as leveraging platforms like X1. We’ll make a decision on the path forward.
SCTE DAILY:For 1-Gig, you’ve already identified your initial markets — Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb. — for that effort. Can you get us up to speed on the progress as you look to begin market-wide deployment of Gigabit speeds by the end of 2016?
KH: This is a top priority for us at Cox. We’ve [introduced] some of our market-branding, “Gig Life,” promoting the service capability and the customer experience. We are on track for a fourth-quarter launch in Phoenix. It’s a combination of new greenfield facilities, both MDUs [multiple dwelling units] and residents within Phoenix, and also some overbuild for existing neighborhoods.
We’ve announced that Las Vegas and Omaha will follow and we haven’t announced exact time lines yet.
SCTE DAILY: In Phoenix for the overbuild component, are you looking at a fiber-to-the-home implementation, like a GPON?
KH: We’re definitely going to leverage both fiber-to-the-home as well as DOCSIS 3.1. With DOCSIS 3.1 not being market-ready yet, we will leverage solutions like GPON to enable Gigabit speeds, particularly in the greenfield builds, and particularly in the MDU [multiple dwelling unit] space.
SCTE DAILY:In Phoenix, how are you deciding where to roll out 1-Gig with fiber? Will it be everywhere or in specific parts of the network initially?
KH: Eventually, it will be everywhere, leveraging the DOCSIS 3.1 platform. Initially, based on marketing analysis and market demand, we have a Web site where we have customers signing up from a pre-registration standpoint. There are probably three or four different factors that are helping us shape the build curve.
We had huge early results in terms of customers signing up and kind of outpaced our expectations in terms of the numbers.
SCTE DAILY: Can you shed more light on Cox’s all-digital project?
KH: We’ve made a ton of progress since we talked last [in April 2014]. We’re on track for a fourth quarter market launch. We have several markets from a technical network perspective ready for the conversion. Now we’re doing our final stages of testing around the actual DTA [digital transport adapter] all-digital kits that will be sent to our customers’ homes.
We’re on track for a fourth-quarter market launch and then we have … a very aggressive schedule to complete this in 2015 and 2016, with a very steady cadence throughout those two calendar years.
SCTE DAILY:4K and Ultra HD is still an emerging market, but where is it on Cox’s agenda?
KH: I would say it’s still an emerging piece of our products and service portfolio. I think we have the capabilities, but it’s still kind of early in the lifecycle from a consumer demand standpoint. But we are ready; it’s just timing from a market standpoint.
SCTE DAILY:What’s the status of your WiFi deployment? Is Cox considering a home-as-a-hotspot rollout in gateways deployed in customer home?
KH: We’ve been pleased with our metro WiFi deployments to date. We’ve announced that in addition to lighting up Omaha, we’re also going to light up Phoenix as part of our Gig Life rollout, and we’re currently doing a build now, and Las Vegas will follow. You’ll probably see more metro WiFi deployments in line with our Gig announcements.
We’re looking at the second SSID [service set identifier], particularly in our Cox Business footprint, and we’re still evaluating home-as-a-hotspot.
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