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Cable Operators

Feeding The Machine

8/27/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

In cable, technology project timelines used to
be measured in years — hence the mocking reference to
development on “cable time.” But today, operators that
move at a glacial pace risk getting left behind by fleetfooted
rivals.

At Cox Communications, Kevin Hart, executive
vice president and chief technology officer, has been
leading his organization with one overarching goal:
to get new and innovative products and services into
customers’ hands more quickly. Hart, who joined the
MSO in April 2011 from Clearwire, spoke recently with Multichannel News
technology editor Todd Spangler.

MCN: You’ve now been at Cox for a little more than
a year. What’s been your experience so far?

Kevin Hart: What I’ve seen is, the company’s had a great
history reinventing itself when there are new trends in technology.
It’s great to be a part of a company that has the spirit
of reinventing itself and taking calculated risks, including
our efforts in wireless over the years.

I think it’s time for us to do that again. We’re spending
time on the multiple-screen opportunity — that’s one of the
macro themes. From a technology standpoint, the priorities
are around speed to market for new product development.
A lot of new things are in the queue. And we’re investing in
the network, which is a big priority as well.

MCN: What are the key technology project areas
for Cox right now?

KH: From a video-road-map perspective, we are developing
Cox TV Connect, which is our IP-enabled wireless-streaming
application. We’re adding additional national channels
and local channels. It’s on iPad right now, and we’ll
be enabling additional form factors in the next few quarters.
We’ve built out a lot of the infrastructure for the CDN
[content delivery network] capability … We have a couple
hundred thousand unique users currently, which, on the one
hand, has been pretty rapid uptake, but there’s still a lot of
upside to go. The aim is to make the companion screens even
more interactive with our other products.

And we’re continuing to improve our traditional home
video platform. We have our video gateway, the dual IP/
QAM gateway, in test currently, working with our key manufacturers.
We’ve got the silicon in test and looking hopefully
for a launch at the first of the year to enable a suite of
new video and Wi-Fi capabilities.

MCN: What else is on the front burner?

KH: We’re enabling mobility through our Wi-Fi buildout [as
part of the CableWiFi roaming initiative with Comcast, Time
Warner Cable and Bright House Networks], and hospitality
Wi-Fi continues to show good progress. Our home-security
solution is in trial in Arizona. From an internal perspective,
we’ve recently deployed our new call-center platform.
It’s the newest generation of the Avaya call-center platform,
with all the most recent capabilities in terms of call transfer
and the ability to make recommendations to customers about
packages in real time. We’re also upgrading and overhauling
our overall Web capabilities, particularly for Cox Business.
So it’s pretty busy on the new-product front.

MCN: With most of Cox’s systems at 1 GHz, how
big an issue is spectrum capacity?

KH: A little over 85% of our footprint is at 1 GHz, but spectrum
utilization is always something we keep an eye on. We
have many levers to operate from. We’re pushing our highspeed
Internet above 860 MHz by using DOCSIS 3.0, so
we’re taking advantage of that.

We’re contemplating analog-to-digital conversion. And
we’re looking at other compression techniques and basic
bandwidth and growth needs. At 50% plus year-over-year
Internet-bandwidth growth, we have a big effort to keep up
with that.

MCN: Do you see the need to go above 1 GHz?

KH: That’s not in our three-to-five-year plan. We have continued
optimization with node splits, and reclaiming analog.
We have levers that give us plenty of runway.

MCN: What’s the path to get to all-digital?

KH: What we’re trying to do … is pace ourselves in alignment
with next-generation technology. With the next-generation
gateway, we feel like we may be able to leapfrog
the DTA [digital transport adapter] approach. Some of the
DTAs, while effective, are one-way devices. With the gateway
we’d take IP [video] to all the devices in the home.

We’re still going through the range of options in terms of
how to make the investment to position ourselves for future
compatibility. HD DTAs could make sense for certain markets,
but we’re also considering whether there are other steps
that could leapfrog that.

It’s an example of what the company’s done a good job
at over the last 50 years: sometimes being aggressive and
making innovative investments, like our 1-GHz upgrade,
and other times pacing ourselves to time the investment for
the long run.

MCN: What new features are coming to the Trio
HD guide? How widely has that been adopted so
far?

KH: As it relates to the Trio guide, we haven’t really begun
to market that as broadly as we could. It’s still available to a
relatively small set of our subscribers. Marketing that on a
national scale will get us customer uplift. We’re also going to
come out with a recommendation engine in the Trio guide,
probably late in the fourth quarter [of] this year.

MCN: Cox introduced the Trio guide last year [after
expecting to deploy it widely by the end of 2010].
What’s been the holdup?

KH: We had some challenges related to what you see in
an early deployment. But it’s really stabilized over the last
year or so.

MCN: What kind of activity is happening on the
commercial-services side?

KH: We’re continuing to standardize our Ethernet infrastructure
buildout across all the Cox Metro Ethernet markets,
to move to the next generation of platforms. We’re
trialing IP Centrex [managed voice services] and also adding
new products and capabilities as part of our current line
extension. And we have continued efforts around wireless
backhaul. We’re investing in our capabilities to harden and
scale our services. The bulk of Cox Business customers are
less than 20 employees, and we’re looking to move that up
to 20 to 100 employees.

MCN: Motorola, which is a big supplier to Cox, is
now part of Google. What does that mean for Cox?

KH: I know that Marwan [Fawaz, former CTO of Charter
Communications] just took a big role there [as head of Motorola
Mobility’s Home division]. We’re meeting with him
in a few weeks. For now, it’s business as usual. We’ll continue
to look at their products and services. They do have a
big embedded base in our footprint.

September