While Comcast and Charter Communications are currently doing plenty of work, both engineering and otherwise, on upcoming wireless products based on MVNO relationships with Verizon, the cable industry isn’t talking much about who specifically is leading it into the wireless business.
In fact, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made his industry’s vow of wireless secrecy abundantly clear during his company’s fourth-quarter earnings call last last month, when he abruptly cut off analyst Craig Moffett’s question about Comcast’s upcoming wireless launch.
“I'm going to stop there and say stay tuned,” Roberts said. “We'll clarify things.”
As of now, things are pretty unclear. And the core question we have is: Just who is putting this all together?
With this query in mind, FierceCable took it upon itself to identify five key executives on the front lines of assembling the cable industry’s wireless businesses. Collecting hard-to-pry info from the operators themselves, as well as from sources like LinkedIn, we compiled the following capsules on these execs, as well as some of the team members they manage.
Senior VP of wireless technology at Charter Communications
What he’s doing: Charter doesn’t talk much about the work Cowden and his team are doing. But an individual close to the company told FierceCable that part of the assignment involves executing the MSO’s stated plans regarding its MVNO deal. Working under the former Sprint executive is former Time Warner Cable operative Ahmed Bencheikh, who serves as GVP of wireless engineering.
Bencheikh’s LinkedIn profile perhaps best describes what his Charter wireless team is working on: “Senior executive leading the wireless engineering and technology development organization responsible for end-to-end architecture, engineering design and development of mobile and wireless products and solutions for new Charter. Also responsible for developing new technology solutions in the mobile/wireless space, technology and platforms selection, qualifying and selecting vendors, contractors negotiations and vendors management.”
President of Comcast Mobile
What he’s doing: Butz leads a team of around 100 Comcast Mobile employees, shaping a wireless product that will be bundled into the MSO’s existing video, internet and landline offerings. The mobile product will combine usage of Verizon’s network via an MVNO deal signed back in 2011 with Comcast’s network of around 14 million Wi-Fi hotspots.
So who’s on Butz's team? Tough to say, since Comcast has kept information about the unit closely guarded. Notable though is Eric Schaefer, who serves senior VP and general manager of communications, data and mobility.
Senior VP and general manager of communications, data and mobility at Comcast
What he’s doing: Since Schaefer controls the 14 million Wi-Fi hotspots and Verizon MVNO deal Butz’s work is based on, how do their respective teams collaborate? Again, Comcast is less than forthcoming in regard to this intersection.
Notable employees reporting to Schaefer include Cole Reinwand, a former EarthLink executive who serves as VP of Xfinity Wi-Fi. According to his online profile, he sits on the board of directors of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, an industry consortium of global wireless and Wi-Fi carriers focused on specifications, resources and standards to guide carrier-grade Wi-Fi deployment and interoperability.
VP of core innovation at CableLabs
What he’s doing: In his relatively brief tenure at CableLabs—he joined the consortium in August 2015—Smyth has emerged as one of group’s most outspoken engineering authorities on 5G. He told FierceCable last year that cable operators could provide the high-speed small cells to wireless operators that would support connections up to 40 Gbps.
"Cable operators are currently deploying public Wi-Fi access points, so it's not unreasonable for CableLabs to think about upgrading those Wi-Fi locations to 5G technologies either in the licensed bands or in the unlicensed bands," he said.
To be clear, Smyth is but one of several CableLabs engineers intersecting with wireless. Notable are former Intel technologist Belal Hamzeh, VP of wireless technologies, and Rob Alderfer, VP of tech policy for CableLabs, but formerly chief data officer for the FCC’s Wireless Bureau. Also notable is Mitch Ashley, president and GM of CableLabs’ for-profit Kyrio subsidiary, which is in the process of developing Wi-Fi roaming services for nine cable clients.
Co-founder and CTO of Casa Systems
What he’s doing: At CableLabs’ Winter Conference in Orlando, Florida, last week, Casa demonstrated a new, virtualized fixed mobile convergence solution specifically for cable operators. Casa entered the wireless market a year ago with the launch of its Axyom and Apex network edge solutions. Casa said its new platform, which is based on its Axyom virtualized software platform, will enable cable operators to accelerate their move to mobile and offer integrated Wi-Fi/cellular services like Wi-Fi-First to their customers.
“It is exciting to see that the convergence of wireless and wireline end user access is well underway,” said Dan Rodriguez, VP of data center group and general manager of Intel’s Network Platforms Group, Communications Infrastructure division, in the statement. That division supplies chips and other technology to the Casa fixed mobile convergence product.