Wi-Fi a must-have, cable CTOs say, with DOCSIS 3.1, 4K among top priorities

LOS ANGELES--Cable's top technical chiefs compared notes on Wi-Fi, DOCSIS 3.1. and 4K during a panel discussion at the 2014 Cable Show here that drew a standing room-only crowd.

Wi-Fi, in particular, was a hot topic, with the CTOs agreeing that it is a must-have service.  "There's so much we can do with Wi-Fi that it's becoming very important in our new service offerings. It just gives our customers more flexibility," said Yvette Kanouff, EVP of corporate engineering and technology for Cablevision Systems (NYSE: CVC).

The fertile business market also scored high for panelists, as evidenced in an upbeat report by Michael LaJoie, Time Warner Cable's (NYSE: TWC) EVP and chief technology and network operations officer.

"We're in nearly a million businesses this year and now doubling down on our network reliability. It's also great to see the advances and focus on navigation that helps customers discover content," he said.

Speed is also helping service providers such as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), particularly as a competitive edge, said Tony Werner, EVP and CTO of Comcast Cable. "We like speed and the broadband business. We've raised our speeds 13 times in the past 12 years. While the competition is cherry picking customers, we're still competitive."

Cox Communications is not far behind, and feels the competition too. "We're on a path to roll out 150-200 Mbps in our market, and its competition that has sharpened our focus on timelines," said Kevin Hart, EVP and CTO for Cox.

Competition is pushing Liberty Global to resharpen and refocus its competitive tools as it rolls out its global services. "We've learned some lessons. First, we must have the right technology. Second, we didn't get the marketing right the first time, and now it's about branding. And bundling and price promotions count," said Balan Nair, EVP and CTO.

One of the most talked about technologies was DOCSIS 3.1--a term industry groups like NCTA are looking to rebrand as "Gigasphere"--which Werner predicted would be ready for prime time in early 2016, albeit with some inherent cost issues. "There are lots of silicon complexities, so the product will cost more, but we'll be aggressive buying DOCSIS 3.1," he said.

The Internet of Things, while interesting, has many of the panelists questioning the business model. "I think there's something here, but who makes money? It's pretty cool stuff, but monetizing it is suspect," Werner said.

Others were even more skeptical, including Kanouff.  "A talking refrigerator? Not sure there's value there."

What is valuable, panelists agreed, is 4K.  Said Liberty Global's Nair: "We think it will come out for the 2016 Olympics."

Thoughts on the cloud were in the mix as well, with panelists showing confidence in its ability to help run businesses more efficiently.

"We want to put as much of our business product as possible in the cloud. It's far more efficient," Werner noted.

And big data? Panelists raised questions about how to monetize it, but with no doubts about its value.

Concluded Kanouff: "Internally we talk about data analysis and governance daily. It's huge for us."

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