2019 CableLabs Summer Conference logoThe 19th annual CableLabs Summer Conference took place Aug 5-7 in Keystone, Colorado. Technology advancements, an increasingly competitive landscape, the importance of continuing to innovate, and the need to focus on the customer experience were key themes, however, there was also some reminiscing on what the cable industry has achieved over the past 40 years as this was the ‘last hurrah’ for the Summer Conference.  While a technologist at heart – the big takeaways for me were more business or strategic in nature…

Takeaway #1: The table has been set for 10G…time to get cooking

The cable industry is ‘all in’ on 10G – the vision, technology and policy. We will achieve 10G with a collection of technologies – continually innovating for break-through performances over hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks, extending fiber deeper and to the premise where appropriate, DOCSIS 4.0, coherent optics, converged interconnect networks (CIN)…the list goes on.

In addition to presentations and panels on many of these technologies, there was also discussion on areas that will need more focus such as proactive network maintenance (PNM) and fiber asset management, and that the industry needs to avoid getting caught in ‘analysis paralysis’ given multiple technology options.  The expectation is that 10G proof-of-concepts should be happening in 2020 – it is time for the cable industry to move toward 10G as broadband competitors (fiber, 5G) aren’t going to wait. 

Takeaway #2: The landscape for broadband will get increasingly competitive for MSOs

MSOs have been very successful with broadband – at the end of the first quarter of 2019 cable MSOs in the US had 66% broadband market share vs. 34% for telcos according to the Leichtman Research Group, Inc. MSOs will face increasing broadband competition moving forward.  As we heard at the conference, fiber has been growing market share at a faster rate in the US than cable over the past 12 years (albeit, with a smaller denominator) – fiber now has 15% share of the US broadband market, stated in one presentation that cited IHS Markit Technology’s Operator Multiplay Intelligence Service report. Data shared from a recent RVA LLC report at the conference showed that investment in fiber to the home (FTTH) is accelerating and by 2023 nearly 50% of the homes in the US will have access to fiber broadband.

Fiber is not the only threat – wireless substitution will increase with 5G – it was shared that Kagan is now forecasting there will be ~20 million wireless only subscribers in the US by 2025.  A memorable quote from the conference was that “the next decade will be a street fight for customers (broadband), and only with that mindset will we (MSOs) own the next decade like we have the one about to end”.

Takeaway #3: More focus on the customer experience and fast innovation

It was interesting to hear from MSOs that are operating in very competitive environments in EMEA and Latin America.  With fiber and 5G broadband alternatives, the need to focus on the customer experience becomes even more important.  We heard from ComHem an MSO in Sweden that by closely measuring and monitoring the quality of service (QoS) using AI and data science they have been able to significantly improve customer experience.  Liberty Global in Latin America is innovating with new technologies in spite of operating in low average revenue per user (ARPU) markets. They are leapfrogging DOCSIS 3.1 and going to a distributed access architecture (DAA) that will support fixed mobile convergence over common network infrastructure.  We were reminded of a fitting Mahatma Gandhi quote that is apropos in the face of increasingly competitive environments – ‘action expresses priorities’.

Ciena is excited to partner with MSOs to reach 10G, and beyond.  The Ciena Fiber Deep solution for the Converged Interconnect Network offers the most comprehensive solution in the industry based on converged packet optical and intelligent automation enabling new services, a better customer experience, and operational efficiencies.  It was bittersweet to attend the last CableLabs Summer Conference, however, I am looking forward to the new 4Front event (Denver, June 2020) – it will be great to discuss the progress we are making as an industry as we embark on the journey to 10G.

Ciena's Fiber Deep Solution for the Converged Interconnect Network

Ciena's Fiber Deep Solution for the Converged Interconnect Network