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Evolution Digital broadens its broadband game

As broadband, rather than pay-TV, rapidly becomes the services centerpiece for cable operators of all sizes, Evolution Digital has gotten the hint… and done something about it.

While a partnership with TiVo and the development and distribution of operator-managed Android TV boxes remains key to Evolution Digital's business with small and midsized cable operators, the company has also been making some broadband-related moves to expand its scope and bring more stability to its overall business.

Chris Egan
A move into the managed Wi-Fi business 'is a pretty natural progression for us,' Egan says.
A move into the managed Wi-Fi business 'is a pretty natural progression for us,' Egan says.

After adding a suite of broadband-focused customer premises equipment (CPE) to its product portfolio in February 2020, Evolution Digital took things a step further this week by introducing a managed Wi-Fi product in partnership with Plume.

Financial terms weren't announced, but the partnership enables Evolution Digital to sell managed Wi-Fi services to operators in North America and South America that utilize Plume's open source OpenSync framework. Evolution Digital will start hawking a set of OpenSync-enabled CPE in the coming weeks, with an initial focus on the EVO6700 AP (a WiFi 6 access point/router) and the EVO6500EXT (a Wi-Fi 6 mesh beacon), both set to launch in June, and the EVO3000GW (a WiFi 5-capable DOCSIS 3.1 gateway) that will become available in July.

The EVO3000GW, a DOCSIS 3.1 gateway equpped with Wi-Fi 5, is among the initial batch of Evolution CPE products that have been integrated with Plume's OpenSync platform. 
(Image source: Evolution Digital)
The EVO3000GW, a DOCSIS 3.1 gateway equpped with Wi-Fi 5, is among the initial batch of Evolution CPE products that have been integrated with Plume's OpenSync platform.
(Image source: Evolution Digital)

"This is a pretty natural progression for us," Chris Egan, Evolution Digital's CEO, said. "The broadband piece has become extremely important."

Operators pivoting to platforms

And as some cable operators continue to focus on Android TV, TiVo and others for their next-gen video platforms, that decision tree has also extended to high-speed Internet as operators attempt to combine their broadband hardware with a software-powered services and customer experience layer.

"It's getting very similar on the broadband side … [Operators] are making platform decisions," Egan said, noting that Comcast really kicked this whole thing into gear with its "xFi" Wi-Fi/home networking management platform.

And attaching a platform, such as Plume's, has become critical to suppliers that work directly with service providers. Simply selling DOCSIS CPE is largely a "me-too" scenario that is almost solely decided on price point, Egan said.

"The whole home Wi-Fi piece is different. It's the customer experience that drives that," explains Egan, a cable industry vet who is now leading the Colorado-based company into its second decade.

The integrated Plume/broadband CPE offering also fits well with how Evolution Digital's video business has evolved in recent years. At one point, Evolution Digital offered a fuller ecosystem of video products (including user interfaces and transcoding) to help operators migrate to an IP-based world. But it has since shifted to a model more concentrated on Android TV boxes outfitted with specialized software components and linked to backoffice elements that allow those devices to be fully managed by the cable operator.

Marc Cohen, Evolution Digital's EVP of sales and marketing, said the general plan with broadband and managed Wi-Fi syncs up with the company's video business. As it did on the pay-TV side, Evolution Digital intends to "reprice the market" on the broadband side with lower cost equipment and systems that allow them to accelerate the velocity of new service launches, he said.

Evolution Digital has not announced any deals for its new Plume-powered offering. Its existing customers on the video end of its business include Blue Ridge Communications, Midco, GCI, Mediacom Communications, Service Electric Cablevision and Vast Broadband.

But Evolution Digital also believes its relatively new managed Wi-Fi and broadband products will bring more stability to its overall business. Several tier 2/3 cable operators are still in the pay-TV game and are moving to IP- and app-based video services. But it's also clear that broadband is now the critical piece of a services puzzle that has only gained in importance during the pandemic.

"We all know too well the video business is a very choppy up and down business. There are huge peaks and valleys," Egan said, noting that its Android TV business is currently on the upswing again. "For us, having both really fills in our valleys, and makes us healthier as a company."

Supply chain challenges

No matter whether it has to do with video or broadband, Evolution Digital is also trying to navigate a supply chain shortage that has impacted access to silicon and raised the cost of fuel and freight.

"It's been a struggle for everybody," Egan said, noting that the lead times on some components are out to 52 to 56 weeks in some instances.

Evolution Digital has tried to get ahead of it by pre-ordering components 12 to 16 months in advance. It also hopes that its focus on broadband and video puts it into position to stock more components and weather the storm.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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