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2009 Top Ten: Most Popular Cable Stories

Jeff Baumgartner
12/28/2009

Cable enjoyed an active year, with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) putting up big bucks to buy NBC Universal , MSOs facing the specter of new network neutrality rules, and Charter Communications Inc. filing and then later emerging from bankruptcy.

You, dear readers, cared about all those things, but they weren't among the things you cared about the most, at least in mouse-clicking terms. Instead, your index fingers went wild for the M&A stories (the speculation of deals as well as those that were signed, sealed, and delivered) and just about anything involving Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Not counting those traffic-pumping slideshows, here's the list of the most popular stories of 2009 (yes, we know the year isn't over yet).

No. 10: Huawei gets into Comcast
Everyone loves Huawei! Or at least it seems that lots of you like to read stories about Huawei -- either because you're generally interested in what the Chinese giant is doing, or perhaps you're a tad frightened about what Huawei's mere presence might do to your business.

Well, there's little doubt that some cable vendors are moistening their pants a bit knowing now that Huawei has some grand plans for the U.S. cable market. And word that the company got a piece of Comcast's IP Multimedia System (IMS) business was enough to get everyone into a bit of a lather (or for some to reach for a fresh pair of Depends), even though it's believed that Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) got the lion's share of it. But isn't that always how it goes? They get in. Then they put the hurt on. (See Huawei, Ericsson Get a Piece of Comcast's IMS Action .)

No. 9: Enhancing the cable phone
It's no secret that cable's VoIP subscriber growth is starting to slow down after a great run. With that in mind, MSOs are starting to work in some bells and whistles that centralize messaging and deliver news and info to fancier, DECT-capable handsets. (See Comcast Enhancing the Home Phone .)

Comcast began talking up its "enhanced cordless phone" in April, shedding some light on earlier trials and the direction this product was headed.

Seven months later, that product had a name (HomePoint) and was heading toward a wide rollout. And then everything got real quiet, making us wonder how much traction this product is getting early on. (See Comcast 'HomePoint' Debuts in Florida .)

No. 8: The deal that didn't happen… yet
Camiant Inc. 's been kicking tail with its policy servers, and that kind of success can create a covetous eye or two.

But analysts say Camiant's been playing hard to get, turning down deals from both Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) and Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR). And Camiant wasn't really looking for a suitor anyway, so if anyone still wants them, they'll have to put in an offer the Camiant folks can't refuse, or spring for a bigger rock. (See Analyst Says Camiant Turned Down Juniper & Starent.)

If that happens, it won't come directly from Starent, which is now part of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). But eyes will be on Juniper to see if it wants to make another, sweetened overture as analysts look for it to better articulate a wireless strategy.

No. 7: Infinera courts cable... and the globe
Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) is always popular around these parts, but the company's cable ambitions and predictions for customer growth around the world, got plenty of attention.

As domestic cable goes, Cox Communications Inc. is still the only MSO announced, but at least four other majors are on the list, leaving us to speculate that the most obvious ones left include Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. , Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). (See Infinera Sweeps MSOs, Looks Abroad.)

No. 6: Huawei + Moto = the popular choice
Rumors that Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) is thinking about selling off its set-top and wireless infrastructure division sparked plenty of speculation on who would have the motivation and money to land the still-profitable unit.

At the TelcoTV show in Orlando, Fla., the popular choice on both counts was Huawei, which has been trying mightily to crack the U.S. cable set-top market. The big question is whether some of Moto's biggest customers (i.e., Comcast) would even allow that to happen. After all, Moto holds the keys to a conditional access platform that keeps more than half of cable's digital video networks protected. Some insiders wonder whether U.S. cable would trust Huawei to handle that responsibility. (See Huawei Seen as Likely Moto Suitor and Huawei Breaks US Set-Top Seal .)

It may not even matter. The latest reports suggest that a handful of equity firms, and perhaps Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), are among those that placed initial bids for the Moto division. (See Who's Saying Hello to Moto? )

No. 5: The return of Jim Dolce
Verivue Inc. , the new baby of former Juniper exec Jim Dolce, was plugging away in stealth mode for a while, before making its big splash in March with a $40 million second round of funding and details about its products and go-to-market strategy. (See Verivue Surfaces With Comcast Backing .)

Since then, Verivue's scored more cash, sealed up a partnership that gives it a path into Europe, and spurred speculation that Canada's Shaw Communications Inc. is already giving Verivue's Flash-based video switches a go. (See Verivue Tech Gets a Toehold at Shaw , Verivue's Coffers Swell by $20M , and Verivue, eventIS Integrate Servers & Software .)

No. 4: Comcast's bandwidth buster
Comcast's big analog reclamation project was already grabbing attention far and wide, but interest flowed when the company revealed that it would need to spend about $1 billion to complete the project. Putting a price tag on "Project Cavalry" somehow made the whole thing just seem more real. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan .)

And that project, which is based on the deployment of millions of Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices, will continue on into 2010, as the MSO clears away analog spectrum to make room for more high-def content, video-on-demand streams, and channels for its Docsis 3.0 buildout.

No. 3: Sonus's sniffing around
Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) was the center of much M&A speculation this year, as analysts wondered whether it might pursue Nortel Networks Ltd. 's VoIP assets or buy Cedar Point Communications Inc. outright, in order to buy some market share and give it some runway into cable as MSOs start to look at next-gen systems that incorporate IMS and PacketCable 2.0.

Sonus has jousted for Cedar Point before, but has failed to hit the mark. These days, it looks as if Cedar Point may be able to go it alone after revamping its product focus, so Sonus may have missed its opportunity. And Nortel's VoIP assets, as we address further down, is only partly off the table, making us wonder if Sonus might muster up the cash and courage to challenge one of its competitors. (See Sonus Looking at Nortel Assets, Cedar Point.)

No. 2 and No.1: the elusive Nortel VoIP 'Stalking Horse'
Nortel's bankruptcy and subsequent asset auction was plenty popular, but over at the cable end of the site, there was lots of interest about who would eventually pick up the vendor's VoIP carrier assets. In June, the scuttlebutt had Sonus as the front runner, with Nokia Networks , Avaya Inc. , Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Metaswitch Networks , and Genband Inc. in the mix. (See Who's Dialing In for Nortel's VoIP Assets? )

In August, Sonus was still thought to be out in front. We now know that Genband, which was thought to be priced out, based on the original price the assets were expected to fetch, has emerged as the true stalking horse bidder. But that's a position that could be challenged in 2010. (See Report: Stalking Horse Stampedes Toward Nortel's VoIP Biz and Genband Bids $282M for Nortel's VoIP Unit.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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