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Knology Weighs Its Bandwidth Options

Jeff Baumgartner
2/23/2010

Competitive cable MSO Knology Inc. (Nasdaq: KNOL) is eager to clear out room for bigger high-definition television service lineups, but it's still trying to decide which of the "big three" bandwidth –boosters it will run with: upgrading spectrum to 1GHz, deploying switched digital video (SDV), or reclaiming analog spectrum with the help of Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices.

That decision isn't set in stone yet, but its new chief technology officer, John Treece, is already leaning toward the use of analog reclamation, a strategy already in full effect at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and to a sizable degree at Mediacom Communications Corp. . (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan .)

"A decision hasn't been made, but from a personal perspective, I tend to lean toward the DTA model," says Treece, referencing a new line of inexpensive, one-way channel zappers that are becoming an important tool in helping MSOs squeeze more out of their existing bandwidth. (Depending on the market, Knology's plant is built out to 750MHz or 860MHz.)

And Treece has had a firsthand look at the DTA strategy in action -- he was the VP of network engineering for Comcast's Atlanta-based Southern Division before making the move to Knology last August.

As for the other two primary bandwidth tools -- 1GHz and SDV -- Cox Communications Inc. is big into the first and has SDV deployed to a smaller extent. MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), meanwhile, have championed SDV in a big way.

Treece, who is also late of Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), says he's leaning in favor of the DTA today because it offers the best fit for Knology, at least for now.

"It's not to say that the SDV model is bad," he says. "It can be more operationally intensive... right now it's too operationally intensive for us."

But, he hasn't completely ruled it out, either, noting that it's a particularly good tool for bandwidth-eaters like HD programming. And the DTA and SDV strategies don't have to be mutually exclusive. Although Comcast made a decision to go with the DTA early on, it's indicated recently that SDV is something that may fit into the next phase of its bandwidth management plan. (See Is SDV Poised for a Comeback?)

Knology rolls wideband, waits on wireless
Nearer-term, Treece is also involved with another key Knology strategy -- the rollout of Docsis 3.0. Knology officially entered the wideband era on February 1 with the launch of a 50 Mbit/s tier in Huntsville, Ala. (See Docsis 3.0 Update .)

And there' s more in store for 2010. Knology intends to launch two more Docsis 3.0 markets in March, with another coming online the first week of April, Knology CEO Rodger Johnson said on today's fourth-quarter earnings call. Johnson said another two will go live in the second or third quarter, and expects to have Docsis services available on 65 percent of Knology's footprint by the end of the year. (See Knology Posts Q4.)

Knology isn't tipping its hand on where Docsis 3.0 is launching next, but the market candidates include Dothan, Montgomery, and Valley, Ala.; Panama City and Pinellas, Fla.; Augusta and Columbus, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

On the voice front, Knology is starting to migrate its residential service to a SIP-based platform.

"We think it's time now to leverage SIP and the things it can offer from a future, IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem] perspective," Treece says.

But Knology is still playing wait-and-see when it comes to wireless/mobile services. "It's a piece we need to work out and find out what's best for Knology, but there's a lot of uncertainty within the industry," Treece says, pointing out that MSOs have been varied in their approach with WiMax, Long Term Evolution (LTE), and WiFi. (See Cox Takes LTE for a Spin , Cable Plays Clearwire Card, and Cablevision Expects Lower WiFi Bill .)

"There's a strategic need [for wireless], but not a near-term need, so we'll be watching who emerges out of that race and what technology is really standing out as the leader for the future," Treece says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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