Cable Tech

Will Google Be Good for Cable?

Several engineers with top MSOs tell Light Reading Cable that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s potential involvement in their business, through the purchase of Motorola Mobility LLC , stands to infuse cable with plenty of innovation -- despite the fear, uncertainty and doubt the deal is injecting into the industry.

Motorola's patent trove is the deal driver, but thrown in is its Home division, which makes set-tops, cable modems, cable access network equipment and video pumps, and would suddenly turn Google into one of cable's primary vendors. Google's over-the-top ambitions and its stance on issues like network neutrality have some cable execs nervous, but some believe the good Google brings will outweigh the bad. (See Google-Moto Deal Fans Cable Fears .)

A deeper relationship between Google and cable "could help Motorola become even more innovative in the products that it provides to the industry," says CableLabs President and CEO Paul Liao. "I think the upside is substantial for the cable industry."

A cable engineering exec with a top U.S. MSO believes Moto and Google could patch each other's shortcomings. Google, of course, doesn't have hardware, and Motorola's "absolute worst weakness has been software," the cable exec says. "On balance, it's probably a good thing for us."

On the software side, the notion of porting Android to the set-top environment -- particularly as MSOs start to deploy hybrid QAM/IP boxes and gateways and move forward with TV Everywhere services -- is striking a positive chord with some cable guys. (See Will Google Droid Up the Set-Top Box? and Comcast Demos New Web-Based TV Service.)

"It could really standardize things for once," the cable engineering exec says. "Android also makes it easier to play [content] on multiple devices. Tru2way on a mobile phone is probably not a good idea."

But Liao believes mixing them together could make some sense. "Android is a GEM [Globally Executable MHP]-based technology, as is tru2way, so there's a lot of potential synergy between the two. Android could give cable an alternate solution" he says, noting that Google probably has deep enough R&D pockets to develop a version tailored for cable. "Whether that's the most effective way to do it, that's a different story. But once you stir the pot, who knows what will come out?"

Still, some cable guys are casting a cautious eye at the deal. "Clearly, [this deal is] not great for us MSOs who are so reliant on Moto," notes an engineer with an MSO in the U.S. top five who's wondering if Google will truly let Moto run the day-to-day legacy video operations without much interference.

Yet another high-level cable engineer thinks Google would be smart to bring its talent to Moto's Home division and execute a rapid integration when or if the deal gets done. "My guess is that we'll see [Motorola] operating independently for a while, which I think is a mistake," he says, using Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s handling of the Scientific Atlanta acquisition as a prime example of how not to go about it. "They [Cisco] paid the price for that." (See Will Cisco Bail on Set-Top Boxes? and Cisco Simplifies; Cuts 6,500 Jobs.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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