NEW YORK -- Future of Cable Business Services -- In the wake of its two major acquisitions, Charter Communications will do a brand relaunch of its enterprise business services in three weeks and announce a more aggressive strategy for fiber deployment to commercial businesses, a senior company executive said here.
Speaking on a Carrier Ethernet panel at Light Reading's event Wednesday, Satya Parimi, group vice president of data and cloud products, said Charter Communications Inc. will be investing to leverage the strength of the three cable companies that are now part of its portfolio -- legacy Charter, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks -- and extend the reach of its fiber connections. Light Reading Cable/Video Practice Leader Alan Breznick noted in his kickoff presentation that Charter and Comcast are both gearing up to compete as national business service providers. (See M&A Reshapes Cable Biz Landscape and Charter Challenges Comcast's Commercial Rule.)
Charter has already launched a rebranding push for its triple-play residential service offering. (See Charter Launches Big Rebranding Push.)
In the past, Charter had a strategy that combined proactive buildouts with reactive responses to demand, Parimi said, requiring its enterprise sales teams to sometimes get approval before selling to customers in some locations. The cable MSO -- now the second largest in the US after Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) -- is working to remove those sales restrictions and push fiber to more buildings where there is customer demand, he said.
"What we are working on across the country is allowing salespeople to say yes in more places," even if that means taking some risks, Parimi said. "Our goal as a whole is to provide Ethernet services in as many places as possible with as much capacity as possible and as fast as possible. We are aggressively building out fiber -- that is how we are going to grab share."
His comments came as the Charter executive joined Brian Rose, senior director of product development at Cox Communications Inc. , Patricio Latini, senior vice president of cable & satellite for Intraway Corp. and Stan Hubbard, communications and research director of MEF in a frank discussion of where cable MSOs are headed with Ethernet services and where they can -- and likely cannot -- differentiate themselves from telecom operators.
Both Rose and Parimi said their companies are aggressively pushing fiber closer to the customer, but both also said their hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) networks represent an important service delivery mechanism, particularly with the expected deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 next year.
Cox has DOCSIS 3.0 deployed ubiquitously across its local service footprint and delivers Ethernet services over that infrastructure at speeds up to 10 Mbit/s, Rose said. Given that Cox remains solidly focused on small businesses and "large locals" -- healthcare facilities and school districts that fit within its local footprint -- the HFC plant combined with local loop fiber mostly in greenfield areas deliver a solid customer experience, Rose said.
"One of the biggest things in life is realizing who you are and who you are not," Rose commented. "From a Cox perspective, we are going to focus on the things we do well, which is a focus on small businesses, where we will continue to shine."
To the extent that Cox is moving upward in terms of customer size and network scope, it is often because it is following customers who themselves are growing, he commented. The company does continue to push fiber closer to the customer, making its HFC nodes smaller.
Charter also is doing Ethernet over DOCSIS 3.0 except in some parts of the old Bright House footprint, Parimi said, and is upgrading things on the back-end so that customers can deal with one salesperson across the combined company. That doesn't mean integration of the networks has happened, however -- in some cases there are NNIs -- network-to-network interfaces normally used between companies -- that Charter uses internally to deliver services.
"It will get more seamless starting in January of next year as we go through integration, and a large enterprise customer can come to us and we will deliver Ethernet services across the country, 30-plus MSAs, altogether," he said.
Another way in which Charter intends to differentiate is by offering customers greater visibility and control of their services, he added.
Interestingly, while other panelists and moderator Erin Dunne, director of research services for Vertical Systems Group , discussed the need for more on-demand Ethernet services, Parimi said he hadn't heard that much demand from Charter customers for that kind of control. He added that the company is leaning more towards "co-managed services," where the customer gets visibility and some control, but still relies on the service provider for some things.
Everyone agreed there is pressure to offer faster service delivery of Ethernet, which leads to the reality that network operators have to do a better job of knowing their current network inventory so they can have a rock solid idea of where they can -- and cannot -- offer services.
Post-acquisitions, Charter has an entire team devoted to cleaning up customer and network information, Parimi noted. MEF's Hubbard said that solid orchestration can serve to "defragment" the network inventory and make it clearer to network operators where they have facilities and where investment needs to be made.
Hubbard also cautioned the network operators in the crowd about the risks of implementing dynamic services, noting that giving customers that kind of access and changing their expectations as to when services would be delivered from weeks or days to minutes and seconds eliminates the time needed to address inventory management weaknesses or network shortcomings.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading