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Charter, Comcast beef up biz services play with Cisco's Meraki

Cisco Systems maybe be out of the set-top and video software business, but it is still finding ways to stay connected to major cable operators.

Both Charter Communications and Comcast announced this week that they are using Cisco's cloud-managed Meraki IT delivery system to add new business services or expand on existing ones. While Charter uses Meraki to help underpin a new modular offering called Managed Network Edge (MNE), Comcast has tapped in to broaden a VPN product tailored to teleworkers.

Focused on small and midsized businesses (SMBs) as well as enterprise-level customers, Charter's MNE is billed as a managed network solution that's modular in that customers can use it to deliver and manage a range of services and apps, including routing, network security, LAN management, unified communications, Wi-Fi and connected video cameras.

Bob Schroeder, VP of data product management for Charter's Spectrum Enterprise unit, said the new offering, which the company is offering on a national basis, will make it easier for businesses to expand and evolve their networks.

He said MNE provides a "one-stop shop" for those key services for both mid-market and enterprise customers. "It can be very complicated with networking today, with a lot of disparate technologies, a lot of different equipment, a lot of different options," Schroeder added, noting that Spectrum Enterprise also helps those partners design, engineer and install the platform/ecosystem.

Spectrum Enterprise has elected to put a network interface device (NID) on every connection, a decision that will allow the company's business customers to use a services portal and for Spectrum to use analytics for monitoring.

"Dropping an NID on every connection gives us a portal experience that we did not have before," Schroeder said.

Though enterprise customers can tap into MNE, the mid-market is largely considered the primary target for Spectrum Enterprise. Customers in that segment, for example, might be "IT lean" or have less IT expertise or IT budget than some larger enterprises and, therefore, could use more help designing and implementing their systems, Schroeder explained.

For customers with more complex hybrid network needs that might not fit as well for MNE, Spectrum Enterprise continues to offer an SD-WAN product with more point solutions.

Spectrum Enterprise's new offering is just getting off the ground. Still, one early taker is Harbor Mater Boat Lifts and Docks, which is tapping into the transition from a legacy Wi-Fi offering to one using Managed Network Edge, including Wi-Fi, network security and smart cameras.

Comcast Business expands VPN portfolio

In the other example, Comcast Business announced this week that it had tapped Cisco Meraki to expand a Teleworker VPN offering for enterprise customers that have increasingly come into play during a pandemic that has forced people to work from home but still require them to forge a secure, reliable link to their corporate networks.

Comcast Business noted that its Teleworker VPN with Cisco Meraki could be paired with the company's managed VPN aggregation service to provide an enterprise-grade VPN gateway at business locations or hosted in its Secure Gateway Service centers.

That connection with Cisco comes a few months after Comcast Business launched an enterprise-focused VPN service in partnership with Aruba.

Biz revenue snapshot

Business services continue to represent key growth engines for Comcast and Charter, though the rate of growth has slowed a bit during the pandemic.

Comcast pulled down $2.09 billion in business services in Q4 2020 (versus $2 billion a year earlier) and $8.19 billion for 2020. Charter generated $1.62 billion in commercial revenue in Q4 2020 (compared to $1.60 billion in the year-ago period) and $6.43 billion ($3.96 billion with SMBs and $2.46 billion with enterprise customers) for all of 2020.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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