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Leading Lights 2016 Finalists: Best Cable Product

It's getting harder every year to determine what qualifies as a cable product in the ongoing convergence of cable, telecom and over-the-top services. For our purposes, however, we selected the finalists for this year's Leading Lights Award based on each product's ability to deliver competitive advantage to a cable provider. In some cases, there's definite overlap with the telco sector, but in all cases, the entries that made the shortlist for Best Cable Product offer distinct value to cable companies pursuing the latest in cutting-edge technologies for video and broadband services.

For more on this year's finalists, read on. Winners, and the newest class of Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner on Monday, May 23, at the Hotel Ella in Austin, Texas. For more details, see this Leading Lights 2016 Awards dinner page. The following day, the Big Communications Event 2016 opens its doors for two days of networking and learning.

In alphabetical order, the finalists for Best Cable Product in 2016 are as follows:

AirTies Air 4920 wireless smart mesh solution
AirTies is one of many companies with an eye on optimizing the in-home broadband network, but its success in attracting customers to its hybrid hardware/software solution is what sets it apart from competitors. Using technology that combines multiple WiFi access points and dynamic, software-driven routing, AirTies promises an average capacity increase of 3x over the performance of a conventional WiFi network, with the potential to boost the speed of any given WiFi link by up to 10x.

The ability to deliver high-performance WiFi offers numerous benefits to cable operators. It can help cut down on service calls, enable more high-bandwidth consumer applications and create new revenue opportunities with home networking management services. To date, many of AirTies' customers are outside the US, including Sky , Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), among others. However, AirTies has now entered the North American market after winning a deal with Midcontinent Communications (Midco) late last year, and there is no shortage of additional operators actively seeking out new in-home WiFi solutions.

Amdocs Service Design & Create
Like many other vendors, Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) is now trying to make its mark in the virtualization space. But unlike many others, Amdocs is focusing on service lifecycle management, aiming to help cable operators and other service providers onboard and configure virtual network functions (VNFs) quickly for the delivery of commercial services to enterprises.

Amdocs bills its new product, Service Design & Create (SDC), as an open solution that automates onboarding of any VNF from any vendor to ensure both vendor-neutrality and service-neutrality. It promises that SDC can drastically cut how long it takes for operators to design, test and launch a multi-vendor, NFV-based enterprise service, chopping the required time from at least nine months to just eight weeks or less while also slashing development costs. Amdocs bases these claims on tests it has run with several Tier-1 operators, as well as a live, multi-vendor NFV use case demonstration that it put together in seven weeks for Vodafone at Mobile World Congress earlier this year.

Aptilo SMP Venue Wi-Fi Manager
Cable WiFi services aren't only important inside consumer homes, they're also critical in the cable industry's ongoing drive to win market share in the business services sector. To that end, Aptilo Networks AB has created a solution that lets operators help business owners manage their customer-facing WiFi networks. It includes a graphical user interface, the ability to target promotional messages to customers, analytics capabilities and customization options for different enterprise verticals.

The Aptilo product earns a spot on the Leading Lights shortlist because of its full-featured and flexible nature, as well as the opportunities it enables for revenue generation. Aptilo's Service Management Platform is also part of a suite of technologies that make up cable vendor Arris' Service Provider WiFi solution.

Calix E3-8G node-based OLT
Even as cable operators start deploying gigabit services now, they're already looking ahead to multi-gigabit services, and that requires careful network planning. Fortunately for the industry, Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) has introduced an optical line terminal (OLT) that both meets gigabit needs today and sets the stage for multi-gig services in the future. The E3-8G product is a node-based OLT, which means it fits in well with existing cable network architectures. It also simultaneously supports GPON technology and offers an upgrade path to XGS-PON and NG-PON2 for multi-gigabit services.

The Calix node-based OLT joins the shortlist of Leading Lights finalists both because it's tailor-made for a cable environment, and because it offers service providers a cost-efficient way to expand capacity and start down the road toward software-defined networking. At least one national cable operator is already trialing the solution.

Comcast Business WiFi Pro
Given Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s aggressive pursuit of the business services market, it was only a matter of time before the company launched a managed WiFi offering. And while it's unusual for a service provider to make the shortlist in a product category, the nature of WiFi Pro makes it a perfect candidate for Best Cable Product finalist.

Comcast launched WiFi Pro in January with features for dynamic bandwidth control, content filtering and policy-based rule-setting. WiFi Pro customers can also create custom splash pages with different marketing messages and manage service configurations from either an online portal or a mobile app. The new product makes the Leading Lights shortlist both because of its extensive functionality and because it rounds out the Comcast portfolio of business service offerings, complementing the company's other Ethernet and fixed-line data services. WiFi Pro also matches up well with Comcast's other WiFi initiatives, including its focus on home-based and public WiFi hotspots.

Technicolor HDR distribution solution
Even while Ultra High-Definition (Ultra HD or 4K) video technologies earned the early headlines, industry experts agree that High Dynamic Range will likely have a greater impact on the consumer viewing experience. Many companies are working hard to bring HDR to market, but Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) has introduced a unique solution designed to be not only backwards compatible with Standard Dynamic Range equipment, but also a cost-efficient option for delivering both SDR and HDR video streams.

The Technicolor product earned its way on to the Leading Lights shortlist because it is a single-layer solution that makes content look like SDR to SDR devices, but also contains hidden messages supporting HDR decoding for viewing with HDR-compatible TVs. Programmers need only a single encoder to prepare video for transport, and receivers need only a single decoder at the other end to manage decompression of the SDR or HDR content. As a cost-effective solution that also offers an innovative way to speed HDR to market, the Technicolor HDR distribution product is a worthy finalist for Leading Lights Best Cable Product.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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