Video services

Looking Back: Comcast's Breakthrough X1 Video Service Turns 10

The celebration of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers's 50th year will be in full force next week at Cable Tec-Expo in New Orleans, with discussions to focus on a bunch of new technologies and initiatives, including 10G, DOCSIS 4.0, distributed access architectures, a new node standard and cable's tightening engagement with mobile and wireless.

Here's another milestone of sorts this year that won't get much fanfare at SCTE's tech-fest in The Big Easy -- it's been 10 years since whispers began to spread about a major next-gen video product under way at Comcast that, at the time, was code-named "Excalibur." That product eventually became X1.

I got my first whiff of Comcast's then-secret project just as the 2009 Cable-Tec Expo in Denver was getting started. Initial details fed to me that week left a lot of holes unfilled. One person referred to the effort as something to do with "managed over-the-top" video. Others talked about the potential to integrate interactive apps, reach multiple types of screens and cloud support. Lots and lots of cloud chatter!

While not everyone had the same characterization of what Comcast was up to with Excalibur, there was a common theme at the time. Once I was on the trail and started asking people what they knew about it, you could count on many of them to peek over their shoulders and break out into a cold sweat, understandably fearful of Comcast reprisals about word of the project becoming public. To say the topic was sensitive at the time would be a massive understatement.

But I still came out of that week armed with enough details to distill some solid hints about what was in store.

What followed, almost three years later, was the initial launch of X1, a cloud-powered platform that supported both QAM and IP video services and later led to integrated OTT apps and interactive services on the set-top box, plus apps for mobile devices and a cloud DVR. Today X1 is rolled out to about two-thirds of Comcast's footprint and has played a major role in helping the MSO keep pay-TV losses in check even as broadband becomes its center of gravity.

X1 also became an out-of-footprint play of sorts for Comcast through the MSO's X1 syndication deals with other cable operators. Under that syndication program, a group of tier 1 cable operators, including Cox Communications and Shaw Communications, have licensed Comcast's X1 platform and products (including X1's cloud-based service delivery infrastructure and the use of X1-compatible set-tops and gateways) for their respective next-gen video products. And X1 has also been adapted to deliver services to college campuses, business locations and as the underpinnings of a new streaming service, called Xfinity Flex, tailored for broadband-only customers.

Now that the project is (at least) 10 years old, here's a look back at X1's journey:

Next page: October 2009: Comcast Forges 'Excalibur' for IPTV

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