Cable, Telco Nets Grow Similar as Markets Converge

A few things can be said about the evolution of the cable and telephone industries during the past decade or so:

  • Each has successfully gone after each others residential subscriber base. Cable operators are now the phone company for many and telcos provide as healthy an array of programming services as MSOs.

  • The explosion of broadband Internet has given birth to a third dimension, over-the-top players. This is important for a lot of reasons, including the reality that OTT providers are using both cable and telcos as “dumb pipe” conduits to their customers. The trend is just starting: The OTT players are growing more technically sophisticated and building robust back office, fulfillment and content creation capabilities.

  • Finally, while the cable industry has had some success in taking commercial business away from the telcos, the industry is truly moving up its game. To date, cable's success has primarily served SOHOs and small- and medium-sized businesses within its residential footprints. It has been far less adept in serving enterprises, which cross more regional borders, demand more and different feature sets and compliance with exacting service level agreements (SLAs). Cable’s parochial legacy – an advantage when dealing with SMBs with centers of operations that more or less match the operator footprint – is a disadvantage to enterprises that doesn’t want to mix and match providers across the country.

These three trends -- incursions into each others business, the emergence of OTT and cable's foray into commercial services -- tends to make the underlying networks evolve towards each other.

Commercial service provisioning perhaps is the best example. Mobile backhaul -- bringing signals from cell towers to various upstream points in the network -- is exploding as mobility explodes. It will continue to do so as LTE rolls out. Mobile backhaul uses many of the same fundamental elements as enterprise commercial services. Cable operators are superbly positioned for this business, and winning a chunk of it will justify creation of the infrastructure that allows it to serve enterprises.

Indeed, cable operators stand to be the favored provider, since mobile carriers associated with one wireline carrier will favor MSOs over a direct competitor's backhaul business unit. Now cable can bank on twin revenue streams of mobile service providers and enterprises.

What Does this Mean to the Infrastructure?

A key question should be asked: What do these trends mean to the underlying technical evolution of telephone and cable platforms? The first assumption is that cable and telephone networks always will be different because of cable’s ace in the hole (or in the wall): its last mile coaxial cable. While that always will differentiate the networks, the resemblance will grow as their networks -- especially at the core -- grow more similar.

Lightwave Online, and the print publication from which it evolved, long has been the go-to, authoritative source for information about optical networking in the telephone industry. Its parent company, PennWell Corp., purchased Broadband Technology Report at the end of 2011.

It’s a great move from the points of view of the two sites:  Treating cable and telco optical networks as completely discreet entities that don't deal with many of the same issue and use much of the same equipment is legacy thinking. They aren’t the same – but they will grow more similar as cable’s phone and telcos video subscriber rolls increase, as OTT uses both as a conduit and as mobile backhaul demands grow. Another way of putting it: The emphasis is shifting from the differences to the similarities.

Stephen Hardy, Lightwave’s Editorial Director and Associate Publisher, noted the coalescing. “In both networks, fiber is creeping closer to the end customer,” he said. “The question is how close they will get and what technology will be used for the final connection.”

The near future promises to be as interesting as the recent past. Hardy suggests that the capabilities of DOCSIS 3.0 gives cable’s coaxial legacy the ability to satisfy the greatly increasing demands and may chill any move to ditch HFC in favor of an all-optical approach.

He suggested watching events at the two ends of the network. In the core of the network, the big cable operators will look, along with telcos, at the next generation of 100 gigabit per second (Gbps) networking, which is the long-term replacement for the current generation of 40 Gbps equipment. On the end user side, he sees how the industry progresses on the nascent Ethernet over passive optical networks (EPoC) standard, which could further dampen the move of cable to an all-optical approach.

The cable and telephone industries have a long and complex relationship. This isn’t likely to change as the era of “frienemies” and “co-opetition” rolls on. One thing is certain: Telco and cable engineers, decision makers to whom they report and vendors must keep close pace on what is happening in both industries.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Reach him at

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

Are You Ready for DOCSIS 3.1? The Future of Cable Technology and How to Prepare Your Network

October 2016

DOCSIS 3.1 promises 10x capacity throughput and a range of technical benefits for cable providers and users alike. Are you ready? Discover the technical adva...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.