The Cable Industry Turns up the Heat

Carl Weinschenk

The movers and shakers at The Cable Show 2012, which wrapped up today in Boston, clearly sought to take the initiative from upstarts that had spent the better part of the past decade sniping away at its business. Broadband Technology Report offered comprehensive coverage of the industry's major yearly meeting.


It's a back and forth that will continue for as long as telecommunications exists, of course. It is arguable that at least for a while the cable industry will enjoy an advantage, though Verizon and AT&T have sophisticated and high-capacity networks and many smaller telcos also advanced as well. But cable's great asset - its coaxial cable - is ubiquitous. When the industry's business and research and development arms are in alignment - as they appear to be now - it has an inherent head start.


One of the major announcements - made as the show was kicking off - was free Wi-Fi roaming across five MSO footprints. CableWiFi joins the Wi-Fi networks of Cox, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. It initially covers about 50,000 hotspots. The Reuters story on the deal posted at MSNBC clearly positions the move as a shot against the wireless carriers:

The initiative could put extra pressure on telecoms companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc, which would prefer that customers pay for 3G or 4G wireless packages for iPad tablets, laptops and other devices.

The Wi-Fi initiative is just one example of a reinvigorated industry. For decades, the major battle was between established carriers and service providers - the Comcasts, AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. The twin explosions of broadband and mobility threw the doors open to clever folks who started YouTube, Hulu and scores of other creative and aggressive companies.


The center - from the established players' perspective, at least - may have held. The carriers have the networks, back office infrastructure and money to attract the next generation of ambitious engineers, software developers and others. The kids, it seems, may think that the established players are all right. That statement couldn't be made even a few years ago.


The Wi-Fi deal is the tip of the iceberg. Comcast separately announced Voice 2go, a service in which subscribers can use the features of their landline phone on their mobile devices, as another example. Indeed, to an extent, turnaround is fair play: The cable operators are tapping into the creativity unleashed by the startups of a few years ago - one of which is getting a bit of a rude awakening - and to a degree reinventing themselves. But it's a reinvention that is based on the industry's formidable assets.

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