Archives For Broadband

The phrase “net neutrality” is a seriously loaded term, which is why Comcast has to be so irritated that it’s once again part of the lexicon as we head into this week’s Cable Show. In case you haven’t been following along, the latest dust-up started when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised objections on Facebook over Comcast’s Xfinity app on the Microsoft Xbox. The Xfinity app is delivered over Comcast’s “managed IP network” and, unlike with other over-the-top (OTT) services, video streamed over the app doesn’t count toward broadband usage caps.

Then Sony vice president Michael Aragon jumped with his own cap complaints. He went on the record to say that Sony was postponing its plans to enter the video service market precisely because of the bandwidth cap issue.

Fast forward to today, and we now have a virtual war going on between Comcast, and, well, the rest of the world. Just as the Cable Show starts up – and the government crowd pours into Boston for the event – Comcast finds itself fighting on three fronts. Continue Reading…

broadband-meter

Comcast is out with a conveniently timed announcement going over their intention to replace broadband caps with… “improved data usage management approaches.”  However, despite management spin, to my eye they’ll continue to deal in data caps. Look, you’re either providing unlimited access or you’re not. Having said that, Comcast’s 250GB limit instituted in 2008 and upcoming 300GB limit are generous — most folks would be hard pressed to hit those ceilings on a regular basis. And it’s certainly more generous than Time Warner Cable’s 40GB trials or the typical and paltry 2GB a wireless provider might offer – even for home access.

We actually support metered usage and appreciate what looks to be clearly labeled tiers and overage fees. However, Comcast’s Internet service isn’t exactly provided as a dumb pipe, regulated like any other utility, and they display what appear to be various conflicts of interest. (And why is HBO GO still prohibited from Roku devices?) So you can be sure we intend to closely monitor these “trials.”

(Photo remixed by Todd Barnard and sourced from Elizabeth WestFlickr.)

dish-hopper-apps

TiVo isn’t the only game in town when it comes to merging subscription television with Internet content via a set-top. And DISH Network is next in line to offer Pandora music streaming from their new Hopper, whole-home DVR. It’s the same Pandora you know and love – create or sign into an account and stream personalized “radio” stations. For now it’s just the Hopper hub with access, but Joey extender support is expected in June and DISH tells me they’re looking at possibly bringing tunes to the ViP 922. If you don’t have DISH, DirecTV and Verizon are other providers who offer Pandora. Which, I suppose, is less threatening to their business model than say Netflix access.

Now that most of industry’s original interactive TV companies are dead and gone, Comcast may be looking to revive the one thing those iTV enterprises promised above all else – a way to access the web on your TV.

FierceCable’s Steve Donahue uncovered a patent application today detailing how Comcast might enable web-based search engines and TV-based commerce on cable set-tops. In the application, Comcast also notes that it could link its iTV platform to content from other video service providers, potentially knocking down a wall or two around the cable garden landscape. From the patent application summary:

The present invention is directed to content searching of various databases in an interactive television network; caching programming for rebroadcasting to interactive television network subscribers; and interactively offering goods and services referred to in broadcast programming to interactive television network subscribers.

There are certainly plenty of roundabout ways to do a little web browsing on your living-room TV set today, but it’s hardly common practice. In fact, the main reason connected TVs are growing in popularity is not because people want to surf Facebook or play Angry Birds, but because they want access to more content on the biggest screens they own. Presumably, Comcast is using this latest patent application to further its own content ambitions – not just opening up access to other video services where necessary, but making its own growing library of on-demand content available on a platform with increased interface flexibility, access to new distribution channels, and greater room for continued content growth.

The new patent application also falls in line with Comcast’s Xcalibur initiative and its overall transition to IP-based television. Comcast is currently testing the Xcalibur service in Augusta, Georgia, and reportedly has an all-IP set-top – something that would pair nicely with a new iTV platform – on its product roadmap.

Last week a number of Comcast subscribers had a serious hardware problem on their hands. Netgear modems in California suddenly stopped working. Specifically, owners of the Netgear CMD31T lost Internet service, and subscribers were given a lot of confusing information about why they were being left out in the cold.

Industry analyst Mike Demler first reported the issue on EE Daily News, and noted that he was told by a Comcast technician that his Netgear model was not designed to work in California. Demler’s modem had been working for two straight months, however, and a quick search on the Internet found a data sheet saying the modem should work for all major providers except Time Warner. A trip to the local Frys Electronics store confirmed other Comcast subscribers were having the same problem, and Demler quickly escalated his investigation by reaching out to the PR departments at both Comcast and Netgear.

Fast forward to today, and it turns out that the faulty modem problem is an IPv6 issue. Here’s the statement from Comcast:

Comcast is in the process of deploying IPv6 nationally, as noted on this site in great detail. We recently identified that the retail NetGear CMD31T device ships with and runs an uncertified version of firmware that exacerbates a critical IPv6-related defect. To ensure Comcast customers with these devices will continue to have uninterrupted Internet service, we have rolled back IPv6 temporarily in some parts of our network to give NetGear more time to address the issue. Comcast anticipates NetGear will soon address the issue for their retail devices, which we will test and deploy on an emergency basis.

Of course the Comcast/Netgear problem makes one wonder what other glitches we’ll see as the IPv6 rollouts continue. Comcast plans to have IPv6 deployed in half of its network by the second half of this year. Here’s hoping the migration progresses as (relatively) smoothly as the digital TV transition. I had concerns then too, but ultimately the shift proved largely uneventful.

Nest vs Comcast smart thermostat

The tech world went a little crazy when the Nest thermostat launched. However, we haven’t seen quite the same level of excitement for the home automation services making their way to market from the cable and telco providers. And those services are growing by the day. Comcast has launched Xfinity Home to about one third of its customers, and plans to cover almost its entire footprint by the end of the year. Time Warner Cable also said in a recent earnings report that it plans to extend its home automation service to more markets in 2012. And Verizon is quite likely to do the same, having debuted its home control service back in October.

Of course, the MSOs are offering something quite a bit different from Nest. The full Xfinity Home package, for example, includes thermostat control, home security, door and window sensors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, lighting control and a glass-break sensor. Nest is just a smart thermostat. But the beauty of Nest is that it offers something simple, and you only have to buy it once – no subscription fee required.

The operators are betting big that home automation will give them another value-added service to keep margins up and avoid the dumb pipe scenario. However, I have to wonder if subscribers are willing to fatten up the cable/telco monthly bill even more. Home security is its own business, and perhaps the operators can chip away at ADT’s market share. But adding on a regular fee for thermostat or lighting control strikes me as a hard sell. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is like the DVR, and only when the cable/telco industry jumps on board will the market really take off. But personally, if I decide to spent money on temperature control, I’ll pick up the Nest device. It sure is prettier.  Continue Reading…

roku-2-versus-xds-appletv

VentureBeat’s run a rather provocative headline that declares “Roku is kicking the cable industry’s butt.” Yet, it’s not exactly clear how they could be.

First thing first, we’re big fans of Roku. In fact, we were amongst the very first to purchase their original Netflix streamer, currently own several modern boxes, and named the $50 Roku LT as “a box of the year” in 2011. Yet, even with all that love, we just don’t see any way that Roku could be kicking cable’s butt.

In terms of numbers, Roku has moved about 2.5 million boxes. That represents one time sales and a small but growing recurring revenue share. Beyond that, Roku isn’t actually profitable. Meaning they spend more money than they ingest. Compared to say a Comcast. Yeah, they may have lost 19,000 cable customers last quarter but that still leaves them will more than 22 million households… who pay them each and every month for premium television services. Continue Reading…