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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 29, 2012

Cable in the Clouds - MSOs Providing More Cloud-based Content, Apps and Services

By Colleen Lynch, TMCnet Contributor

Multiple System Operators (MSOs) are doing away with tradition and embracing cloud computing. Comcast and Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless are just two of many companies moving toward the cloud, which “allows you to innovate at a faster pace,” according to Comcast Cable president and CEO Neil Smit. This industry-wide shift is set to deliver an increasing amount of content, applications and services to customers much faster by using cloud technology. Instead of one specific service only available on one specific piece of operator-supplied hardware, cloud computing allows any network-delivered service to travel from device to device.

Video services can be distributed by MSOs to “virtual” set-tops such as tablets, laptops or televisions, and customers can alter their plans more quickly this way, compared to traditional set-top-based guides.

This change came in response to consumers wanting more from their cable companies. The faster technology moves the more people tend to want in regards to their electronic devices and services. "It's a mix of technology fueling it and consumers saying, ‘Now that we've gotten that, we want more’” said Smit, speaking at the 2012 Cable Show on May 22nd. 

In a related move, five of the industry’s top MSOs recently entered into a plan to consolidate their Wi-Fi hotspots, allowing customers from any of the five companies to access more data in more areas for free.

The idea is to keep up with consumer demand, and consumers are demanding video on all devices, in all locations. This “video-everywhere” concept has pushed companies like TiVo to introduce new cloud-related technologies, such as a device for MSO customers that can provide in-home streaming to tablets, smartphones, and “sideload” DVR content. Motorola (News - Alert) Mobility has responded to the demand as well; recently the company has discussed their system “DVR Everywhere,” which would fling streamed content between devices inside or outside of the home.

Cable is using the cloud, and the trend is spreading throughout the entire industry in a domino effect. In the next few weeks and starting in Boston, Comcast is set to launch Xfinity TV on the X1 Platform, as well as a new remote-control app. Brian Roberts debuted the X1 Platform last year at the Cable Show as “Project Xcalibur,” and the interest in such a service has only grown since.

It’s not only changing things for customers, either, but the way cable companies do business as well. “We’re no longer doing a guide once every 18 months,” said Smit. With the X1 Platform, Comcast is able instead to update their guide in real time. Comcast has made 400 software updates to the X1 guide just in the last year, and in only two weeks the MSO was able to add movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes to the movies they offer. 

With a Web-like interface, X1 is built to integrate social media, networking, apps, news and basic television in order to provide a more personal viewing experience. Comcast plans to bring the new cloud-based X1 guide and applications to new customers as well as old, as the system will be deployed based on Broadcom’s (News - Alert) BCM7420 system-on-a-chip, available on existing set-top boxes as well.

Smartphones are not being excluded, however: Comcast is introducing a new companion to the X1 with its launch, a remote-control app for the iPhone (News - Alert) and iPod touch. The app will allow “swiping” gestures to change the channel or skim through menu choices. The app will not replace the conventional TV remote, which will be provided with the X1, but because it exists the choice is up to the customer whether to employ the new technology.

Last week Comcast paired with Verizon Wireless to introduce a new mobile-video search device called the “Viewdini.” The device is cloud-based, and according to Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead, the service will take advantage of the capacity of the carrier’s LTE network. This will allow the Viewdini to tap into the 258 markets covered by the network. Viewdini provides video from Comcast, Xfinity, Hulu Plus, mSpot (News - Alert) and Netflix, with additional partners set to join including Verizon FiOS TV.

At the Cable Show on May 22nd Mead said the Viewdini was spawned by what he saw as “the hunger of consumers to get…information whenever, wherever they want.” The MSOs are aiming ultimately to increase mobility, or they risk losing customers and falling behind in the cloud-game.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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