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12 October 2020

Cablecos’ enterprise units try to see the upside in the shift to home working

The enterprise network departments of operators big and small are facing the prospect that, post-pandemic, corporate networks as we know them will never return. Investments in pseudo-residential business networks must be prioritized as contracts at large enterprises shrink, while supporting business transformations at small and medium businesses (SMBs) becomes ever more imperative.

Executives from Altice USA, Comcast and Charter Spectrum took their best shots, at the Cable Next-Gen Digital Symposium from Light Reading last week, at arguing that enterprise businesses haven’t been thrown into pandemonium by the shift to home working. Bob Victor, SVP of product management at Comcast Business, papered over the cracks of significant revenue growth slowdown with claims that cablecos are still taking market share from telcos for business networks, despite Comcast Business and Altice USA falling well behind AT&T Business and CenturyLink Business for annual revenues.

According to Victor, something that wasn’t even on the Comcast radar before the pandemic was to offer SD-WAN,  which requires lower cost CPE than is typically deployed at a site. He vaguely noted that Comcast will shortly be launching a product in the SD-WAN arena, based on technology from an Irish company it acquired earlier this year called Blueface, which will include integrations into major video platforms over time.

Another acquisition that helped Comcast Business weather the storm, in Victor’s view, is DeepBlue, a managed WiFi company it snapped up in mid-2019. With this technology comes the opportunity to deploy more edge compute for ultra-low latency applications, he said, before questioning where the demand for this is needed above and beyond what WiFi 6 can provide. “This is a chicken and egg situation. As technology evolves, developers will create apps against it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Altice USA’s Joe Flynn, VP of sales strategy and operations, described a big increase in optical network use during the pandemic, as well as the obvious spikes in residential additions and video streaming in Q2, the latter increasing by 46%. Flynn boasted that Altice USA’s network was able to meet that challenge thanks to an aggressive FTTH plan before the pandemic took hold, which put Altice USA in a strong position to respond to bandwidth demands.

In Altice USA’s case, it has been offering more bandwidth or payment plans to help keep SMBs afloat in the near term. In the long term, Altice USA ultimately wants to help reinvent and grow businesses with products and services. “Your business is not just reopening, but your customers are expecting to interact with you differently than they did pre-pandemic,” said Flynn.

Over at Charter, VP of enterprise data product for Spectrum Enterprise, Satya Parimi, noted how his department’s focus on managed services such as routing, WiFi and DDoS (distributed denial of service) had all been brought forward as a result of the pandemic. A caveat, however, is that the pace of customers revisiting their infrastructure was not as fast as he would have liked, while some customers contacted Spectrum Enterprise confused as to the constraints of network infrastructure in their area.

“We had a lot more enterprises saying ‘what is the infrastructure I have and is it set up to grow long term? Should I look at next-gen?’ We expect that to be a real tailwind for the Internet business. There needs to be enough of a shock to the system before change sticks in the long term. I think we’re almost there,” said Parimi.