Liberty Global pushes tech unification – Which vendors will win?

“Cisco, NDS and SeaChange were all good at the time, but how good are they now?” asked Liberty Global’s Chief Product Officer Doron Hacmon. It turns out that Liberty Global currently has 85 different set tops deployed in subscriber homes, as he described his company’s splintered TV ecosystem as a “mess” and declaring the need for just one set top, pointing towards a future we know cable  operators are heading in – unifying the video experience in a single multiscreen platform. He was speaking at Cable Congress 2018 in Dublin and was one of many Liberty Global executives to address the issue.

Hacman spoke emphatically about causing disruption by finding efficiencies in inefficiencies, using the famous Einstein quote, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” He gave the example of how WhatsApp singlehandedly took $160 billion from the telecoms industry by rethinking the way text messages are sent – so operators need to be better prepared and be the disruptors, before disruption strikes them. Hacmon proposed, “What if Liberty Global all of sudden offered all its subscription-based products and services completely free of charge? Obviously this is not feasible, but this is the way we should be thinking.”

Arris is a primary supplier of set tops to Liberty Global, along with ADB, TiVo, Technicolor and Samsung, so Faultline Online Reporter pressed Arris CTO Charles Cheevers on how the US manufacturer is preparing for this future. Cheevers simply said set tops will naturally unify in an IP platform and the convergence of the Horizon UI on a single IP set top is inevitable. Arris is perhaps apathetic about its legacy set top deployments within Liberty Global coming to an end, due to increased focus on its networking and home gateway businesses, for which Liberty Global is also a customer. Although, if Arris can win the hand of Liberty Global to be the manufacturer of its one and only Horizon set top in the future, the vendor will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Hacmon also said, “We have no complaints about our recommendations engine, it’s not bad, but is it for the future?” No specifics were provided on how Liberty Global plans to improve its recommendations, nor whether he was referring to the software supplied by ThinkAnalytics, or some in-house development.

Liberty Global very recently extended its supply deal with SeaChange for the Adrenalin multiscreen video platform, to provide content information and transaction support across broadcast and IP video networks on new Horizon set tops, supporting what it calls Horizon 4 services. Therefore, Hacmon’s suggestion Horizon will undergo a full, continent-wide fusion resulting in technology switch outs is premature – so we feel this unified future is some years away.

Regarding IP video delivery, Liberty Global’s Director of In-home Connectivity Products, Nicolas Fortineau, said, “We don’t have a choice. Over the next 12 to 18 months we must jump on IP video and WiFi or suffer the consequences of pure play OTT providers.”

For operators to achieve the goal of going all IP video over WiFi, their network technology evolution will be largely aided by the migration to DOCSIS 3.1, was the consensus from a panel at Cable Congress, discussing the technical challenges of the multi-gigabit home. DOCSIS 3.1 CCAPs have already rolled out in worldwide and CPE will follow soon, noted Cheevers, suggesting most operators will launch managed video over IP next year.

“You don’t want to use ABR as a fundamental part of the network, you need to use it when and where you want,” said Cheevers, who also suggested there should be a convergence between retail and service providers, as smart assistants and IoT use cases are on the rise. Standards will be central to this, as Cheevers said, “There has to be a standard because WiFi management is so important and so finicky.”

With the rise of the multi-AP home, this brings with it an increased number of potential points of failure with the network chain. Addressing this challenge will be a cloud matter, according to the Chief Planner of Huawei’s Access Point product line, Xiong Yupeng. “When all APs are managed by a single, central center – then we will get real reliability in APs,” said Yupeng.

Nagra’s SVP and Chief Architect, Phillipe Stransky, was eager to slow things down, adding that “We are still a very long way from consumers understanding the complexity of multi-AP architectures.”

A final piece of advice from Cheevers to operators summarized the discussion nicely – “Don’t skimp on WiFi; over-engineer on WiFi. It will pay back.”

Cable R&D group CableLabs provided an update on DOCSIS 3.1 at Cable Congress, with Senior Strategic Executive Advisor Volker Leisse describing how developments in the technical areas of self-interference cancellation at the CMTS, RF isolation between cable modems, and intelligent scheduling are all enabling full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 and reducing interference.

A key improvement has come from a massive expansion of upstream spectrum by 480 MHz, with more software-driven components opening the door to full virtualization. In turn, reaching the magic symmetrical 10 Gbps up and down speed and delivering low latency is critical for mobile backhaul, gaming and VR. “We have proved DOCSIS 3.1 has a future, it’s up to the in-home people now,” said Leisse.

Huawei’s CTO of Telco Cloud & Video, Mads Arnbjorn Ramussen, was also on hand to talk about monetizing low latency video and big data analytics. His view is that IPTV is the right solution for operators in the long-term, combined with DOCSIS 3.1 and cloud infrastructure. DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade capex is around 20% that of FTTH, he said, and regarding 4K video, IPTV over DOCSIS 3.1 has a 50% better use of spectrum, making it much more cost effective, according to Ramussen.

Looking beyond this, Ramussen believes FTTH is around 10 years away for cable, and once cloud migration and network automation have been fully completed by operators, the next step is what Huawei brands as the intent-driven network – with intent-based APIs and big data analytics controlling the fixed networks of the future.

One thing we learned from Cable Congress is that Liberty Global is keen to flex its muscles and declare disruptive changes are approaching, while making its arguably more disruptive rival operator in Europe, Sky, the butt of all jokes – a running theme at Cable Congress 2018.