Liberty wants to shake up its supply chain as WiFi takes center stage

“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, speaking at last week’s Cable Congress in Dublin.

It turns out that Liberty Global currently has 85 different set-top boxes deployed in subscriber homes, and Hacmon described his company’s splintered TV ecosystem as a “mess”. What is needed is a single set-top, and then a unified video experience in a single multiscreen platform embracing the home and the mobile platform.

Hacman spoke emphatically about causing disruption by finding “efficiencies in inefficiencies”, as Einstein once said. “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got,” he added, giving the example of how WhatsApp singlehandedly took $160bn 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, along with ADB, TiVo, Technicolor and Samsung, and it has recently acquired Ruckus Wireless, strengthening its hand in home gateways and wireless/wireline convergence.

Liberty’s director of in-home connectivity products, Nicolas Fortineau, told the Congress: “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 supporting all-IP video over WiFi, their network technology evolution will be aided by the migration to DOCSIS 3.1, was the consensus from a panel at Catheble Congress, discussing the technical challenges of the multi-gigabit home. DOCSIS 3.1 CCAPs (converged cable access platforms) have already rolled out in worldwide and customer premises equipment will follow soon, noted Cheevers, suggesting most operators will launch managed video over IP next year.

“You don’t want to use adapative bit rate (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, he said, adding: “There has to be a standard because WiFi management is so important and so finicky.”

With the rise of the multi-access point 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 AP product line, Xiong Yupeng who said: “When all APs are managed by a single, central center – then we will get real reliability in Aps.”

Nagra’s chief architect, Phillipe Stransky, was eager to slow things down, saying: “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.”