Escaping the confines of the set-top box is vital for cable operators if they are to compete effectively with nimbler over-the-top (OTT) players, and U.S.-based Comcast has done exactly that.
″Years ago we were literally trapped inside that box,″ said Mark Hess, senior vice president at Comcast Cable, speaking at Broadband World Forum this week.
Now the cableco has moved much of its technology into the cloud, such as DVR functionality, TV and video-on-demand listings, parental controls and so on.
The company unveiled its cloud-based X1 platform and remote control app earlier this year with the aim of bringing a Web-like experience to the TV set and targeting a wider range of connected devices with a unified TV and video experience.
″Every button click is a round-trip to a server somewhere,″ but even that is faster than using an old set-top box, with all the functionality inside it, Hess explained.
Building software in the set-top box was resource-heavy: it took a lot of developers a lot of time and was unable to reach devices beyond that box, Hess said. Cloud-based development is faster, requires fewer people and offers greater reach.
″[There will be] 234 million devices in our network footprint alone capable of IP video by 2015,″ Hess said. ″Reach to all those devices is what we're after.″
Comcast built on the strength of its all-DOCSIS 3.0 network by focusing on the employees it needed to enable it to take on the Internet players, Hess explained.
″We began to invest in talent,″ largely through M&A, he said, referring to Comcast's acquisition of social networking specialist Plaxo in 2008 and other similar deals.
The goal was to ″create a Web-like culture for them to develop in,″ said Hess. ″Leveraging this new cloud technology has enabled us to innovate faster.″