Comcast thinks outside the box

By shifting innovation from its set top box product into the cloud, US cable TV provider Comcast has revolutionised its offering, according to Mark Hess, senior vice president at the company. Speaking in the keynotes at Broadband World Forum on Wednesday morning, Hess said: “Years ago we were trapped in that set top box. We could never manage to get the innovation into the box.”

So the functionality in the set top box, including tuner management, parental controls and listing functionality was shifted into the cloud. Now every time a customer presses a button on their remote control, Hess said, a roundtrip to a datacentre is initiated and the service still works faster than it did when the technology was locked in the device.

The move to the cloud was also driven by growth in the devices that Comcast now needs to support. Hess said that, by 2015, there would be 234 million devices capable of IP video in the firm’s footprint. The newer the device type the faster the uptake, he said. While the domestic radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users the tablet took just three, he said, quicker than the smartphone, itself quicker than the PC.

Development is also quicker for newer devices he said. Working on set top box development created high demands on time and resource with very little reach. It took just 12 engineers 6 months to develop Comcast’s first iPad app, by comparison.

The operator’s vision is now to enable customers to be able to access all of their content and services from every device that they use. Given the rapid increase in the number of permutations of device and content, a cloud solution was the only option, he said. Comcast is now fully digital, with its own CDN and is building third party apps, such as Facebook, into its solution; “using other people’s products to enhance our own,” he said.

“Change is coming and coming fast,” he added. “You can’t predict it so you have to tune up.”

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