Cox crows on LTE

Next generation wireless broadband technologies are held in high regard by many for their potential to deliver where 3G failed. This potential is also being tapped by fixed line operators which see 4G as a route to deliver complementary services. At the LTE World Summit in Amsterdam recently, got to speak with Stephen J Bye, vice president of wireless at US cable carrier Cox Communications about his plans for LTE.

Cox, which started out as a cable TV operator, bid $304m for a chunk of 700MHz spectrum in 2008, winning coverage in the southwest and southeast US. The company has dabbled with CDMA EV-DO in the past but sees LTE as its main channel stone to offering future services over wireless.

“We see wireless as a growth opportunity for our business. If you look at our relationship with our customers, we’ve been very successful selling voice video and data in the home. A third of our customers buy all three products from us today through bundles,” Bye said. “So with wireless we see an opportunity to take that existing experience the consumer has from within the home to outside the home.”

Bye acknowledged that wireless is an already saturated market, but maintains that there is an opportunity to take market share in the wireless space due to the fact that existing saturation is largely around voice penetration. “We’re at the front end of data usage and we want to be competing for a share of that market as it emerges,” Bye said. “We see wireless as a complementary offering to our existing services.”

As a provider TV, fixed broadband and telephony, the Cox executive sees a clear advantage in being able to sell bundles, and to adding wireless to that portfolio. “Look at fragmentation in the US. It used to be that you bought a local telephone service from one company, long distance from another company, then TV from another company,” he said. “And people at first questioned whether it was worth bundling these services together, but clearly there is value in being a one stop shop.”

It’s been noted that 4G gives many players the chance to start from scratch, either as new entrants, or with forklift upgrades of their existing legacy networks. That may be true, but for Bye, a customer’s loyalty is not won through technology and services alone.

Watch the full video interview here

“Even if everyone is using the same technology (LTE) you will still find differences in quality and performance. From a cable perspective, the network is an important differentiator but the relationship is where it really comes together – that’s the lesson we can take from wireline to wireless. It’s about the service you offer and how you provide that support for that service,” he said.

But as many existing wireless operators are finding, discussion about 4G often falls on the radio access network, yet there are many other considerations to be taken into account when deploying LTE. “You’ve got to have everything in place – the RAN, the backhaul, the core infrastructure, but also the systems – the billing systems, support and care systems,” Bye said. “If a customer calls in with a problem on a device you have to have the intelligence in the system to provide the support they expect.”

And what about the well voice operator fears of becoming a dump pipe? As a fixed line carrier, Cox is well positioned to offer insight on the business model.

“How consumers use the connectivity we provide is up to them,” Bye said. “But they still value the access we provide. So while a wireless carrier may not be at front and centre of peoples’ minds it’s the billing relationship, the one person I call when I have a problem, the support infrastructure that brings all this value to the customer.

“When we got into the phone business we weren’t a phone company, we were a cable company. But we added a telephony service and high speed internet, and we see value in wireless for the future. We know that our customers are really interested in buying a wireless product from us,” Bye said.

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