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Q&A: Breaking down Cisco’s cable TV move

Nov 18, 20055 mins
CablesCisco SystemsMergers and Acquisitions

Cisco made a loud entry into the cable set-top box market in announcing its $6.9 billion plan to purchase Scientific-Atlanta. Steve Nozik, principal analyst of broadband access for the Dell’Oro Group, sees the acquisitions filling in the missing piece for Cisco to become an end-to-end broadband services equipment vendor. The move also puts Cisco in an excellent spot as the emerging battle over IPTV begins to heat up among telcos like Verizon and SBC and cable operators such as Comcast and TimeWarner. Nozik spoke with Network World on Cisco’s future in the living room.

Why does Cisco want to sell cable TV boxes?

This is a push by Cisco to get away more from the enterprise and into the home market. Cisco already has the largest share of the [Cable Service Interface Specification] market today, roughly 60% of that market. This enables them to have more of an integrated provider, where they can provide an end-to-end solution and reach deeper into the home – whereas the CMTS was mainly one piece of the puzzle. This gives them another piece to put together.

Does Cisco’s push into home/consumer electronics overlap or complement its Linksys business?

Linksys has a line of broadband routers and cable and DSL modems. Scientific-Atlanta doesn’t have standalone routers, but they have cable modems and cable telephony modems. With Linksys, there is some overlap as far as that portion of the business. But Linksys doesn’t deal with service providers; they’re more of a retail play. And Scientific-Atlanta doesn’t deal with retail. So there might be an opportunity to sell Scientific-Atlanta through retail, and vice-versa for Linksys through service providers. But any overlap is not too significant.

What else does Scientific-Atlanta make?

Scientific-Atlanta has a lot of the management software that can be used for the delivery and management of those home entertainment services. They’ve already been making the bet that video is going to be the main driver of new applications going forward, and that video-over-IP specifically will be the trend over the next several years. [Scientific-Atlanta] also has the transmission products for the video head-end to put those kinds of applications together.

There seems to be a big battle looming over IPTV, as telcos are muscling into the cable companies’ turf. How will Cisco handle this?

Scientific-Atlanta has been working with some of the telco service providers already to provide set-top boxes. SBC had picked them to be the set-top box for their IPTV initiative. It helps Cisco get into that area, the telco space for home equipment, which they have not been big into. And that’s one of the reasons SA was attractive to them. The first kind of large-scale IPTV deployment was on the telco side. So Cisco is getting right in the middle of that.

If telcos are ahead of cable providers on IPTV, did Cisco make the wrong bet?

Not exactly. Right now the cable model is a broadcast kind of TV model, but there’s nothing to say that cable can’t go to a kind of IP model. That’s the plan eventually. With the DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service Interface] 3.0 equipment that will be rolling out late next year, there will be much higher bandwidth. If it turns out to be a competitive advantage for the telcos, then cable will switch over to IPTV as well. Right now the way TV is delivered to homes is through the RF video model; Cisco will be able to take advantage of Scientific-Atlanta’s position in that market in the meantime, prior to any big changeover to IPTV.

What’s the biggest challenge for Cisco to integrate this technology into their product line?

Scientific-Atlanta is a large company. There will be lots of challenges in terms of integration. It’s not a typical type of Cisco acquisition. It’s on the other side of the country. They have different types of manufacturing integration and that kind of thing. It may be a slow process.

Does Cisco have everything they need equipment-wise to provide consumer video, voice and data services?

On the cable side they do. On the DSL side, they don’t have all the pieces. They don’t have a DSLAM. On the fiber side, with what Verizon’s doing with fiber-to-the-home, Cisco does not have a product to handle that kind of thing end-to-end. Right now fiber-to-the-home is small. But if it evolves, Cisco may do something there. As far as DSLAMs go, they may partner with other vendors to provide the kind of end-to-end solution where that’s the missing piece. But Cisco doesn’t think that is a critical element of the solution, that DSLAMs are that much of a differentiator for them.

Is Cisco’s Scientific-Atlanta acquisition good for cable providers?

I would think it would be an advantage to a cable provider. They will only have to deal with one company now. A lot of cable TV operators already have a relationship with Cisco in providing the CMTS portion.