Ready? Set . . . Go! (in reverse)
For, as much as the industry would like the world to believe differently, the vast majority of cable plant in existence today isn't ready for two-way service. Equipment manufacturers say that almost all the gear being shipped out today is two-way, but according to our research, less than one mile out of five is currently two-way active.
The bad news is that there are a lot of miles of plant that are only one-way. The good news is that the MSOs have indeed proclaimed 1998 as the Year of Reverse, and plan to pump substantial sums into network upgrades that include two-way activation.
And indeed they should. Most MSOs are actively pursuing data-over-cable services, although the number of new launches has dwindled to a dribble as they wait for MCNS-compliant, interoperable modems to become available. In the meantime, the competition isn't sitting still, either.
Led by the behemoth Bell companies who want desperately to protect their current customer base, cable MSOs are about to feel intense competition for those business and residential Internet afficionados. Data rates over traditional copper twisted pair are rising, and ADSL technology is about to move off the drawing board and into real, live networks.
The truth is that the cable operators have about a 12-month lead on any competitor. The trick is going to be finding a way not to lose that lead. And that's where reverse plant activation will be so critical.
According to figures supplied to us by several of the Top 10 MSOs, the amount of two-way active plant will rise sharply from today's paltry numbers to include 80 percent or more of their total mileage within the next 30 months. That's an ambitious—and perhaps unattainable—goal, but it nevertheless gives a glimpse into the operators' strategy.
With new, standards-based modems coming within the next few months, cable operators need to have their physical networks ready to capitalize on early adopters and the all-important business customers. This isn't like the early '80s, when MSOs came into urban areas and practically had to beat back the masses with a stick. This time, they'll have to prove to customers they can be reliable purveyors of service, or customers will go elsewhere. The window of opportunity is wide open, but no one knows for how long. Make the most of it.
Contact Roger via e-mail at: RBrowner@aol.com