Comcast's Stemper takes care of business
The president of Comcast Business Services wins Vanguard Award
Bill Stemper, president of Comcast Business Services, spent part of the Cable Show in Washington D.C. being honored by his peers in the cable industry. After a 30-year-career in cable, Stemper chalked up a win in the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Vanguard Awards in the cable operations and management category.
Under Stemper’s direction, Comcast Business Services, which offers Internet, Ethernet, voice, video, and other products and services, has been on an upward arch revenue-wise. The division’s revenue has consistently increased 40 percent to 50 percent a year — from $265 million in 2006 to $2.4 billion in 2012. In its recent first quarter earnings results, Comcast reported a 27 percent increase in its business services revenue over the same quarter a year ago.
Prior to Comcast, Stemper served as vice president of Cox Business Services for Cox Communications in Atlanta, where he more than doubled the size of its business market in less than three years. He also held executive positions for AT&T that were focused on serving the needs of business customers in the United States and Europe.
CED: Were you surprised to hear that you were a Vanguard Award Winner? Who told you the news?
Stemper: I was very surprised when I heard the news. I was informed by NCTA and my boss (Comcast chief operating officer and executive vice president) Dave Watson, just recently. I think that this Vanguard Award is really a testament to the hard work by our entire team at Comcast Business and across all the MSOs.
CED: Comcast was a little late to the business services game, was that because it wanted to make sure it had the infrastructure in place, such as the fiber backbone, before offering the services?
Stemper: Our philosophy at Comcast is to make sure that we first have the network infrastructure and best technology in place, that we have the service and support and sales team in place, and that everything is running smoothly before we go out and actively promote and sell those services in the marketplace. We take a very deliberate, focused approach. Building on our long history in the residential market, we started in the business market years ago by providing services to small businesses, and after successfully establishing ourselves in that space, we have moved up market to mid-sized businesses with solutions such as our Ethernet and cloud-based voice services.
CED: Comcast Business Services’ recipe for success; 140,000 miles of fiber over a private network, last mile connectivity, 24/7 NOCs, customer service, did I miss anything?
Stemper: This allows us to deliver outstand- ing products with great value. Businesses thrive using our services and are eager to spread the word.
I think another key to our success is having a significant local presence in 20 of the top 25 markets in the U.S. Our regional structure places top executives in every market with a strong customer-facing sales and service team.
We continue to increase the reach of our fiber network within each of those markets. Also, we continue to strive to reach more customers within our footprint and bring them the benefit of fiber-based services like high-performance Ethernet, voice and cloud services. And, we recently upgraded our backbone from 40G to 100G, so we have the capacity to serve our growing customer base both now and in the future.
CED: It must take a great deal of due diligence in order to be able to serve smalland- medium-sized businesses with the right level of service?
Stemper: When we looked at the market, we saw that the large telecom providers were focusing their attention on very large corporations and the enterprise market, and were not giving much attention to the small and mid-market. We saw the mid-market and SMB as a great opportunity.
Comcast has established a strong local presence in each of our major markets to provide the “front line” support to customers right in their own backyard, and this enabled us to service customers more quickly, build better relationships and be more proactive in our sales efforts. In addition, Comcast Business has a dedicated service and support team – and sales team – that is exclusively for SMB customers. It includes both dedicated 24/7 phone support and field technicians. The team has over 8,000 professionals who are dedicated to meeting the needs of small- and mediumsized businesses. This focus is another key to providing the right level of service to SMB customers.
CED: Comcast Business Services expanded its suite of services in two areas this year; the Upware portal and Comcast Business Hospitality, what were the development curves for each?
Stemper: Comcast knows SMBs well from the number of years we have provided SMB customers broadband, voice and TV services. We expanded our SMB solutions by adding Signature Support, an advanced tech support program for small businesses, in 2012. Also, we know the cloud well from offering Business VoiceEdge, a cloud-based hosted PBX solution, and offering cloud-based services like hosted Microsoft Exchange. That combination of SMB knowledge and cloud knowledge made us well positioned to develop and offer Upware.
For Comcast Business Hospitality, we already had experience working with hospitality customers on a one-on-one basis, so we were able to develop a hospitality solution quickly and tailor it to the specific needs of hotels, motels, resorts, bars and restaurants. Our ability to provide data, voice and TV service in one package, having one number to call for service and support, and having the ability to simultaneously service both the back-office and the guest-facing aspects of a hospitality business, makes it an attractive offering for hospitality customers.
CED: As a way to migrate into the mediumsized business sector, Comcast Business Services launched its Metro Ethernet services in 2011, what have been some of the keys to success for these Ethernet-based services, and where do they evolve over the next few years?
Stemper: These services have been successful at meeting the needs of customers in “bandwidth hungry” industries, such as education, healthcare and government, but also with any type of customer that is moving a great deal of data, video and/or voice traffic. In the future, I think that you will see more customers use our full line of Ethernet service offerings, like our Ethernet Private Line (EPL), Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL) and Ethernet Network Service (ENS). These services provide point-to-point, point-to-multipoint and “any to any” connectivity, and are a great solution for organizations with multiple sites in a metro area or for campus scenarios.
CED: There have been a lot customer wins for your Ethernet services, are there a couple that surprised you, or maybe that you hadn’t thought of back when it was in the planning stage?
Stemper: What has particularly surprised me are the Ethernet projects that we have done for professional sports teams in the past two years. For example, we announced projects with the Washington Nationals in April, the Boston Celtics in December 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies in July 2012 and the Boston Red Sox in April 2012. These teams move a lot of traffic, ranging from scouting videos, to photos from the press box, to delivering HD images to the giant scoreboards in their stadiums, to supporting in-stadium Wi-Fi networks for their fans. They need a lot of bandwidth, so Ethernet is a great solution for them.
CED: How does Comcast Business Services move up into the enterprise sector?
Stemper: While it may depend on what your definition of enterprise is, in many ways we are already serving this market with customers in the healthcare and financial services markets that have many locations and hundreds or thousands of employees. These types of customers have turned to Comcast Business for high-performance Ethernet services to help run their businesses. As always, we plan to continue improving our services to meet customer needs, so examples might be connecting more data centers, or doing Ethernet exchanges, as well as offering Ethernet services that span across our different regions.
CED: Are cable operators starting to interconnect on business services offerings in order to keep customers within the cable family across the various footprints? Is there more MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) certification that needs to be done on interconnects?
Stemper: The MEF is doing a good job at driving their Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0) certification, which will help facilitate and standardize the way cable operators work together. Comcast has an executive on the board of the MEF and was the first company to gain CE 2.0 certification, and we are very much in favor of the standard.
We were also the first company to earn all three MEF CE 1.0 certifications.
CED: What’s next for the telephony and video sides of Comcast Business Services?
Stemper: Comcast Business VoiceEdge, which is a cloud-based hosted PBX service that we launched in 2012, is gaining traction in the market and is a good alternative for mid-sized organizations that are looking to replace their legacy PBX equipment or add unified communications features without having on-site equipment. This can make life easier for business owners who don’t want to worry about purchasing and maintaining on-site phone equipment.
Everything is done in the cloud with Business VoiceEdge. In the future, we will be adding more mobility features to VoiceEdge, which will make it even more valuable to organizations that have mobile, “on the go” employees.
CED: Business services are already on the evolutionary path to IP, what roles will DOCSIS 3.1 and CCAP play on the commercial services side?
Stemper: The combination of fiber and coax in our network gives us tremendous reach in all of the markets in our national footprint, so standards such as DOCSIS 3.1 and CCAP will further enable us to utilize our hybrid network to deliver highbandwidth services to our customers.
CED: Who have some of your mentors been in the cable industry during your career?
Stemper: Mentoring and executive guidance are hallmark characteristics of the cable industry. I have and have had some of the greatest people as mentors.
At Comcast, there is not an executive that is not influencing my leadership approach.
Dave Watson and (Comcast Cable President and CEO) Neil Smit are invaluable mentors helping me think and influencing me by their example. (Comcast chief financial officer and vice chairman) Mike Angelakis’ perspective has always helped me think better and with greater perspective. When I first joined Cox, I was also impressed with the positive support and guidance from folks like (Cox Communications president) Pat Esser and (Cox Enterprises chief operating officer) John Dyer