Burke: Upgrades, new services to put Comcast on the offensive

Tue, 03/11/2003 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Boulder, Colo. — Comcast Cable Communications President Steve Burke went on the offensive Tuesday at a CableLabs media briefing here, noting that a mix of upgrades and a stable of new services will allow the MSO to attack its DBS competitors.

Though Comcast plans to remain aggressive with new VOD and HDTV services in "classic" markets (the systems Comcast owned before merging with AT&T Broadband), the MSO won't move as quickly with them in "new" Comcast systems until those properties are up to snuff and properly upgraded.

On that front, Comcast will spend about $4 billion over the next year to complete the upgrades, Burke said. In the California area alone — a tech-savvy region that's ripe for new broadband services — the MSO expects to spend about $500 million on system upgrades.

By the end of 2003, Comcast expects 93 percent of its systems to be two-way capable and rebuilt to at least 550 MHz. By that time, about 90 percent of former AT&T Broadband markets will reach at least that level, while "classic" Comcast systems sit pretty at about 97 percent.

While Comcast's "classic" and "new" properties are disparate today in terms of their readiness for services such as HD and VOD, upgrades will eventually unify them so that Comcast can layer in new products across the board, Burke forecasted.

Burke acknowledged that Comcast is "a step or two behind" when it comes to digital video recording, but said the technology could give the MSO a way to compliment its network-based VOD offerings. He said Comcast might look to set-top suppliers Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola Broadband to fill in that gap by the second half of the year.

Whether it's VOD, HDTV or high-speed data, a slate of new broadband products will allow Comcast to take the offensive stance against its DBS competitors, Burke said.

He reiterated, though, that high-speed data and digital video products will continue to drive growth for the MSO. That stance has led to questions about Comcast's plans for cable telephony services.

He reminded the crowd that Comcast will concentrate on the video side of the house in former AT&T Broadband properties before expanding those priorities to services such as VoIP, which, in Burke's estimation, is still 18 months away from becoming a viable business.

Despite that timeframe, Comcast "remains convinced that [VoIP and IP infrastructure] will win in the future," he said.


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