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Roberts: Comcast to take some risks

Sun, 05/11/2003 - 8:00pm
Karen Brown

Philadelphia, PA. — Saying technology will fuel the cable vehicle, Comcast Corp. (http://www.comcast.com) CEO Brian Roberts talked of turbo-charging innovation, accelerating capex and even boosting the bandwidth for high-speed data in his keynote address to the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (http://www.scte.org) Cable-Tec Expo Monday.

Roberts told the crowd that taking the lead in technology would be key for Comcast's future, and that would require a change in philosophy.

"Comcast needs to genetically rewire for innovation," he said. "We have been a fast follower, and we now need to rewire ourselves and take some risks."

One such risk might be devoting even more bandwidth to Comcast's growing cable modem business, which is now expected to serve 5.2 million customers by the end of this year. With that in mind, Roberts broached the possibility of devoting more than one 6-Megahertz channel for high-speed data.

"I think we should be pushing ourselves, even if it means we have to devote more bandwidth because this product is a platform," Roberts said. "We are going up the hockey stick. We should not be satisfied with one-and-a-half Megabits of speed."

The MSO also is focusing on the technology surrounding high-definition TV. Led by Comcast senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz, the MSO is active in the efforts to create a plug-and-play agreement between the cable and consumer electronics industries, paving the way for one-way cable-ready devices including HDTV sets available at retail. Given the accelerating market for HD - and the possibility of sub-$1,000 HD sets by Christmas - the technology planks established in the agreement was vital, Roberts said.

"But the real work is to get a two-way deal for two-way devices, which as we know is our future, so you can literally have it work with all of the devices in the house," Roberts noted. "This is good for cable, good for the CE manufacturers, good for retail and great for the consumer."

Comcast also is "putting down the pedal" with capital expenditures to upgrade its cable network, particularly in the newly acquired AT&T Broadband territories. Roberts pointed to Comcast's plan to spend $4 billion this year on plant upgrades, rebuilding 46,000 miles of cable plant by the end of 2003.

"So when the economic recovery comes, while others have pulled back on capital and slowed down, this industry will come out of the recession further ahead of our competitors and further ready and able to take advantage of the new products I think we are developing," Roberts said.

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