Changing the HFC vs. fiber discussion could help cable MSOs, says ATX chief

May 3, 2023
ATX President and CEO Dan Whalen believes that cable operators would be wise to change – or, in some cases, amplify – their messaging to give a clearer picture of what 10G HFC infrastructure can do.

ATX Networks recently released the results of an annual survey of cable MSOs that revealed strong support for upgrading HFC infrastructure rather than overbuilding their footprint with fiber to the premises (see “ATX says HFC evolution survey reveals growing MSO support for DOCSIS 4.0”). The logic behind such a strategy is undoubtedly clear for the cable operators themselves – but maybe not to Wall Street, government authorities, or even their customers. ATX President and CEO Dan Whalen believes that cable operators would be wise to change – or, in some cases, amplify – their messaging to these audiences to give a clearer picture of what 10G HFC infrastructure can do.

“They certainly have to fight the stigma of ‘it's cable and that means it's old and it's not as good,’” said Whalen of cable MSOs during a conversation with BTR. “And I think that they need to really pay attention to branding themselves the right way as a sort of a ‘fiber-plus’ service or ‘even better than fiber’ service.”

The notion that HFC-based offerings are superior to those of all-fiber overbuilders starts with the ubiquity of HFC and the resultant impact on upgrades and service enhancements. “The big difference for cable is they can [deploy upgrades] 10 to 15 times faster. They can get to market faster where they already have their plant deployed and they can do it for a lot cheaper,” Whalen pointed out.

Reliability also is an HFC calling card, Whalen stated. “One thing for sure: HFC is much more resilient to power outages and challenges in the electrical grid than their optical competitors,” he said. “HFC RF connectivity can remain a little longer and the cable guys have done a really good job of doing battery backup for everything inside of the home.”

Cable MSOs also can tout the fact that HFC networks contain a significant amount of fiber that’s already in the ground as well. “They have more fiber capacity built to the edge than anyone else,” Whalen asserted. “They need to do a good job…showing their fiber map and changing the narrative to say, ‘We’re in your neighborhood already. And you know we're in all these neighborhoods and, by the way, we have better connectivity across the nationwide network than anyone else, and that's going to provide the necessary capacity for you and all your neighbors and all the people in your home as people are starting to use the network differently.’”

If necessary, change the focus

Whalen noted that DOCSIS 3.1 with high splits can go toe-to-toe with gigabit fiber to the home offerings. He acknowledged, however, that most HFC operators can’t yet match some of the symmetrical multi-gigabit offerings certain fiber overbuilders have brought to market. In such instances, Whalen suggested that HFC operators shift the marketing conversation to underscore the likelihood that a gigabit should prove adequate for most home users for the foreseeable future.

“Maybe changing the narrative to be more focused on application speed, download speed, or streaming capability or stating you can support 8K gaming, things like that,” he explained. “If you're a gamer, you'll get your head around being able to support 8K gaming while you're having a video chat with your other players, your other teammates.”

The ATX survey indicated that cable operators are feeling much better now about their competitive position against fiber overbuilders – and the potential strengths of 10G HFC infrastructure – than the year before. “You know as they look at things, they as experts don't feel like they have to pull fiber anytime immediately,” Whalen concluded. “A lot of them are suggesting, ‘I won't even start it for more than 10 years. Because it's just not necessary for me in my market space.’ And they point back to the same things that I'm talking about; the economics, their ability to offer the speeds that their consumers need faster and at a fraction of the cost are still kind of the dominant view for them as they consider how to evolve their broadband network.”

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