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June 15, 2016
Telco Transformation: Mapping the Transformation of Digital Operations
Mediacom Business Works Its Plan
Like other service providers, Mediacom has gigabit aspirations, but unlike some, such as AT&T and Google Fiber, it wants to enable the faster speeds to almost all of its business and residential customers.
Mediacom Communications Corp. has a large and varied footprint. In all, it serves 22 states, primarily in the Midwest and the South as well as parts of California and Arizona. In March, Mediacom announced Project Gigabit, a three-year, $1 billion project aimed at bringing 1 gigabit per second service to "virtually all" of the 3 million homes and businesses it serves.
Telco Transformation had the opportunity to get an update from the operator's Dan Templin, who is senior vice president of Mediacom Business Solutions (MBS); president of Mediacom's CLEC holdings; and senior vice president of OnMedia, Mediacom's media sales division. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our chat with Templin.
Telco Transformation: Please describe the business side of the company.
Dan Templin: Mediacom Business Services comprises all things non-residential. Everything from true small business -- mom and pop storefront retail -- to our wholesale and national accounts division.
It's a bit of a split for us. We serve predominately outside the top 75 DMAs. We leap over the midsize and the down-market enterprise into very large concerns. We serve key verticals that really are prevalent in every market. They include healthcare, educational, municipal and finance.
For example we are the provider for the vast majority, if not all, of every major university and college in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The same with rural healthcare. We serve all the major hospital groups in our core states because while they are rural and have unique challenges they also have the same needs [as other hospital] such as very large broadband connections. They need more sophisticated connectivity than the LECs have historically provided. [In our area] those are CenturyLink and Windstream, with a little Verizon and a little AT&T.
TT: The mix sounds challenging.
DT: It certainly is a challenge to not have the dense areas as a Chicago, a New York or a Houston. There also are some unique opportunities. We really have had to focus on the high and low ends of the market. That has led us to strategically build and extend our network on a carrier-level [and] enterprise-level basis. We can serve down market and do it very very well but we also are trying to reach carrier wholesale and national. So we built it to an enterprise-class level.
At the same time, we service down to a small client level. We provide same mindset to them. For instance, we provide SLAs on performance down to the very smallest modem-delivered customers we serve.
TT: MBS is working through a $1 billion investment. Can you describe some of what you are doing?
DT: The investment…is consistent with the approach I mention on the network and how we built it. We didn't approach it from a cable TV core. It was addressed from an ISP core. We deliver DOCSIS 3.0 effectively to over 99% of our footprint with a commitment to move to 3.1 over the next two years. We'll be able to offer very easily a 1 Gig symmetrical product with the same QoS as from any other dedicated Ethernet pipe. That's a big portion of this new investment and it will have benefits to the business space perhaps more so than the consumer side.
The other benefit is Project Open Road, which is a very aggressive buildout to put more businesses on-net. Historically we run Mediacom Business, particularly when it comes to construction, on a per success-based model. While that had benefits, we wanted to increase the pace. When we have opportunities against competitors we win very very often. Part of the billion dollar investment beyond 3.1 is to put businesses on-net. That removes the barrier of time and expense of construction that to some degree has been a hurdle.
On the fiber side, since early 2011 we started in earnest with cell backhaul. It started with cell backhaul projects for the big four plus U.S. Cellular -- which is a TDS company that is big in the Midwest. We serve the vast majority of macro sites they have, particular in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. That was a massive construction project. We built hundreds of miles of fiber. In doing so we moved to a much more robust PON network. We were doing GPON, now we are doing EPON. It also had us making investments on the core and backbone -- in capacity and circuitry -- and in design. Providing services to the largest telecom companies in the world led us to really step our game up in terms of design, ring architectures and our metro Ethernet capabilities. Now we offer fully redundant self-healing networks.
It really has been transformational for the company from a technology standpoint and certainly from a revenue standpoint. It has helped us improve our game from an engineering perspective.
TT: How are you transitioning your core network?
DT: We consolidated to two main headend locations and of course a number of CMTSs. We are pushing both CMTSs and the ring architecture deeper into the network so there are many fewer active customers and active locations on a given ring. On the original network a single cut could take dozens if not hundreds of locations out or put them without redundancy. Now it is down to five or less towers on any failure group. They are effectively ringed on their own.
TT: Are you moving to software-defined networks (SDN)?
DT: We have not moved on NFV so far. On SDN side we are in the labs right now with a couple of different providers. For us it's just a matter of making the architecture easier to provision, support and monitor. It is one of the challenges of our geography. We have a lot of area to cover. It is very difficult to handle the demand with a traditional model. The SDN [rationale] for us is fairly simplistic -- turning up and provisioning on an automated basis is really attractive.
We know we have to get there. We are in a bit of bakeoff between three providers. Each of them already has a place on our network, so it's more about who will be the first among equals. Once we figure that out we will deploy it. Our SDN deployment probably will be in the second half of '17 before we see a significant deployment.
TT: Where will you deploy?
DT: We're looking at eastern Iowa as the area where we would first test it out. The key markets there are Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities area because it is almost a concentration of midsize cities. SDN has particular benefits in those locations.
TT: How about network functions virtualization (NFV)?
DT: I think so. NFV will be driven by the corporate engineering group more so than business services. It's not a customer-facing issue. SDN is because of touch points. I know it is on [CTO JR Walden's] radar screen. I can't tell you how close he is to pulling trigger on it.
TT: What are you doing on the services side?
DT: In the last 18 months, we've made changes to workflow processes and facilities databases. We use the Oracle Metasoft system. It's a complete end-to-end system. It's task-based, transparent [and has] accountability, great communications.
TT: Why did you switch?
DT: We were still working off spreadsheets for orders. As we get more successful we can in some cases get a 200- or 300-location national order. We were doing do it on spreadsheets.
It was a more than million dollar investment just in that platform. It provides SLA support, interval measurement. It simplifies complex orders across different states and different areas, which means across different operating groups for us. It is part of our evolution from a local cable operator a regional and in some cases national broadband company.
We also are upgrading our billing system and other automation. We are deploying automatic ASR [access service requests] processes, which is new. We must serve the AT&Ts, the Comcasts and others with multiple orders where they have national accounts for which we provide locations within our footprint. It has to be a seamless process for them so that it is seamless for their end users. We went to client portals and also are developing quotation engines so prices can be loaded into their quotation system to help national account bidding.
TT: So the company has created niche serving the big guys in your neighborhood, so to speak.
DT: We are probably more like a US Signal or Zayo – a regional broadband provider -- than a Comcast in Philadelphia or Charter in New York. We are not going to drive that client relationship for the largest accounts. It is not expected that Mediacom is going to secure, for instance, The Home Depot national account relationship. We just don't serve enough of their locations. But we are the absolute best choice for their locations in our footprint. We just have to be positioned to be an enterprise or national account caliber provider, effectively a subcontractor supporting AT&T, Comcast or Charter when they secure those orders nationally.
It hasn't been easy or and has not been without an awful lot of effort across the entire organization. It goes hand in hand with technology changes. It is easier to build a network than operate it or manage it. We are doing both in tandem as quickly and as well as we can.