11th May 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of the cable and broadband landscape, forcing some operators to quickly augment their residential networks to stand up to spikes in traffic as consumers stayed at home.
Though pay-TV took it on the chin in Q1, cable operators likewise saw a big increase in new broadband subscribers during the period as consumers clamored for critical broadband access during the pandemic or took advantage of temporary free broadband service offers.
That also presented cable operators and other ISPs with another challenge – how to keep up with that demand when access to customer homes was severely limited or blocked off all together. That, in turn, forced many MSOs to ramp up self-installation processes and the deployment of self-install kits. Among examples, Charter Communications disclosed this month that self-installs now represent about 90% of sales, up from about 55% prior to the pandemic.
That general trend has, of course, filtered down to makers of modems and gateways, but also to companies that supply cables, connectors and other key components that comprise these self-install kits.
One of those companies, Technetix has been shoring up inventory as demand for quick access to these components and supplies ramped up. In fact, during the pandemic Technetix has seen these needs extend well above those caused by other smaller-scale events or disruptions, such as hurricanes, that required the company to accelerate access to cabling, connectors and other types of gear required for self-install kits, according to Sandy Howe, EVP and president, Americas, at Technetix.
Technetix, which also develops and supplies nodes, taps and passives for cable operators, sped its move into the supply distribution business via the 2015 acquisition of the Arris Supplies Division. In addition to major cable ops, the Technetix supplies unit also works closely with organizations such as the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents hundreds of small and independent operators. On a general basis, that unit is capable of shipping what customers need for the network within 24 to 48 hours.
While some cable operators have been able to recycle some components, Technetix has been busy filling various holes for self-install kits, said Howe, a cable industry vet who hails from companies such as Arris, Cisco Systems and Scientific-Atlanta.
She said Technetix was fortunate to have inventory in stock prior to the pandemic and was able to fulfill demand as cable ops were dealing with a surge in new broadband subscribers and the need for more kits.
Technetix, she said, got creative when temporary supply chain issues popped up in Asia, primarily due to some port congestion, as it was able to move some inventory in Europe to operators in North America and South America.
"We, on the whole from the supplies business, have been able to get what we need and when we need it right now," said Howe, an exec who has been spearheading the company's expansion in the Americas. Technetix's primary presence is in Europe, where it works with companies such as Liberty Global and Vodafone; about 20% of its business is in the Americas. "In the short term, [the focus] has been all about helping the operators maintain that HFC network so they can support the growth and demand they are seeing as a result of COVID-19."
While Technetix's supplies business has been forced to move quickly during the early phases of the pandemic for self-install kit components as well as with gear for node splits, the demands being placed on residential networks is also putting more focus on more future-facing cable network upgrades that could push available spectrum to 1.2GHz and beyond.
"COVID-19 is making every cable operator relook at their network," particularly in the upstream and as cable operators come to grips with what will be the "new normal" in terms of overall data network usage, Howe said.
She also says that means being a key partner for cable's DOCSIS 4.0 initiative, particularly around modular amplifiers, nodes and taps for the spec's Extended Spectrum DOCSIS option that envisions raising the spectrum to 1.2GHz on up to 1.8GHz (most of today's cable plant is built out to 1GHz or less).
Today's product lineup is largely focused on future moves to 1.2GHz (qualifications for 1.2GHz nodes and amps with operators is already underway), but using housings that can also support a modular, drop-in upgrade to 1.8GHz further down the road. Howe said Technetix also has some 1.8GHz trial work underway and hopes to share some of those findings this October at the SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver.
Technetix is also part of an SCTE/ISBE working group focused on developing new, standardized nodes that can snap in service modules like Lego bricks.
That work is initially focused on the North American cable market, but Howe notes that Technetix has some experience on which to draw in Europe for work that centered on common node housings and service modules.