Long reads


Cable Congress 2015 interviews: Paul Kearney, Ono

Paul Kearney

Paul Kearney

Paul Kearney, CTO of Vodafone-owned Spanish cable operator Ono, talks to DTVE’s Andy McDonald about fixed-mobile convergence, the RDK and the future of the set-top box.  

Vodafone completed its €7.2 billion takeover of Spanish cable operator Ono last July in a move that was indicative of the growing trend towards fixed-line and mobile industry convergence.

The deal was Vodafone’s second major cable play following its buyout of Kabel Deutschland, which closed in October 2013, and was designed to accelerate its “unified communications strategy” in a key European market.

At the time, Vodafone said that the Ono deal would provide a significant time-to-market advantage and network reach that is “complementary to Vodafone Spain’s ongoing fibre-to-the-home build programme with Orange.”

Though Vodafone revised the Orange agreement following the Ono takeover, the two companies remain committed to collectively building out FTTH networks to two million homes and businesses in total, including 800,000 in 12 cities that have already been passed.

Vodafone said that ,with Orange, it will build out to 1.2 million homes in areas where the Ono high-speed fibre network is not present by September 2015. In addition, Vodafone will provide Orange with wholesale access to one million homes on the Ono network, enabling the pair to meet their previously stated commitment to reach three million homes jointly.

For Ono’s chief technology officer, Paul Kearney, the Vodafone takeover made clear sense. “Ono had been a very advanced fixed network – with ultra high-speed broadband and with television services. It’s a very good marriage of the two because the fundamental issue here is the convergence in the marketplace,” he says.

“Customers want converged services – a very high number of new sales are for converged services – between 4G, ultra high-speed broadband and television services. That’s the growth for the future,” says Kearney.

This is a vision that is clearly shared by others in the telco space. Earlier this year BT struck an agreement to buy UK mobile operator EE for £12.5 billion (Ä16.7 billion), in what marks a major push by the firm into the quad-play market. Meanwhile, in France Vivendi closed its Ä13.37 billion sale of telco SFR to cable operator Numericable last November.

Kearney believes that fixed-mobile convergence will be among the major topics under discussion at Cable Congress this year, along with the ongoing deployment of multiscreen services, DOCSIS3.1 and the RDK.

RDK take-up 

The Reference Design Kit (RDK) is a standardised software stack that provides a common framework for powering TV service provider equipment – including set-top boxes, gateways, and converged devices. Comcast in the US developed the RDK in a bid to accelerate the deployment of next-generation video products and services. So far more than 200 licensees support the RDK, including electronics manufacturers like Arris, Cisco, Pace and Humax.

However, in Europe, Liberty Global is the first major operator to use it, with its UPC Poland subsidiary recently launching a version of its Horizon advanced television offering based on the RDK platform.

“The advantage of RDK, or the promise as far as I can see of RDK, is to make development easier. If I had more standardised blocks of functionality, of interfaces, the easier it is to develop and maintain systems,” says Kearney.

He claims that the RDK will allow “everybody to speed up time to market” and minimise maintenance. He says “we have not taken any decision yet as to whether we will adopt it in our future product, but it’s certainly something that we continue to watch closely. We don’t have the same immediate need as other colleagues have, but I think it’s a very important initiative in the industry, I think it’s very good and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it for future use.”

TiVo developments 

While Kearney is unwilling to reveal Ono’s future strategy in relation to its TiVo-based TV offering, he notes the popularity of the platform since its initial launch in the Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona back in 2011.

According to TiVo’s latest figures, Ono’s TiVo offering reaches more than 500,000 active users as of the end of 2014. This marks significant growth from a year earlier, with the firm reported that it had 323,000 active users for the advanced PVR service.

Kearney says that Ono’s TiVo offering in Spain is similar to Virgin Media’s TiVo service in the UK and claims that TiVo makes an effort to maximise the coherence between the different deployments and  to make sure they are “all moving in the same direction”.

“A lot of the interface you see in our TiVo [deployment], if you take away the branding and colours, looks very similar to what Virgin Media have done,” says Kearney. However, while he believes that it is “not all about having radically different products” there is still room for innovation.

One area of the service that Ono has worked to develop is its multiscreen service. This is available on iOS and Android devices and through the web browser, offering access to some 40 linear channels and “several thousand hours” of VoD content, according to Kearney. “We’ve done a lot of work on that. The first version went out in December 2013, so it’s been about 15 months in the marketplace now and customers like it,” he says.

In September last year, Ono announced at IBC that it would be one of TiVo’s first operator partners to deploy TiVo’s cloud service APIs to offer consistent search, browse and discovery capabilities across any screen. It integrated TiVo’s service capabilities into its TV everywhere mobile and web apps, including search and discovery and remote PVR recording management functionalities.

In another planned update, TiVo recently said that following Vodafone’s takeover of Ono, the Spanish TV platform will now be upgraded “to take advantage of TiVo’s latest generation of capabilities” and that current Ono customers will get a refreshed TiVo user experience. Vodafone will also start marketing TiVo-powered Ono set-top boxes in its Spanish retail stores.

The future set-top box 

Despite the rise of cloud-based innovations in recent years, Kearney believes that “the set-top will be with us for many years and I don’t think it’s about to disappear.” However, he says the form that these set-top boxes will take will vary by country.

“I think its importance will depend on which geographic market you’re discussing and I think that’s largely because of rights issues – what rights are available in different countries.  A DVR will be very important in some countries because it’s more difficult or it’s more expensive to get the rights for OTT-type distribution or for network PVR, for example, in those territories. That would make a set-top box have a that much longer life,” says Kearney.

He also claims that smaller, web streaming devices like Google’s HDMI Chromecast dongle or the Apple TV set-top box will not topple traditional set-tops when it comes to capturing viewer attention.

“The Chromecast or the Apple TV are interesting developments. I guess they will facilitate people who previously would have plugged their PCs into the television. It definitely makes the market bigger. It opens the range of things that are possible to do,” says Kearney.

“I don’t think that it necessarily replaces the set-top box. I think it’s something that will happen alongside it. Similarly the appearance of smart TVs or applications on the TV didn’t replace the set-top box. It’s all complementary,” he adds.

DOCSIS 3.1 

In terms of other significant trends, Kearney says that DOCSIS 3.1 is “obviously a big development for the industry” but adds that Ono has not yet confirmed when it will make the switch from DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1.

DOCSIS 3.1, the latest version of the DOCSIS data-over-cable standard, is designed to let operators manage higher volumes of data over their HFC networks.

“We already offer very ultra high-speed broadband to our customers and we can do that in a competitive manner. However, as we all know, life doesn’t stand still. We need to be there, so we will continue developing,” says Kearney.

“When will we make the switch from 3.0 to 3.1? We haven’t decided yet. But it’s a logical next step in the evolution of the network.” Kearney says that Ono currently offers 200Mbps services nationwide with the help of an extensive fibre deployment and a footprint that is DOCSIS 3.0.

In terms of Vodafone’s broader strategy in relation to Ono, in its latest earnings announcement the firm said that the process of integrating both KDG in Germany and Ono in Spain “remains on track.”

“In Spain, our new organisational structure has been implemented and the relocation of Ono’s headquarters and most of the regional offices is complete. The network integration plan has been implemented with joint network operations in place,” said Vodafone.

“New agreements with the main backbone fibre provider are delivering significant cost synergies and improved terms, and Ono fibre is now connected to over 230 mobile radio sites,” it added.

With the strength of Vodafone behind Ono and more enhancements and products planned with TiVo as the year progresses, the company is on a firm footing for further future growth.

 

 

 

Most Recent