January 18, 2019
Comcast Business has big plans for its software-defined networking (SDN) platform in 2019.
Comcast’s ActiveCore offering powers software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) capabilities heralded as the first of their kind in the cable industry. The company took home our sister site Light Reading’s award for “Most Innovative SD-WAN Service.”
Comcast Business’ Jody Hagemann
But Jody Hagemann, director of SD-WAN product management, said Comcast will be pursue a lengthy product road map in the upcoming year. The company, which uses universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) to orchestrate virtual network functions (VNFs), plans to meet customer demand for additional services on the platform.
It’s running a market trial for a managed router, which is available to customers. Hagemann said VNFs for security, Wi-Fi, voice and session border controllers also are on the planning table.
Hagemann, a former AT&T product marketing manager, joined Comcast in 2015 to oversee its foray into Layer 3 VPN. She told Channel Partners that Comcast preferred to create an SDN platform upon which it could deliver multiple services, including SD-WAN. For that reason, the business choose to partner with Versa Networks, citing Versa’s SDN chops, “carrier-grade” networking and multiproduct functionality.
Comcast emphasizes a platform whose portal and analytics customers can visualize easily. ActiveCore has a mobile app, and Comcast integrated the platform with Alexa last fall.
“Customers don’t want to feel that Comcast as the underlying network is hiding anything from them,” Hagemann said. “They do want that network-level visibility. Circuit-up, circuit-down, port-up, port-down, latency, packet-loss, jitter. They want to know that Comcast is exposing that level of detail to them about the underlying network. I’m not sure if the other telcos are going to that level of exposure.”
She said another difference between her solution and those of telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink is delivery and management. Comcast brings professional truck rolls to each customer location and currently offers a “co-managed” model. The company is developing a fully managed version but for now shares access with the customer. There’s an “up-sell capability” for Comcast partners, who can deliver reports and other “value-added services” to the customer.
“We manage universal CPE. We monitor it. We replace it if we detect a problem with it,” Hagemann said. “But co-managed means the customer has the ability to go into the portal and make changes themselves without having to call Comcast.”
She compared Comcast to telecommunication companies, because most other cablecos are a step behind in SD-WAN. Frontier Communications unveiled an SD-WAN offering in September. Spectrum Enterprise has partnered with Nuage Networks to deliver a solution for its Ethernet customers and unveiled a proof-of-concept, but we are still awaiting the offering’s full-scale availability. Cox inched closer with the acquisition of RapidScale but is “behind the 8-ball,” according to Hagemann.
Comcast and Spectrum in particular have cited their agnosticism toward MPLS as a plus. Comcast can pair its service over the top with the customer’s own choice of connectivity, but the service also works with …
… Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit broadband.
“We think marrying gig-powered broadband with SDN makes networks future-proof, and so that is our core messaging to customers — that we’re in the business of making your network future-proof,” Hagemann said.
She said part of the “future-proof” element is its flat bandwidth fee, contrasted with “bandwidth-dependent” rivals customers whose varying rates make budgeting less predictable for the customer.
“At the lower end of the market you could see a $90-$100 price point, but then if you grow in bandwidth … then your SD-WAN fees go up,” she said. “We just have a flat rate, whether it’s two gigs or 10 megs or 100 megs, the pricing is all the same.”
Pressed about Oracle’s acquisition of SD-WAN vendor Talari Networks, Hagemann said she has not assessed the deal as impacting Comcast thus far; however, she believes “the market demands consolidation.”
“We believe it to be very crowded at the moment,” she said. “From a Comcast perspective, we continue to expect consolidation in the space and that certain SD-WAN providers will be bought by other companies, and that’s how the competition will evolve.”
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