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TM Forum/CableLabs partnership promotes telecom/cable industry sharing

With its new TM Forum partnership with CableLabs, the Forum hopes to leverage best practices, expertise and standards between the telecom industry and the cable industry, to the benefit of both.

Editor’s note: In this column, TM Forum President Martin Creaner looks at the Forum’s new partnership with CableLabs, the research and development facility for the cable industry, and talks about how the telecom industry and the cable industry can learn from each other, even though the two industries developed out of very different business models but today offer many of the same services.

For the past 30 years or so, many homes across the U.S. have had both a telephone provider and a cable provider. 

We’re seeing these previously divergent worlds come together in ways we never imagined.

Martin Creaner, President, TM Forum

In the early days of cable in the late ‘70s and into the 1980s, I’m sure most people would have assumed they’d be paying two bills for the foreseeable future.

But the breakup of AT&T in 1984 started us down the road to revolutionary changes in the way that phone companies and cable companies were perceived and did business. Still, it wasn’t really until the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed cable, wireless and long-distance providers to enter the local phone market, that things really started to heat up.

The past 10 or so years have seen traditional telecom service providers delivering TV service to the home, cable providers offering voice over IP (VoIP) and broadband, and providers delivering all sorts of other combinations and packages. This cross-pollination of services has led many to think that the two industries are largely interchangeable, because triple-play offers from, say AT&T and Comcast, look pretty much the same in the home.

But on the back end, it’s a whole other story. Cable may look like telecom, but it’s not. Cable definitely has different issues and ways of going about things. And one of the challenges at TM Forum was figuring out a good way to bridge that divide.

Unlike telcos, cable companies were always set up to avoid full market penetration. Telcos were built to provide service for everyone who wanted it, but cable was designed to have access to roughly 40% to 60% of any market where an operator had a franchise. Under this franchise model-- which we see worldwide -- local communities, cities and counties allow cable companies to have exclusive rights to the market in return for a percentage of the revenues. So from square one, the cable and telecom worlds came from very different places.

Leveraging cable/telecom industry best practices and standards

But now, due to the fact that many consumers around the world can get their voice and television service from either their local cable operator or local telephone provider, we’re seeing these previously divergent worlds come together in ways we never imagined.

This major shift in communications is playing out right within TM Forum. We announced in November that we are partnering with CableLabs, the R&D consortium for the cable industry, to leverage TM Forum best practices and standards for the cable industry. This is a huge development for industries that previously didn’t have much to do with each other.

TM Forum has been interested in the cable space for several years, but interest grew when Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) became part of TM Forum in 2007. Our vision at the time was to get where we are today, but it seemed like a long and winding road. Now that we have CableLabs as a partner, the next step is exploring how to best serve the burgeoning cable industry.

One area that links into our more general supplier conformance certification work is the extensive conformance and end-to-end interoperability testing that CableLabs already does for its members. TM Forum could partner in some sort of program to test all the way from the hardware side to management software.

But in order to get there, we still have a lot of work to do. We have activities underway to ensure our Business Process Framework (eTOM) is optimized for cable. Even though eTOM has always been an independent standard that isn‘t linked to any particular technology or solution type, it has its roots in the telecom business. Cable may have similar needs to traditional telecom, but because the two industries use very different taxonomies, we’re continuing to evolve eTOM -- and our entire Frameworx standard -- to meet the needs of any service provider.

TM Forum has a whole cable initiative, and we’ve brought a number of key MSOs on board as members, including Cox, Charter Communications, Rogers Communications, Time Warner Cable, UPC, British Sky Broadcasting, Com Hem, CableVision Argentina and others. But the work, as they say, is never done. We’d like to bring on more MSO members from beyond the Americas and Europe and really bring our expertise to the cable industry. In return, we’d like to learn from operators and suppliers that are on the cutting edge of content delivery and innovation.

About the author: Martin Creaner is the president of the TM Forum and has worked in the communications industry for almost 25 years. Creaner held a number of executive positions with BT and with Motorola, where he led the 2.5G and 3G OSS solutions development activities. He is the author of the telecom business book, NGOSS Distilled.

This was last published in February 2011

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