Comcast, Charter, other MSOs remain mum on SD-WAN plans, but analysts say cable has great potential

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As Altice, Comcast, Charter and other large cable MSOs further their presence in the business services space, particularly with larger businesses, these companies could become strident challengers to traditional telcos and CLECs in the burgeoning SD-WAN segment.

However, cable MSOs remain tight-lipped about their SD-WAN solution plans.

When FierceTelecom approached Comcast and Mediacom, the only comment was that they did not have anything to share at this time.

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A Comcast spokesman said there’s “nothing to announce at this time but we'll let you know if we do.”

Likewise, Mediacom said “it would be premature to make a comment now” on SD-WAN.

Analysts see potential

While cable is being tight-lipped about its potential SD-WAN plans, analysts agree cable has plenty of potential upside in pursuing an SD-WAN strategy.

Unlike traditional telcos, and even large competitors like Level 3, cable operators don’t have a legacy TDM or MPLS customer revenue base it has to fear cannibalizing.  

Cable operators can leverage their growing base of HFC-based broadband networks and fiber-based Ethernet networks to not only address their small to medium business (SMB) base, but also medium and large customers.

“Cable/MSO’s seem to be a natural winner in the SD-WAN space,” Cowen and Company said in a recent research note. “The MSO’s already have the last mile internet connection and have made tremendous in-roads with the SMB marketplace.”

Roopa Honnachari, industry director of business communication services and cloud computing services at Frost & Sullivan, agreed.

“The whole argument is about how SD-WAN creates a level playing field now for cable MSOs as they don't need to own an MPLS network to compete in the WAN space,” Honnachari said in an interview with FierceTelecom. “Cable MSOs expansive Ethernet footprint, especially in the access space that cuts through a greater footprint of SMBs with distributed enterprises, combined with the SD-WAN value prop of it support for private and public WAN connections, offers them a great opportunity.”

A careful approach

If and when cable MSOs decide to make a move into the SD-WAN segment, analysts agree that they will be very careful in how they roll out a product for business customers.

“As usual, we expect them to be deliberate in product development and not rush anything out,” said Charlie Reed, partner for Atlantic-ACM.

Honnachari says that while cable operators have made great strides in the business services arena when it comes to SD-WAN, cable MSOs don’t have the same management capabilities that the telcos have built as part of their offerings.

“Most enterprises are leaning toward a managed SD-WANa solution that includes aggregate access links, deploy and manage SD-WAN solution, manage multiple WAN services on itand cable guys still lack that well rounded network management capabilities like the telcos do.”

Honnachari added that because “most enterprises are looking to replace part of their MPLS links with Internet based links to build a SD hybrid WAN,” the “demand for pure Internet-based SD-WAN is still not enough for cable guys to go big on this offering so they are focusing on wholesaling their local footprint to telcos who are building an expansive network for SD-WAN offering.”