TM Forum pushes cable-ready initiatives

Martin Creaner, TM Forum
21 Mar 2011

Cable television has come a long way since Ted Turner launched the first basic cable network, WTBS, back in 1976 and HBO began delivering programming across the US around the same time. Today if you have fewer than 100 televisions channels coming into your home, you may as well be living in the Dark Ages.

But for the better part of the history of cable, it was viewed as a pretty niche offering - delivering video content over coaxial cable to the home. Cable companies really had no competition, and in fact their whole business model was built from the ground up as a franchise that was designed to be in only about 60% of homes in any market. So for several decades, cable hummed along fairly quietly with many homes paying for basic and premium channels.

However, the world is a much different place today. Deregulation, the rise of competitive providers and interest in being all things to all people finds the cable industry in an interesting situation. Besides facing competition from their usual nemesis, satellite, over the past five to 10 years they've also had telcos breathing down their necks. In fact, as everyone has gotten into everyone else's business, we're in the curious situation of phone companies delivering video services, cable companies providing wireline phone service and every combination in between.

But as cable is coming off of a decade of high growth in North America, Europe and parts of Asia (Japan and Korea), and moving firmly beyond just video distribution to encompass high-speed data, VoIP and beyond, operators are looking at what they can do to get and stay ahead of the curve.

Growing beyond a niche

TM Forum made a joint announcement late last year with CableLabs, the non-profit cable R&D consortium that develops new technologies and conducts conformance and compliance testing of products. This collaboration will help leverage TM Forum best practices and standards for the cable industry. The bigger news here is that essentially the US cable operators, which all have stakes in CableLabs, have decided that their two core standards bodies going forward are going to be CableLabs and TM Forum. Where TM Forum comes in is on management software and on the OSS/BSS side, so this is a huge step forward for our organization.

When we started getting involved with the cable industry some years ago, this was the vision we had, but it seemed an awfully long way off. IPDR joined TM Forum in 2007, and at the time there were a number of cable companies using TM Forum standards, but we had no formal cable initiative. We were approached by IPDR to house its activities within TM Forum, and then a number of cable companies and suppliers joined our organization. So it took a few years to get things going, but today we have a good number of cable-related projects within TM Forum and the membership to go along with it.

We've brought on board North American players such as Cox, Charter, Time Warner Cable, Rogers and Brighthouse Networks; European providers such as UPC, British Sky Broadcasting, ComHem and Ziggo; and other companies such as CableVision SA Argentina.

In terms of initiatives, we're making a big push and commitment into ensuring that our Frameworx components do what the MSOs need them to do. One is to keep developing and advancing IPDR. Another is to look at how to make the Business Process Framework (eTOM) suitable for a cable environment. Even though eTOM is an independent standard and not linked to any particular technology or solution type, its terminology is very telecom centric. And even though cable has almost identical needs to telcos, we need to tweak the taxonomy in eTOM to make it suitable for widespread use.

Martin Creaner is president of the TM Forum

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