Charter Quietly Gets Down to Business with Fiber, Ethernet and SIP Trunking

B. Washburn
B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:        

  • In 2011, Charter Business added business capability, including long-haul services, EoHFC, and SIP trunking.
  • The cable industry bears watching as it moves up-market to grow business services revenue fast.

It is a misnomer that cable companies don’t “get it” when it comes to the opportunity for them to serve SMBs, enterprises, and wholesale partners.  Optimum Lightpath has a portfolio as complex as any telecom provider; Cox Business has built up a lot of resident telecom intelligence; Time Warner Cable Business Class and Comcast Business have pockets of resources that are very astute in delivering enterprise-class services.  The cable industry’s investments to build mid-market and enterprise-sized services have also been coming along, as all the major providers have bet big on switched metro Ethernet and, more recently, added ISDN PRI voice support.

Charter Business has not been very vocal about it, but in the last year, the company has been surging ahead in business services, growing revenues for these services by about 20% over 2010.  In 2011, Charter built a new national network infrastructure using Cisco CRS-3 and ASR 9000 gear; while other cable providers have national backbones but keep long-haul services custom, Charter Business offers its long-haul services off-the-shelf, with 300 Gbps of potential long-haul capacity on tap.  The company is also looking to deepen its network of interconnection partners.  The company’s decision to join CENX and Equinix Ethernet exchanges is no surprise, but it is also making its network more available by connecting to over a dozen telco hotels nationwide.

At the other end of its network, Charter Business has added a bunch of Ethernet-over-hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) options, letting businesses order secure Layer 2 end-to-end connections for up to 5 Mbps symmetric Ethernet or up to 30 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream asymmetric Ethernet across Charter Business’ coax network.  Other cable companies have offered Ethernet over HFC longer than Charter, but have not been able to bust through a ceiling of 2 to 3 Mbps symmetrical Ethernet speeds.  Charter Business even rolled out a SIP trunking option with fiber access; among its peers, Cox Business and Optimum Lightpath were there earlier, but Charter Business does have a few initial IP PBXs it has certified to work on its network: Avaya’s IP Office, Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager, and Asterisk-based systems.

There are still plenty of areas in business services where the cable players just do not match their big telco rivals.  Charter Business, like most of its cable peers, is also still a pretty small player in business services (its $583 million in 2011 business revenues only represent 8% of the company’s total revenues).  However, the cable companies are hungry for the potential to continue growing business services fast, and they have been investing to strengthen their hand and go after larger customers.  In Charter’s case, the company also seems to be leaning toward greater partnering and openness, at least for select parts of its network where it can attract more business.  It just goes to show that sometimes it’s the quieter folks in the business that bear watching.

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