Comcast Business Asks the Age Old Question, “What’s Beyond Fast?”

 

B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • During its 4th annual analyst conference in Philadelphia, Comcast Business unveiled a new and decidedly inscrutable go-to-market campaign entitled “Beyond Fast.”
  • Plying its ActiveCore platform and virtualized network functions (VNFs), Comcast Business hopes to move beyond basic network functions and reach actual business outcomes not just for big business but also for its core SMB broadband customers.

 

When it comes to delivering connectivity to enterprise customers, Comcast Business doesn’t work (or think) like your typical telecom operator — or cable provider for that matter. For Comcast Business it isn’t about scaling up but rather scaling outward; it’s about delivering managed enterprise networking services the same way Comcast the cable provider delivers entertainment. That means standing up a huge number of endpoints in rapid succession. The company’s goal is to provision a new Ethernet customer every three minutes and add a new cable customer every 17 seconds.

That’s fast. And that’s how in just four short years Comcast Business has been able to reach 2.2 million customers in North America. Granted, the lion’s share of companies served are smaller shops and retail franchises such as Dunkin’ Donuts. But that’s the point. By operationalizing a highly simplified set of network broadband services just as if they were consumer cable services, Comcast Business has been able to support some sizable franchises, one store at a time. Dunkin’ Donuts is currently in the midst of deploying 60 sites per day as it rolls standardized services out across its sizable network of franchise locations.

 

It’s all about simplicity and repeatability rather than raw scale and capability (i.e., customized functionality). For Comcast, the name of the game is repeatability. The company knows how to scale symmetrical gigabit broadband services by ensuring that from one solution to the next, there’s an extreme sense of similarity and familiarity. But what happens one level above the individual franchise, when you start to manage tens of thousands of locations? And what happens at that scale when customers start asking for more advanced services such as unified threat management (UTM)?

 

Apparently, for Comcast Business, the answer is to go “Beyond Fast,” as the company’s newly minted marketing slogan bravely declares. The idea (and trick) is to retain that ability to scale outward at speed while adding more advanced functionality. Already the company has added 4G LTE backup and bundled in streaming tv services along those lines. But those benefits come from simply marshalling existing resources.

 

The real answer to what lies beyond fast is Comcast’s relatively new ActiveCore platform. Originally positioned as an SDN platform when it was launched last October, ActiveCore is much more than that. It houses several virtualized network functions (VNFs) running in a universal CPE (uCPE) that’s deployed and fully managed by Comcast Business. In short, ActiveCore promises to let Comcast add functionality (via VNFs) without sacrificing simplicity and manageability or slowing down deployment or break/fix times.

 

That’s exactly what the company intends to do with its forthcoming UTM service or a next gen firewall (NGFW) service. But that’s really just a taste of what might be. If anything, Comcast Business is proceeding quite slowly in embracing VNFs. In the realm of content delivery networks (CDNs), for example, the company should be able to create some truly compelling functionality around its existing surveillance and TV streaming services. Likewise, there’s a lot of benefit up for grabs should Comcast create VNFs in support of its machineQ IoT platform.

 

There’s even some work that’s being done within Comcast Business’ security group related to IoT that could find its way into a VNF. Basically Comcast has created its own implementation of blockchain as a means of creating a trusted chain of custody for its in-home cameras. Imagine if the company could operationalize similar functions at scale for a use case like supply chain management (let’s say, track and trace on donuts for starters). Obviously none of these opportunities are real as yet. But it is clear in looking at the way ActiveCore is being built that SD-WAN and NGFW/UTM VNFs are only the start.

 

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