Comcast Embraces Netflix in Home Cable Set-Top Box; And Other News

Comcast Embraces Netflix in Home Cable Set-Top Box

Bowing to the might and popularity of Netflix, Comcast has made an extraordinary concession and agreed to allow its customers to view Netflix through its X1 home cable box. The new cable platform will incorporate Netflix streaming services into its package just like a regular cable channel.

Many of the specifics of the partnership agreement remain murky, as they have yet to be released. In a joint statement, the companies informed Recode that “Comcast and Netflix have reached an agreement to incorporate Netflix into X1, providing seamless access to the great content offered by both companies. We have much work to do before the service will be available to consumers later this year. We’ll provide more details at that time.”

The news comes as a surprise to those who have been following recent scuffles between the two companies over accusations that Comcast had been intentionally slowing throughput speeds for customers who were using Netflix and thereby violating net neutrality principles.

Netflix has arranged similar deals with smaller cable operators in the US and elsewhere across the globe for good reason. It will make accessing Netflix content a lot easier for users to register for. Netflix has also been embedded in smart televisions and arranged to have its app available on Apple, Roku, and Chromecast’s internet TV services.

On the flip-side, Comcast may stand to gain from this deal by garnering more subscribers and becoming more competitive against the aforementioned internet TV services. An added benefit is that it allows the cable giant to show regulators that it is open-minded and working to improve its offerings for its customers.

Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne shared his thoughts on the potential financial arrangements made by the two companies: “We would expect Netflix to give up some economics, similar to other distribution partners like Apple or TiVo but we do not believe it would meaningfully alter the direction of Netflix profits over time. Payments to distribution partners are reported in marketing expenses on Netflix’s consolidated financials.”

X1 is a web video platform, as opposed to an older and more traditional model of cable set-top box. Comcast is touting it as a “first of its kind entertainment platform that seamless merges entertainment with the rest of your life. Utilizing advancements made possible by the cloud and Comcast’s extensive technology network, X1 combines customized apps, social media features and traditional video services to deliver a personalized and dynamic TV entertainment experience.”

Facebook Trials Video Downloads for Offline Viewing Away From Cloud

Starting on July 11, Facebook will test a new download option for video viewing offline in India. Particularly in remote areas and emerging markets where connection is unreliable and data costs are prohibitive, this option may be a useful way for users to take advantage of free WiFi or a strong connection to download videos for viewing later at their convenience.

In doing so Facebook has taken a step to divorce localized computing and content viewing from the cloud and Internet. This is a trend that we can expect to see as the internet of things takes hold in smart cities, where M2M connections in local deployment scenarios may not necessarily need to be connected to the Internet in order to orchestrate their operations.

So far the option is limited to original videos posted on personal accounts or from Pages. The videos are restricted so that they can only be viewed through the Facebook app, ostensibly for security purposes and to prevent piracy. This also means that the videos will not register on your device’s memory. If video publishers are wary of the idea of users downloading their content, they have the freedom to opt out. An additional benefit for users is that the downloaded videos will not be subject to sponsored video ads, though it is unclear whether this policy will stay in place for long.

A Facebook spokesperson explained some of the reasoning behind this new feature to Techcrunch: “We’ve heard feedback that in markets like India, mobile data and internet connectivity is limited and many people struggle with poor video experiences. So we’re testing an option for people to download videos to Facebook while they’re online on good internet connections, to view the video at anytime, online or offline, without using extra mobile data.”

Video downloading options are not new and Facebook is not the only tech company to move towards a hybrid video consumption model that supports both online and offline viewing. Youtube Red is a notable example of an app that also allows storing of music videos for offline consumption. Amazon is a major subscription video on demand service provider that has also adopted this feature and Netflix is expected to roll out a similar one by the end of this year.

Telcos Issue Manifesto to EU Regarding 5G and Net Neutrality

A large contingent of telcos have addressed a manifesto to the European Union calling for clarification of net neutrality rules and an easing of some restrictions. If their demands are not met, the telcos have threatened to withhold investment and development of 5G in European cities. The manifesto was issued by a coalition of telcos, including BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Nokia, Orange, Vodafone, and Ericsson, and was endorsed by 17 companies overall.

They noted in their demands that “ Telco and Industry Verticals concur that the implementation of Net Neutrality Laws should allow for both innovative specialised services required by industrial applications and the Internet Access quality expected by all consumers. In this context we must highlight the danger of restrictive Net Neutrality rules, in the context of 5G technologies, business applications and beyond. 5G introduces the concept of “Network Slicing” to accommodate a wide-variety of industry verticals’ business models on a common platform, at scale and with services guarantees.”

While the telcos had previously promised to roll out 5G in at least one major European metropolitan area in each of the 28 EU member states by the deadline of 2020, they noted their promises were contingent on certain net neutrality demands being met, threatening to renege on their commitments if they were not. Trials and demonstrations are slated to begin as early as 2018.

A core issue in this controversy is network slicing, through which companies hope to be able to split their networks up into specialized slices that focus on a specific service or function. By doing so, the companies argue that they will be able to optimize their services based on specific and divergent needs such as that of offering high-speed internet for video streaming or supporting the low latency machine to machine connections required for smart cities.

Indeed, this is one of the major attractions of an expanded and higher-capacity 5G infrastructure that uses SDN and advances in radio technology to support the increased needs of vertical industries and public institutions.

The question network slicing raises is whether it falls afoul of net neutrality rules by offering more than one service tier. Ostensibly, however, network slicing could allow for improved customer service by offering specialized networks for certain tasks, so long as standard telco services are not compromised.

Gunther H. Oettinger, a commissioner with the European Commission, announced that he would welcome and consider the input of industry players in conceptualizing 5G plans: “When drawing up its 5G Action Plan, the Commission will consider the industry analysis and recommendations, alongside other inputs, and in particular from the consultation, which is open until 11th July. The 5G Action Plan will be presented in September, at the same time as the proposal for the review of the telecom regulatory framework.”

Facebook Unveils OpenCellular Mobile Network Solution

In furtherance of its efforts to expand Internet access to remote areas of the world, and thereby garner more users, Facebook has recently unveiled OpenCellular, a small and tough mobile network platform that can operate in far-flung regions and underserved communities.

Described as a “software-defined wireless access platform”, Facebook is touting OpenCellular as an open-sourced and cost-effective solution for improving wireless connectivity worldwide. Noting in their press release that more than 4 billion people and 10% of the world population lack reliable access to the Internet, Facebook’s painted its product as means of bridging the digital divide: “Despite the widespread global adoption of mobile phones over the last 20 years, the cellular infrastructure required to support basic connectivity and more advanced capabilities like broadband is still unavailable or unaffordable in many parts of the world. At Facebook, we want to help solve this problem, and we are pursuing multiple approaches aimed at improving connectivity infrastructure and lowering the cost of deploying and operating that infrastructure.”

One of the key benefits of the platform is its versatility and ability to support various wireless standards from 2G to LTE to WiFi, making it customizable to the varying connectivity needs of various regions. In addition to being highly rugged and able to withstand the elements, OpenCellular is a lightweight and all-in-one solution, able to be installed in trees, streetlights, and utility poles.

The solution is currently being tested in the Silicon Valley giant’s headquarters and is slated to be released sometime this summer.

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