Interview Date: February 3, 2020
Interview Location: Denver, Colorado USA
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Schley: Greetings. Thank you for pressing “Play” on this episode of the Cable Center’s Hauser Oral History Series. Between the origination of television and video content, and accompanying sound, and the stuff that appears on the screen is a whole panoply of transmission equipment that is rich in innovation and technological development over the years. We get to kind of trace the story of that evolution today here at the Cable Center’s studios. I’m with Paul Broadhurst, who’s the CEO and founder of Technetix. And first of all Paul, thank you for being with us today.
Broadhurst: It’s an honor.
Schley: Glad to have you and I’m excited about talking about some of the progression of your career and company and part of that story really is the progression of the cable industry from a technology standpoint. So it’s cool.
But I have to start at the start, you growing up near Bristol in the UK, I was interested to find out you were kind of a radio kid. So, take me back. What were you tinkering with in the basement, or whatever?
Broadhurst: Well, actually when I was about eight, I got one of these electronics kits. By the time I was fourteen, I applied to get a radio license through an exam in the UK.
Schley: A radio license allowed you to do what?
Broadhurst: To transmit. So, I got my license, and, then in those days, you had to make your equipment, and that’s what I did. Which was amazing, really. That’s where I learned all about RF.
Schley: And it’s paid off well. Talk about how you sort of segued from your education and your upbringing as a student to – what was your first job in the industry?
Broadhurst: I went to Liverpool University, did a Bachelors in electronic engineering. In fact, all the way through, like most guys, I did digital electronics and software. In fact, that was where I thought I was going. I ended up finding a very interesting company, EMI, which at that time was the second biggest electronics contractor, mainly defense electronics because at that time, pretty well 95% of the jobs—this was right in the middle of the Cold War—were in all forms of things supporting defense.
Schley: This was the early 1980s?
Broadhurst: This is 1981, when I left college. I ended up working in a microwave group on radar and electronic warfare systems. The reason they hired me is because I was a radio ham, and they wanted someone who knew all about RF.
Schley: All that tinkering.
Broadhurst: And that’s how I interviewed well. So, all that tinkering paid off well. In fact, lots of what was RF was evolving to digital things, but in those days, I was working on microwave integrated circuits actually for electronic warfare systems. So, I learned a hell of a lot of that.
Schley: So, passing over the microwave links were encrypted communications that had to deal with defense…
Broadhurst: Well, this was for radar systems, in aircraft and ships, Further than that I can’t really talk about it!
Broadhurst: It was an interesting time. But the thing that was great at that time was that everything was at the forefront of technology, money no object. EMI was a very interesting company because it was actually, certainly in Europe, the company that developed the original electronic TV systems. So, the building I was doing that in was actually the place of the original BBC broadcasts in 1936. So, it was very, very interesting along that, although at that stage they were doing all sorts of things, they were doing medical. I met the chief engineer there who was a radar engineer, Godfrey Hounsfield, who ended up getting a Nobel prize. He was the guy who invented the CT scanner. That was an amazing experience for me of taking a technology from one area to another where he met a surgeon in a pub and was talking about what he did for a living. Then by the end, discussed how looking for tumors, all you need to do is apply the technology in radar. So from that, it’s funny. Because all the way through to where I am in cable, I’ve always felt that I’ve been an outsider, of bringing technology from outside. The challenge, the way things are done. Because what I find very commonly in engineering is that somebody invents something and then everybody else almost does a similar copycat product. And I still almost to this day feel myself as a bit of a new kid on the block, even though it’s 30 years I’ve been at it now at Technetix—so this is our 30th year. But I still think that we always bring disruptive innovation to do things a little bit differently. And that’s how we do everything, really.
Schley: And it does flow, I think, from—there’s this sort of poetry around being able to make comparisons and maybe metaphors, might be the right word, might be the wrong word. But that’s kind of what you’re talking about, right? You take something that may not be obviously pertinent and put it together.
Broadhurst: And I think that’s where all the greatest engineering innovations have come. It’s actually very simple ideas, and when you apply a simple idea from one area to another, absolutely.
Schley: Did you know personally Godfrey, or did you work—?
Broadhurst: I did. I met him on my first day…
Schley: You talked about the BBC originating transmissions. You have this at least peripheral connection to television.
Broadhurst: I did. I was actually in a TV studio, that’s where my office was. I reapplied them, you know, with great big thick walls for sound insulation.
Schley: This is in London.
Broadhurst: This was in Hayes, Middlesex. Everybody knows EMI Hayes Middlesex. It’s like the address that was on the back of every record.
Schley: I know. I was going to say—
Broadhurst: No one knows where Hayes is, but it’s a not a very fancy place in West London.
Schley: Johnny Rotten once sang a song about EMI.
Broadhurst: Funnily enough, you mentioned Johnny Rotten. The day I joined EMI was the day they fired Johnny Rotten.
Schley: No kidding. For various malfeasance?
Broadhurst: Because he was using the f-word on a TV interview. He did.
Schley: The first and perhaps only Sex Pistols record.
Broadhurst: I didn’t meet him on—we were walking through different doors actually. That’s Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.
Schley: This is Johnny Rotten, Johnny Lydon of the…
Broadhurst: For anyone who doesn’t know the Sex Pistols.
Schley: One of the great first albums ever.
Broadhurst: We were working for the same company as the Sex Pistols, I have to say.
Schley: I’ve always been fascinated by this question. How do you find your way then into what I would then have called the cable television industry, or perhaps the satellite television industry?
Broadhurst: What was interesting—so I continued to work in defense electronics. I then went on to an American company called Watkins-Johnson, another interesting company, one of the early Bay Area companies, actually.
Broadhurst: Watkins and Johnson were ex-Stanford professors actually.
Schley: What did they do?
Broadhurst: They started a company doing radar systems. Anyway, I worked for them and then for a company called Continental. And Continental, that was a startup division of a British company doing microwave systems. There I sort of learnt about starting a company from scratch, beyond just the design. Actually, running a business and selling things. But at that stage in 1988, the Cold War was coming to an end, and I guess, perhaps naively, we thought everything was all going to calm down.
Schley: It did.
Broadhurst: So, I decided to get into commercial electronics, and I went to work for a design consultancy called PA. And they were a design consultancy that did lots of different things. I worked on mobile phone stuff and some consumer products. But one of the things when I started there, which was quite interesting, was that British Satellite Broadcasting was just launching, which was one of two satellite operators in the UK. And they were having much publicized technical difficulties with their outdoor satellite dish. But it was actually a thing called a Squarial, which was a flat antenna.
Broadhurst: Squarial was the name. I came up with the idea, let’s go and help them because I was a microwave engineer and could see what the problems were. What I ended up doing was a study, a six-week study for them. Then they said, “Right…this isn’t working, defies the laws of physics.” And they just said, “Fix it.” I ended up working there full-time for about 18 months.
Schley: And then Paul, paint the picture. This is the early evolution of what we would call “DBS” in the States, or satellite television. You had two competing companies?
Broadhurst: Two competing companies. One was backed by Mr. Murdoch, which was using commercial satellites. It was extremely innovative and frankly, in the end, probably the best way of doing it. And this British company, which was following the regulatory WARC 77, high-powered satellites, way of doing it, which was the way everybody was going to do it. I basically got their outdoor unit working, and they launched.
Schley: How did you fix the problem?
Broadhurst: It was a complete re-design of the whole thing. And it was lots of 18-hour days.
Schley: But I see some significance here because this sort of was your entrée, right?
Broadhurst: It was. Because at that time, really, I got exposed to the satellite and cable TV industry and through that, they were helping cable operators to connect customers. Because at the time their banking was all related to how many customers they had.
Schley: You have to build up the market.
Broadhurst: How many customers you had was one of the key milestones. And one of the quick wins they could do was to get people connected to watching their satellite channels on cable systems.
Schley: This is not, I think, a widely understood fact, that you had what we all think of was a direct at-home satellite system. But really it wasn’t.
Broadhurst: Initially most of it was going over cable.
Schley: Isn’t that crazy?
Broadhurst: Because they were owning the content, so they didn’t mind where the content was going. The actual transmission system was less important than actually getting the subscription numbers on the content. Because they paid all these big sums to Hollywood studios to get movies. And when they launched, it was like 50,000 homes or something. It was really a lot of money for very few homes. So that was where really the opportunity of cable was highlighted to me, and that’s where I with a couple of other guys who were engineers there came up with the idea of “Let’s go off and start Technetix.”
Schley: OK, I’ve got to drill into that because that’s not an easy decision to make, right? You talked earlier, though, about learning about the sales early on. About the starting up of a company. You kept those ideas in your brain as you founded what would be Technetix, right?
Broadhurst: Yes, although I didn’t know half of what I had to learn.
Schley: That’s probably good. Probably a little naivete is a good thing.
Broadhurst: To be honest the first bit was easy because we went out and got an order from a cable operator, which was called Aberdeen Cable. And they just ordered 30,000 home units. Naively on their basis, they didn’t check whether we had a factory…
Schley: Whether you had 30,000 in the warehouse.
Broadhurst: Our factory was a double garage, we delivered, and they were paying after the goods were delivered so we didn’t lie to anyone.
Schley: It all worked. What were the units, what were you making or proposing to make?
Broadhurst: We were making, it was an RF up-converter. Basically, they were very old cable systems, 250 MHz cable systems for technical people. And in the UK, you only had UHF band TV, so it was just up-converting channels to feed into the TV set.
Schley: And how many channels could you pump through early on?
Broadhurst: These units were six. It’s crazy, isn’t it now?
Schley: How did you capitalize the company early on?
Broadhurst: It was 10,000 pounds between the three of us.
Schley: You contributed it?
Broadhurst: Bank loans and we put it all in. Then a bit of backing of good old credit cards. Luckily in those days, people didn’t check your credit so much.
Schley: Amazing. You could just apply for a lot of credit cards.
Broadhurst: Yes. Don’t tell anyone. They’re all paid off now.
Schley: What was your risk tolerance, though? Were you a person who could kind of hang it out there, sort of, or roll the dice?
Broadhurst: It was interesting actually because at the time it was like, “Yeah, let’s go, let’s go, let’s do it.” But I must admit there was a wavery moment when I’d got a house, I was paying a mortgage and there was no guaranteed sum. So that was pretty scary.
Schley: I think every entrepreneur goes through that, though, you know?
Broadhurst: We thought our business plan was going to work and it did.
Schley: You hired out the manufacturing?
Broadhurst: We were basically subcontracting to a manufacturer and then doing the final assembly and test in this garage. I was pretty handy at soldering and testing. In fact, for the first four months, I was doing it while doing my normal day job. And then doing it in the evenings and weekends. And it was very cheap, a company with no wages.
Schley: I guess so. Sort of a virtual organization in a way. But what’s interesting to me is the cable connection because you didn’t hitch your business to the satellite industry, so to speak. More so to the cable industry?
Broadhurst: We just spotted an opportunity, although at the time we thought we were going to make satellite receivers and dishes. We just thought this was our start-off, to make a bit of money to capitalize.
Schley: You were going to go this way.
Broadhurst: Yes. And that was what we were originally going to do. But in fact, what ended up happening was that the satellite market became very, very difficult. So, we made prototypes of satellite receivers and dishes and worked out how we were going to make it and everything. But when it came to it, talking to the cable operators, we realized that they needed help. So, in those days there were two of these old systems. One was this Aberdeen Cable. The other was Maxwell, the famous Robert Maxwell, who owned the other half. And then there were the few fledgling broadband operators just starting. So, at that time, we started finding they needed modulators and scrambling systems, so we went away designing all types of products like that.
Schley: To enable that work. What was the business model for Robert Maxwell’s cable company? Was it sending HBO through the pipe? What were they trying to do?
Broadhurst: He actually had a set of channels.
Schley: Owned his own content.
Broadhurst: It ended up becoming the Sky Channels in fact. Those four channels. When Sky originally launched its satellite out, four channels…
Schley: Is that right? Who knew? Then again, this was—this period was when to when? When did you guys plop down the credit cards and start the company?
Broadhurst: So this was all in March of 1990. We got our order in about May-June, and we started delivering it in September. Basically, it was in September that I went full-time Technetix. We rented a little 200 square foot office and we had our 200 square foot office and a garage.
Schley: Today you’re very well-known in the cable industry at large, but then, were you starting to make connections with cable industry people?
Broadhurst: At that time, no. We were small fry. We were working our way up. I mean, basically it was very easy. We had our first order, which was worth about 150,000 pounds.
Schley: Get you going.
Broadhurst: In our first year, we did about £300,000 revenue. That was how big we were. So about $400,000. The next year was very, very tough, because this was ’91. The Gulf War was just going on at the time. A lot of investment stopped. So, it was quite a scary moment. But around that time, we found enough work to keep going, but it was pretty tough. Pretty tough. But over ’92, that was really where we started to make connections with the more traditional U.S. cable operators. The first big customer was United Artists Cable, which was a 50-50 joint venture between Malone’s TCI and US West.
Schley: US West. This was a company that Stuart Blair ran, I think. Was he part of that world?
Broadhurst: It’s had lots of leaders. I can’t remember.
Schley: What did you do for them?
Broadhurst: It eventually became Telewest. So, we originally developed filter and bypass modules for going on the back of set-top boxes. So basically, we started making modules to adapt U.S. style cable boxes to work in the situation in the UK. So that’s where we met various people. In fact, one of the guys actually I hear you interviewed two or three weeks ago, Dave Harrison, was one of our first customers. He placed an order, even after having come in to see our then 1500 square foot facility.
Schley: Your humble facility.
Broadhurst: Our 1500 square foot facility with seven people. He still gave us an order.
Schley: He saw something… What did you start to like about the cable industry in terms of a business pursuit?
Broadhurst: The thing that is great about the cable industry is that it, certainly as it was then… I mean, whereas in the UK, there were about 50 different franchises and they had by then merged into about 30. And they’re all developing. And all of them were doing things in a slightly different way so there were lots of microproblems everywhere of people who needed fixes for things. And we found ourselves in the early days as being effectively a fixer of problems really for lots of—
Schley: From the very start.
Broadhurst: Lots of different people’s issues. And that was really where Technetix launched, around making filters, set-top box accessories, and then we started doing self-install kits. At that time, we were doing that and headend equipment. So, miles away from where we are now.
Schley: I was going to say, but it seems like, just intuiting, that you were a pretty agile company. You could move pretty nimbly, pretty fast.
Broadhurst: And that was why we were so successful. Because people would talk about the problem and really that was our differentiating way.
Schley: You’d show up Tuesday with a device.
Broadhurst: Yes, we’d start Tuesday with a device. And people then—I mean, you know, you talk about “cable cowboys,” it was a little bit like that. Nowadays you get a black and white specification: this is exactly what we want to do the job. And of course we always had to add innovation to say, “Well, have you thought of this, have you thought of that?” In those days, it was like we just got the problem. And it’s like, have you got any ideas? We would go away and come back with some jury-rigged special thing, and they’d go, ok, we’ll buy that.
And then we would get an order for a thousand and then the next thing we were making 50,000.
Schley: I love it. It’s just an entrepreneurial story.
Broadhurst: It was an amazing time.
Schley: When did you begin to do business in the U.S.?
Broadhurst: We didn’t do business in the U.S. until about 2007 in fact. So quite a long time. The business built up and got strong across the UK and then Spain, Netherlands, and then we grew all across Europe initially.
Schley: Can you describe for our audience the interplay between satellite television and terrestrial cable? Was it what I think it is, which is one was trying to out-duel the other, or was there some symmetry there?
Broadhurst: In the very, very early days, as I was describing, satellite was sponsoring upgrade of cable systems. That was in the very, very early days, like ’91. By ’91-92, that was all over. And they were basically in competition.
Schley: It was warfare.
Broadhurst: It was complete warfare, although in the UK, Murdoch got most of the content. So, cable ended up having to be a wholesaler of his content plus other things. But in other European countries, that was not the case. Cable was very much the lead. If you go to Netherlands, there was 90% penetration of cable and there was like a film satellite, FilmNet, but most of the content was going over cable. So cable was pretty strong across Europe.
Schley: That was kind of the place to be then.
Broadhurst: Yes, it was. And we basically found that that was a market where there were lots of ropes to pull and opportunities. Technetix, we made a number of acquisitions. We were very, very successful in the UK market and we acquired a passives manufacturer in 2000 and got into making passives which are the components in the home. And we then also bought a Dutch company called Tratec, which got us into multi-taps. Multi-taps in Europe is very complicated because every country does it in a different way.
Schley: I wondered about that.
Broadhurst: Which is crazy. This company, combined with what Technetix was doing, made us sort of masters of all the different variations across Europe.
Schley: It sounds complex, though.
Broadhurst: It was. Because everybody does everything differently, but the same technology. That’s how we grew the company all across Europe and we were very, very successful. At that time, of course, you know, going back to the UK, it all combined, it ended up being NTL and Telewest. And then in 2005, I think it was, they all merged into what was NTL that soon got rebranded as Virgin Media.
Schley: That’s right. There was a lot of re-structuring over a fairly compressed amount of time, it seems.
Broadhurst: But it was the same people.
Schley: I know, it was different capital structures.
Broadhurst: Same in Europe. There was UPC, which was originally United Philips Communications.
Schley: I didn’t know that “P” was for Philips.
Broadhurst: Yes, it was Philips. It was a joint venture with Philips. Then it became United Pan-European Cable. That was how they re-branded it.
Schley: I always just knew the UPC, the acronym, what it was.
Broadhurst: So that became a very, very big customer and we developed a very close relationship with that company, which was a subsidiary of UGC [UnitedGlobalCom], which was soon to become Liberty. We followed them all across Europe as they acquired Unity Media, they acquired Switzerland, they were…
Schley: Their footprint grew dramatically.
Schley: I wanted to ask you about buying companies. What philosophy did you bring to that, what did you look for in Tratec, for instance? What was the appeal? How did that mesh with your business?
Broadhurst: Tratec was an interesting one because my first one was acquiring a British company, which was an owner-run company and it just needed leadership. So it was dead easy, really. But Tratec was interesting because we were absolute head-on-head competitors, trying to kill each other. And after that, we were English and they were Dutch. It’s quite interesting because the English, as you probably know, are quite reserved. We always worry that we don’t want to upset anyone. If I want to tell you I disagree with you, I tell you politely. The Dutch are very blunt.
Schley: Not so much.
Broadhurst: They just tell you how it is. Which is—I’ve actually gone Dutch because I like the Dutch way…I hate hidden agendas. If I don’t agree with you, what’s the point of telling you over three meetings, “Let’s just go straight into it.” I probably won’t come in quite so strong.
Schley: Reserved Dutch.
Broadhurst: I’m a reserved Dutch English person. Actually it was a little bit of a baptism of fire. I’ll tell you we’ve got a very good international team. Technetix now has got—on our exec team we’ve got four or five different nationalities, we’ve even got an American of course. It actually makes it a great, fun place to work actually.
Schley: You are the melting pot. At some point, I need help with the dates here. But at some point, a significant architectural transformation occurred in the cable industry when we began to adopt distribution technique, or plant construction technique called “HFC.”
Broadhurst: Hybrid fiber coax.
Schley: Hybrid fiber coax. Can you talk about what that was and is, and why it matters?
Broadhurst: Well, HFC started to happen basically from the mid- to late-90s. And the reason why it got introduced was because cable was going to video on demand. So in the early days, cable was a broadcast system so you would have an office in the middle of a city or in the middle of a country driving the same content across millions of homes. But the real key differentiator for cable was video on demand, which in the early days was what was called “near video on demand.” Where you’d have the film starting at 7:00, 7:30, 8:00.
Schley: You had more choice points as a consumer.
Broadhurst: You had more choice points, But the real thing that cable saw was video on demand. You watch it at the minute you want to watch it. And to be able to do that, you have to introduce narrowcasting. That big city had to be split into small groups of houses. The architecture, pretty well everyone went for, is somewhere between 500 and 1,000 houses. To do that effectively, the easiest way to do it was to run fiber and then divide up the network into lots of little islands of 500 to 1,000 homes.
Schley: You’ve almost seemed like you’re creating a bunch of small cable systems, right?
Broadhurst: Exactly. And that was called narrowcasting. So there was a combination of broadcast with this narrowcast ability. So, you know in each area, you’d have maybe 250 homes. Out of those maybe 100 would want an event, so you had to have the ability to transmit, say, 50-100 channels just for that little block of 500 people at that given time. And that was really where fiber really started to roll out in a big way into HFC. It was all about that. But of course, now, that has all evolved around the broadband side, and broadband has become the king product really. And for that, that whole dissection of the network into smaller and smaller islands of homes is really what’s allowed the existing HFC network to continue to do whatever bandwidths you need. And that has been the great, wonderful thing about HFC. Because the HFC that people built in 1990 is still today doing gigabit symmetrical to what the customers need because all the operators have to do is node-splitting. And you’ve just got more and more capacity. So it’s an extremely excellent evolutionary capital investment.
Schley: That’s a great way to put it.
Broadhurst: That’s why cable has overtaken the big telcos to be kings of the hill, as they call it.
Schley: We didn’t know. We were putting in infrastructure for video on demand, as you said. That was its reason for being at the time.
Broadhurst: They talked about that. Everybody talked about broadband but I don’t think anyone realized—maybe they did, but I don’t think anyone really realized what they had.
Schley: Not in 1995.
Broadhurst: It’s funny, because through the whole time of Technetix, you know maybe from the early 90s, everybody talked about coax being old-fashioned technology. “In five to eight years’ time, we’re going to rip it all out and it’s going to go fiber.”
Schley: Fiber straight through.
Broadhurst: I’ve been listening to that story for thirty years now and I’ve finally got to the point where I talked to my various customers and every five years or three years, people have an analysis of, “Should we upgrade the HFC network or should we go fiber?” The cost of upgrading the HFC network is always between a fifth and a tenth, and it always keeps going on. And you can do it without disrupting your existing customers because it’s a big thing to overwire with a new network and then have to visit every home. You have your middle to low-end ARPU customers where really you don’t want to touch those customers. If it’s working, just leave it. So it’s only really the high-end customers that you want to touch. And on those, if you can keep that network going, why not? So that’s why cable still—for the new build, the new greenfield build, yes, of course, fiber is absolutely the best thing to do. And we do fiber products. But for the existing network, keep upgrading the HFC. This is where cable has really gone through the dials, from DOCSIS 3 to 3.1…
Schley: Heading to…
Broadhurst: 4.0, which is going to be published any day now. We know what the network is going to be like. And with that, you can get ten gigabit symmetrical over that old bit of old coax.
Schley: How did the HFC revolution influence what you did as a company, and how did you influence the HFC progression itself?
Broadhurst: For us, the first major breakthrough for us to get really through to the front line really of development was when DOCSIS 3.1 came out in 2012. And we were the first company to bring out a DOCSIS 3.1 compatible amplifier node. Other people said it was never going to happen. A lot of people said it’ll never go above 1 GHz to 1.2 GHz.
Schley: What was the reservation or the concern?
Broadhurst: The reservation was, they’re going to go fiber only. At that time, our key customer in Europe, Liberty, said, “It’s cheaper. We’re going to do it.” We had to convince a few chip manufacturers that it is really going to happen. We even had to take them and meet our customer.
Schley: Just inspire that confidence and said, OK, this is the path?
Broadhurst: And then we brought out our DBX platform, which was a modular platform, which was brought to replace lots of different architectures. The great thing about it was that it was able to do the 1.2 GHz down, 200 MHz up. Which basically is the step that gives cable 1 gig symmetrical. In fact, it can probably give 1.2 gig symmetrical and more. That makes cable absolutely not second to fiber in any way.
Schley: Were we effectively playing with new spectrum then? We were leveraging a little more spectrum.
Broadhurst: Yes, levering, but more spectrum.
Schley: It’s interesting because you talked earlier about taking an idea that maybe wasn’t invented for a particular application and then finding a way to transplant it or leverage it. Did that sort of thesis come into play as you were developing DBX or other products?
Broadhurst: Yes, we developed a modular platform, which I think was more using our own innovation really to do things in a different way. Rather than having a fixed piece of equipment that you had to cut out or fix a piece of equipment with a great big module that you change. We actually made it into little modules with specific functions to allow you to be able to upgrade it very, very easily. That’s really what’s opened it up to the what’s going to be the next generation.
Schley: Which is looking like what…?
Broadhurst: DOCSIS 4.0! In DOCSIS 4.0, that’s actually upping the spectrum initially to 1.8 GHz, potentially to 3 GHz. And the coax that is currently in place will carry these frequencies.
Schley: Fortunate circumstance there, right?
Broadhurst: Our thesis was we’ve got to make it a financial proposition operators can do it with and there were lots of ideas. Because as you go higher and higher in frequency, the losses on cable go up. That’s just the laws of physics. With that, our later innovations like distributed gain architecture, DGA, is fantastic because it enables you to do DOCSIS 4.0 with no more power in the network, which is a big thing because you don’t have to update the power system. That’s a big investment, could double the cost of your investment. And without any re-spacing, which is a lot of messing around moving amplifiers around and re-planning.
Schley: Tell me what that means: “re-spacing.” And how in that cascade to the home, how does that work?
Broadhurst: So generally, historically, cable systems have gone up in frequency from 250 MHz, 350, 500, 650, 750, 860, 1 GHz, 1.2 GHz.
Schley: That’s been the story of the industry.
Broadhurst: That’s been the story of the industry. And people—a lot of that happened fifteen years ago because with analog, the cable systems went pretty quickly to 860 MHz. So most systems…
Schley: Just to get enough capacity.
Broadhurst: To be able to do 80 channels it was originally and now with digital and video on demand, you can do lots more, obviously with technology. Technology stressed that transmission system very much more but taking it further has needed further development.
Schley: And obviously that’s where a company like yours comes into play.
Broadhurst: So this re-spacing is a major cost. And the problem is the skilled technicians to be able to do it—there’s a big shortage. Nobody’s been really building networks much recently. And the hourly cost of maintenance is actually probably half of the cost of doing upgrades. So making a system where you have to do the least movement of anything on the network and to be able to do it for the same amount of power is really the key solution. And that’s really what we’re going for.
Schley: It sounds hard. It sounds like almost too good to be true that you can pull it off, but apparently you can pull it off.
Broadhurst: It is HFC. In fact, we’re doing a roadmap with one of our key customers and they see it into the 2030s quite easily.
Schley: It’s interesting when we talk about the capital that is required to deploy or upgrade networks, I think a lot of us think of silver pieces of equipment on the line and we think of conduits and physical fibers snaking through the ground, but you mentioned skilled labor. That’s a big consideration.
Broadhurst: It is a big consideration, especially as basically the same type of labor is being used for upgrading mobile networks. And of course, as you know, mobile is running at 4G and is going to be upgrading to 5G. It’s the same pool of skilled talent.
Schley: If you’re a 21-year-old kid, it wouldn’t be a bad place to stake your claim, right, as a career?
Broadhurst: But our amplifiers and nodes are just right for that 21-year-old as well.
Schley: There you go.
Broadhurst: Setting up our stuff is not that meter and that bag of all those little plug-ins. Ours are all set up with a tablet or a mobile phone, so it’s much more fun. It’s Millennial-friendly, what we do.
Schley: If you think about the DGA innovation, how long did that take from conception to you have a finished product?
Broadhurst: That was quite interesting, because we had the idea to do that, which was basically an amplifier without diplexers. So it’s what we call—DOCSIS 4.0 covers two types of transmission, which is Duplex DOCSIS, which is two-way on the same frequencies. And Extended Spectrum DOCSIS. So this basically allows you to do both of them in one device by not having any diplexers. So, we have the idea to do it from a theoretical point of view, but to actually make something that would work on the network, will work in the situation of, you know, bad connectors, bad reaches…
Schley: Real environment.
Broadhurst: It was very, very difficult. And it took us about three years to work out how to do it.
Schley: But you knew—well, you had faith that the market was going to be there three years hence.
Broadhurst: We knew the market needed it. And you know, we’re doing higher gain versions of it. We haven’t finished on it. So we know the market needs it because every time the market changes, the band splits, so again lots of setting up, lots of skilled people to resolve it. Everything we’re doing is about making the network extremely future-proof and extremely flexible to what you want to do.
Schley: It’s so interesting. You talk about DOCSIS 4.0 and this concept called “full duplex DOCSIS transmission…”
Broadhurst: The FDx.
Schley: Sort of mind-blowing. Can you talk about what that is and why it matters?
Broadhurst: Well, duplex DOCSIS is basically—there’s effectively two methods—duplex DOCSIS is effectively—current systems normally have, in America you generally have up to 42 MHz for upstream, and then above 54 for downstream, up to 1 GHz.
Schley: These are the slivers of electromagnetic spectrum I’m allowed to use—
Broadhurst: High up and down. Then that’s evolving to what people called “mid-split,” which is 85, or “high-split,” which is 200 MHz, which you have to set up. Duplex DOCSIS is a completely innovative way of effectively making that you can go up to 684. And sometimes you’re using it, sometimes you’re not. It makes it very flexible. So it basically overcomes any—it enables the cable system to be very flexible about the way it uses its capacity. When you build a network today, you don’t really know really what you need it to be doing in two years, three years…you know, you’ve got these IOT devices—
Schley: You’ve got refrigerators going to be hooked up to my car.
Broadhurst: I’m not really sure whether there is going to be a refrigerator with a big data need, but there are these things like these security cameras which are continuously driving video and ultra-high def into the cloud to watch a lot of angles. But the mix of products is not yet defined so the way to make the cable network for them that’s going to be good for the next ten years is to make it very flexible, to be able to do anything we think might happen.
Schley: In terms of what might happen, you have a good sort of pulse because you talk to customers at a high level all the time. These are your compatriots in technology evolution. What is the sort of generalized faith that we are going to need more bandwidth and more bandwidth? You addressed it a little bit now.
Broadhurst: Well, it’s Moore’s Law, isn’t it? I remember when I opened our first 1500 square foot facility. I remember getting a 64-kilobit ISDN connection and thinking —
Schley: Oh, the days…
Broadhurst: What are we going to do with all this data? I remember when cable broadband came out, it was 1 megabit and then it was 5 megabit and then it was 10 and everyone was talking about 100, maybe ten years ago. 100—what are we going to do with 100? But now, gigabit. A gigabit, that is the marquis product now. Fiber and cable are both all in for ten. The good old HFC network, even at 1.8 GHz, we believe can do at least 30.
Schley: 30 gig?
Broadhurst: With a bit more technology on the encoding, probably more.
Broadhurst: It is remarkable.
Schley: Through the time we’ve chronicled here, are there a couple of individuals that stand out as sort of being influential in the way you think about the business, or just how you’ve kind of grown in your role?
Broadhurst: Over the time of Technetix, I mean, one of the guys that’s been quite a great inspiration to me has been Balan Nair, who I first got to know when he joined Liberty Global about, I think it was about twelve years ago…he’d come from the telco side of things.
Schley: From US West, maybe?
Broadhurst: It was CenturyLink, I think. He came in, excellent guy, very, very bright guy, and I very quickly got to know him and engaged closely with him and the whole idea about how you can develop the existing HFC network. We got on very, very well. He’s now gone on to lead Liberty Latin America during the last two or three years and doing a great job on that. But through him, Liberty Global ended up investing in Technetix because we were doing so much business with him. And I had the great honor to meet John Malone.
Schley: All roads lead to John Malone, don’t they?
Broadhurst: Who I have to say is an extremely impressive guy. I really take my hat off to the way he can boil down any business model down to about two or three sentences.
Schley: It’s an amazing mind at work there.
Broadhurst: Although I find in our meetings we’ve had with the board, he knows all about HFC. He knows as well as anyone in the room.
Schley: I was going to say you’d be surprised but you wouldn’t be surprised at how many people have sat in this chair and mentioned John Malone as an inspiring figure in the development of the industry. What’s fun about what you do? Like what’s sort of rewarding—?
Broadhurst: I think the thing—it’s funny, really, it’s a bit like the Hotel California, really.
Schley: You can never leave?
Broadhurst: You can never leave. The thing I love about cable is that I’ve met so many great guys and you have lots of—they’re more than business relationships, they’re friendships. And you know, I just enjoy everything, the whole atmosphere of cable, the cable industry. It’s been just great fun to work with. And as we’ve evolved the business from—I suppose in the early days we were doing adapting of technology to suit local markets and to make new technology. And now I think we’re right up at the forefront driving new ideas to enable things. I just find the relationships such great fun.
Schley: Has cable gone corporate, if you will? Or is there still this sort of spirit of pioneering?
Broadhurst: It’s a good question. I think that to some extent it has gone corporate. You know, in the old days, we used to make prototypes of something to demonstrate something and then they’d have it installed and they’re already using it. And we were like, hang on a minute, we haven’t gotten safety approvals on this, we want to have it back, we don’t want to kill anyone!
Schley: It’s all good.
Broadhurst: But now, in terms of the technical approval, and the same with us, the professionality of how we do things, it has gotten more corporate. But I think that underneath there’s still that great cable atmosphere that is still there. I think that’s why cable is great. One of the great things I find in working in business is that normally you’re in a situation where all your customers are in competition with one another.
Schley: That’s a great point.
Broadhurst: The great thing about cable is they’ve all got their own patches, turf, and they are completely open. And if you develop a really, really great idea to the first man, he’ll tell all his buddies. The whole development of Technetix has been not really heavy marketing at all, it’s really just through developing relationships and people recommending things, even to the point where, you know, we’ve had people call from Latin America. How did these guys know who we were? It turns out it’s an engineer that’s gone there consulting. “You really need to talk to these guys.” So the thing that has been very, very excellent also is just the fact that we’ve developed the business all over Europe. We’re now U.S., Canada, Latin America, we’re now growing across Asia.
Schley: I wanted to ask you about that before…
Broadhurst: Also in the same language.
Schley: It helps. What is—you talked about sort of maintaining a team ethic, even though you are really dispersed geographically. I’ve talked to other people—well, even at Liberty about this same question. But how do you maintain constancy of culture or whatever it is you’re looking for?
Broadhurst: It’s very difficult. I mean, I see my job really is not to be overbearing on what’s going on in the business, it is to delegate things. My job is really to create the environment where people succeed. And I find that my job quite often is chief historian—
Schley: That’s interesting.
Broadhurst: Where I can come along and point out, “Actually we had this idea ten years ago. It all went wrong.” So sometimes I can catch things before we fall into a tank trap.
Schley: There is some value, though, in that historic knowledge that sometimes you don’t want to re-invent the same problem ten years later, right?
Broadhurst: That is also with a global company, you can start to re-invent the wheel where the wheel already exists. And there is that. But I actually do travel a lot and go see people and talk about things and compare notes on how things are done. You know, the important thing really is about having a good team, and I’ve got an absolutely excellent exec team around me.
Schley: For our business students, hiring decisions are vital though, right? Who you bring aboard is really important.
Broadhurst: Yes. The number one thing on the hiring is attitude and values. If they’ve got the right attitudes and the right work ethic, the skills can come along. If you can get all of those and somebody with really good skills, absolutely, we’ve got bingo, we’ve got it all.
Schley: We’ve talked, Paul, in a number of guises about what we see happening. You talk about the futureproofing of the HFC network, spectral expansion, what we’re going to do with these 30 gigabits of data, but just kind of opening up: where do you see the next generation going in cable technology? What’s down the road, or what services or what drivers should we be looking at?
Broadhurst: I mean, the thing I see with cable is that cable, whenever you see CEOs of cable companies, everybody talks about cord cutting.
Schley: They do.
Broadhurst: I think that over-the-top TV is happening, it’s all happening. I mean, cable still offers the ability to consolidate it into one remote control and one box.
Schley: Present it and package it.
Broadhurst: Present it all in an orderly manner that your grandmother and my grandmother can use. But I think that cable does have other opportunities and I think the big opportunity cable has got is around 5G networks because cable is the only network in the streets that’s got a high-speed data backbone and power. Nobody else has got that. And cable has a fantastic opportunity to do a business-to-business opportunity with 5G base stations.
Schley: I don’t think it’s totally well-appreciated that even in the 5G rollouts of the big wireless providers, cable already is playing a significant background role.
Broadhurst: It’s a very significant thing. In fact we’ve already developed a product to be able to do, it is for doing segmentation or just doing an overlay of high-speed data on the cable system, using very high-frequencies on the cable system. Which we call Virtual SegmentationTM.
Schley: Is that Virtual SegmentationTM in the market now?
Broadhurst: Yes, we’re supplying it in Germany and in Austria. And this can do very low latency backhaul. It basically doesn’t load the cable system because for mobile, you need low latency and low jitter. This provides it. But I see for cable, this business-to-business opportunity is great because everybody talks about 5G like 5G is going to take over.
Schley: Don’t get me started.
Broadhurst: But 5G is like getting it to a base station. That base station then has to get the data back into the cloud. Cable is there, ready and able.
Schley: That’s what I’m saying. So you see though in a certain period of time, cable being more of a retail provider of 5G to the business community. Or something like 5G.
Broadhurst: Cable can be doing it business-to-business where cable can offer it to the 5G operators, and cable could also be a 5G operator itself if it wanted to be.
Schley: Since we have you, you mentioned latency and this is sort of in the conversation now. We didn’t used to talk as much about latency. What is latency?
Broadhurst: Latency is basically the delay, when I send some data now to where it arrives at the far end, so the amount of time it takes.
Schley: Measured in milliseconds.
Broadhurst: Measured normally in milliseconds, yes. So when you’re doing broadcasting, it’s not very important. You know, if I’m watching my—apart from when I’m watching a football match and the people next door are watching on analog and they’re cheering at the touchdown about 30 seconds before I do…
Schley: That’s a buzzkill.
Broadhurst: That’s one of the problems with digital. But apart from that, latency isn’t a problem. But when you start doing things like gaming and IoT devices, the biggest thing for 5G is if the mobile networks they use for collecting data for things like driverless cars, you need very low latency. And if I’m doing gaming, it’s very important that I have low latency and then consistent latency so no jitter as well. So that’s why it’s very, very important.
Schley: And are these concepts you’re taking to heart as you develop next generations of technology?
Broadhurst: Yes, everything. I mean, the new DOCSIS 4.0 is low latency DOCSIS. That’s part of the new DOCSIS, that is in the spec. And as part of the Virtual SegmentationTM we’re doing, the low latency, I mean this can do up to ten links less than a millisecond. That is quite important to a lot of people now, that level of latency. It may not be important now, but if you’re building a network that’s going be good for the next 5-10 years, it is really a problem in 5 years’ time.
Schley: It’s a timely question, Paul. We’re on the day after the Superbowl 2020, so there’s a big sports event in the U.S. and the global stage. But I wanted to talk about talent and bringing talent to the team. You talked a little bit about what you look for, but just sort of drill into that a little bit more in terms of core values, what sort of personas and propositions do people need to bring to you to be considered, to be part of the team?
Broadhurst: For me, the most important thing is the core values and the attitude. From that, hard work and the ability to get your hands dirty and get oil all over your hands to fix the problems. For me, that is the most important thing is get-up-and-go and those values. And frankly, honesty as well, really. In the end, you know, when you’re talking to your customers, if things are not good, you’ve got to tell them things are not well, and you’ve got to tell them how things are.
Schley: This is an area, a category, where you’re always sort of on the edge of technological development. You’re going to make mistakes, people are going to make mistakes of deployment, of invention. You’ve just got to get beyond that, I guess.
Broadhurst: Everyone in our company has to have that. On top of that, the key talent, if they can have the skills as well, and if not, we’ll train them in those skills.
Schley: Very well, thank you.
It is not every conversation at this table that we get to have a guided tour of cable technology, history, and reference the Sex Pistols’ first album. So for breaking new ground here, Paul, my hat is off.
Broadhurst: Have you got the album?
Schley: Of course, I have the album. On vinyl. You have to have it on vinyl.
Broadhurst: I’ve got the original one. It’s worth about $150, I think.
Schley: Just garish, brilliant graphic design. Anyway, thank you so much for taking some time to visit with us about technology and also about the travels of the industry over the last few decades. Paul Broadhurst, CEO and founder of Technetix, I am Stewart Schley and for the Cable Center’s Hauser Oral History Series, thanks for tuning in.
Broadhurst: Thank you very much.
END OF INTERVIEW