National Show: Mike LaJoie

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Though it’s the second-biggest cable operator, Time Warner Cable gets to claim that it’s usually first.

It is considered the first cable operator to offer video-on-demand, the first to offer voice over Internet protocol on a wide scale and the first to offer Start Over technology, which allows viewers to restart a show from the beginning if they tune in somewhere in the middle.

Many of these initiatives were developed by the technology group led by Mike LaJoie, executive VP and chief technology officer for Time Warner Cable, who is receiving the Vanguard Award for Science & Technology.

While the company does not adhere to a mandate to be first, “There is a spirit at Time Warner Cable that rewards innovation,” he said. “We are always running ideas through the hopper.”

At any given time his technology group is actively discussing about 150 different possible products. “Probably 130 will fall through and we will never do, but we will put 20 out and maybe 10 will be the winners.”

Mr. LaJoie joined Time Warner in 1994 after working as a consultant for Warner Communications. He was involved in the creation of Time Warner’s well-known Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., which was fired up in 1994 and served as a precursor and test bed for many of the cable industry’s current advanced services.

He also wrote the first request for information for “Packet Cable,” the CableLabs specification on how to deliver voice services over an IP network. “That was the beginning of the work that became Packet Cable and the foundation of a lot of the stuff we are doing today,” he said.

Time Warner put that work into practice in 1997 with its test in Portland, Maine, of voice over Internet protocol, which went commercial in that market in 2003. By 2004 the operator had launched voice service across all 31 systems, corralling 200,000 customers by year-end. At the end of 2005, Time Warner counted 1.1 million voice customers.

In a similar fashion, Time Warner experimented with VOD in the Full Service Network, then tested it in 1999 and had a formal launch in 2001 in Columbia, S.C. Nine months later it was available across the operator’s footprint. Today the operator generates about 1 million VOD sessions each day in its big markets; it delivered a total of 73 million companywide in December.

“The next first is Start Over,” Mr. LaJoie said. The service, akin to a network digital video recorder, is running in Columbia and will roll out in six or seven more markets this year.

Another project Mr. LaJoie has in the works is the move to switched digital video. Today, cable systems broadcast most channels, meaning they send them continuously to every customer all the time. With switched digital, only the channel being watched is sent, a process that saves a tremendous amount of bandwidth. “If you broadcast things you have a limited number of slots. You run out of spectrum,” he said.

Time Warner has deployed this capability in Austin, Texas, and Columbia. Eventually all channels will be sent via switching, freeing the operator to offer more high-speed, wireless and HD channels.

“It’s why we have been able to stay ahead of the game and don’t have to tear up streets and rip up front yards,” he said.