Like most of its cable peers, Altice USA is finally joining the gigabit gang in earnest, as it accelerates its upgrade to FTTH networks in much of its territory and rolls out DOCSIS 3.1 in the New York City metro area.
Speaking on a fourth-quarter earnings call jampacked with details Thursday evening, Altice USA executives updated financial analysts on their two-pronged strategy of (1) switching the majority of their 8.8-million-home footprint to FTTH networks and (2) simultaneously upgrading New York-area subscribers to D3.1 service on their legacy HFC network. The moves will enable the MSO to offer one-gigabit service to most of its nearly 4.2 million data customers.
Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei said the MSO upgraded about 500,000 homes to FTTH in 2019, wrapping up the year with about 600,000 FTTH homes overall. At the same time, he said, the company has begun a fullscale rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 in the New York area, starting with the Bronx last month.
As a result, Goei said, Altice USA now offers 1Gbps service to nearly 30% of its data subscribers. That percentage should soar this year as the MSO pushes ahead with plans to upgrade hundreds of thousands of more homes to all-fiber lines this year while also rolling out D3.1 throughout the rest of its New York footprint.
In another move to boost its broadband service, Altice USA has begun deploying its new "Smart WiFi" technology to Altice One customers in the New York metro area. Altice One, a new all-services gateway platform, is an uber-box designed to manage both video and broadband services. The company closed 2019 with 543,000 unique Altice One customers, representing 17% of its total video customers, and is prepping a similar uber-box for its all-fiber customers.
Altice USA officials said the Smart WiFi technology would soon be available to customers in its Suddenlink-branded footprint as well. The new technology features a simplified network connection, eliminating the need for users to select between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz manually. The product also uses intelligent band and access point steering and mesh network technology to boost WiFi connections throughout the home network.
These moves come as Altice USA seeks to regain broadband sub growth momentum after a sluggish fourth quarter. The MSO did eke out a gain of 7,000 broadband subscribers in the quarter, increasing its customer base to nearly 4.2 million. But, while the company enjoyed a resurgent December, those gains amounted to less than one third of the 22,000 subs it added a year earlier.
Altice USA executives blamed the sluggish broadband sub gains, as well as much steeper video sub losses, mostly on the expiration of various promotional offers. They stressed that the December resurgence has continued through the first two months of the new year.
Europe's largest cable operator reports that both upstream and downstream traffic have jumped since the COVID-19 pandemic hit its markets, with the upstream traffic surging 50% and the downstream up over 20%.
With tens of millions of people now sheltering at home throughout the nation, the three biggest publicly traded US MSOs all reported substantially higher broadband subscriber gains in the first quarter.
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