Cox's Technology Pilot

Bowick looks to deliver broadband bundle safely to consumer homes


Christopher Bowick

As a pilot, Christopher Bowick knows the importance of managing complicated technology in order to travel safely.

As senior vice president of engineering and chief technical officer for Cox Communications, Bowick has taken the same measured approach to deploying the "broadband bundle," Cox's combined offering of video, voice and data services. A particular success has been Cox's telephony business, which Bowick, 45, attributes to a well-conceived rollout.

"We launched it on a market-by-market basis, based on a business-case analysis for each market, and we did it methodically," he says. "As a result over the last five or six years, we've done 10 markets, installed 16 circuit switches, and now handle 25 million calls per day."

Bowick is patiently deploying voice over IP (VoIP) technology, which has been touted as an inexpensive way to provide phone service. Cox is interested in using VoIP technology to expand its existing telephony customer base, says Bowick, not as a replacement for circuit-switched gear.

He began his career in 1977 at Georgia Tech's Engineering Experiment Station, doing research for government and commercial applications. Then, in 1978, Bowick, who learned to fly in high school, got his dream job: working for Rockwell Collins in Florida designing next-generation electronics, navigation and communications equipment for light airplanes.

Aviation slumped as fuel prices rose, and, in 1981, Bowick joined cable set-top and infrastructure supplier Scientific-Atlanta as an engineer, working for S-A veteran Alex Best.

Eventually, Bowick assumed responsibility for S-A's earth-station line and started the digital video group at S-A to explore the nascent technology of digital compression. About then, Best left to become Cox's vice president of engineering.

Bowick, meanwhile, was eager to tackle the cable business on a more strategic level. He joined Jones Intercable, Denver, as group vice president, technology, and chief technical officer. He credits CEO Glenn Jones and President Jim O'Brien, with "going out on a limb" to hire someone with R&D and product-development experience but no operational background.

"I had a lot to learn," Bowick recalls. "I didn't know that side of the business, so I had to go out in the field, ride in the trucks and do installs to better understand it."

In 1994, Jones expanded into telephony, and Bowick oversaw creation of a state-of-the-art plant in Alexandria, Va., to provide circuit-switched telephony service.

Though enjoying Jones's culture, he was eager to return to Georgia. So, in 1998, he gave Best a call, which turned into a job as Cox's vice president of technology development, a job he held until Best retired at the end of 2000 and Bowick assumed his post.

Bowick's priority upon joining Cox was digital video, which was experiencing problems with software from vendors Motorola and S-A. He created a software-quality-assurance lab, where Cox engineers combed set-tops to fix bugs. In 1999, Bowick got more involved in Cox's new businesses of telephony and high-speed data. "At the time, we believed that the three-product bundle was video, voice, data, and we haven't let up on that," he says.

"As a company, as a result of our overall focus on network reliability, product reliability, and looking at all software before we allow it to be deployed, our service calls have come down amazingly over the last seven years," Bowick says. "Actually, in 2002 over 2001, we reduced service calls by 16% across all product lines, and we'll continue to drive that lower."