Tech Since 9/11: It's Changed A Lot


That crisp air that comes with autumn offset by the miasmic 10th anniversary of a national tragedy, seems a useful reason for reflection. This week, we’ll look back to 9/11/01 to see what the cable technology community was focused on back then.

For starters, it won’t all fit here. You’ve been busy. We’ve been busy. Sheesh.

Back then, the hot topic meter redlined on things like how to get ready for DOCSIS 1.1, “broadcast ITV” and how cable voice-over-IP might work, someday.

Set-top memory, always a thorn, topped out at 4 Megabytes of flash and 8 MB of RAM - and that was for the newer, souped-up boxes.

About 12 million digital boxes dotted the field then. Digital video recorders hadn’t yet happened. At the time, debates centered on which was the better of two potential approaches: Integrated (into the box) or networked (hello, cloud!).

A few months earlier, in July of 2001, some 26,000 HBO customers in a Time Warner Cable system were offered on-demand viewing of The Sopranos and Sex and the City. It was the first blush of on-demand video beyond movies, and the 3,000 people (11.5%) who decided to give it a go buckled the system.

HDTV hadn’t happened yet. In 2002, upwards of 2 million HDTV displays, at an average of $1,500 apiece, were expected to enter U.S. living rooms.

Other emerging technologies: Wi-Fi; switched digital video; E-911; and OCAP.

A thrice-looming FCC deadline for set-tops outfitted with removable security - first called “PODs,” for point of deployment modules, later rebranded to CableCards - was set for January of 2005, then July of 2006 and, ultimately, July of ‘07. The industry responded, fielding double-digit millions of Cable- Card boxes, only to see the consumer electronics side disappear from the scene.

It would be two more years until Bill Gates made his famous plea for “all-IP,” not just all-digital, and three more years until Charter pioneered the “digital simulcast,” in its Long Beach, Calif., system.

Since then, by the way, the Internet protocol (IP) scene took off big time, and is threading its way into just about every technology of the business, from content creation to distribution (CDNs), encoding (adaptive streaming), security (DRM), navigation (cloud), and the back office (”Web interfaces”).

Another contextual placeholder: By the end of 2004, technologists were openly wondering whether the telcos could really get into the video business - this time around.

IPv6, IMS, fragmented MPEG-4, HTML5, clouds, DLNA and MoCA, to toss together a jumble of superactive areas of work for today’s technologists, were barely on the drawing board a decade ago.

And that all preceded the conflagration of smartphones, connected devices, tablets, PCs, laptops, and other video-capable, IP-linked screens wanting to play video.

May we live in interesting times, indeed.


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