Access, VOD, Networking Top ET 2001s To-Do List

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Though Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey thrilled readers with moon colonization, deep-space travel, a mysterious monolith and a troubled computer named HAL, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) will remain earthbound this week when it takes a stab at cable's future in New Orleans during its annual Conference on Emerging Technologies.

Though ET 2001 will be similar in focus and personality to recent gatherings, there are plenty of new elements in store for this year's confab, which is expected to draw 1,000 of the industry's technology leaders, SCTE CEO John Clark said.

"We kept the focus of Emerging Technologies because it has proven to be so well received," Clark added. "It's still aimed at a high-level telecommunications engineer and we're looking at things that will impact the marketplace in 2003 and beyond.

"This is not a conference about something [the industry] deployed two months ago, and here's what happened. It's really talking about the future in that two-to-four-year time frame."

Who better to discuss the future than a futurist? SCTE has tapped Techno trends author and technology forecaster Daniel Burrus to deliver the conference's keynote speech tomorrow morning (Jan. 9).

Burrus has been credited with several predictions, including the digital revolution of the 1990s (1983), the use of fiber optics as the medium of choice for broadband (1983) and the deployment of interactive television by the mid-1990s in the form of WebTV Networks Inc. (1985). In 1987, he also predicted that by the late 1990s, electronic mail would be more widely used than paper or postal mail.

The predictions Burrus will share with the cable industry are still under lock and key. However, one might gain a glimpse from his quote, "You can thrive in the future if you understand what is shaping it today."

Offering his own prediction, Clark said, "Having a keynoter who is a technology guru-but with a perspective that goes beyond communications-helps us to prepare for the future changes in technology and the way that we can take a broad perspective about how these technologies might impact society overall."

At the same time, ET plans to rein in the subject matter a bit closer to cable during its preconference tutorial today (Jan. 8). One hot-button issue ET will press is open access, an element expected to find its way onto several MSO agendas in the near future.

Open access is already on the to-do list at Time Warner Cable, which is staging a trial in Columbus, Ohio. MSO vice president of networking engineering Michael Adams's tutorial will focus on the technical challenges involved in providing access to multiple ISPs over cable lines.

More specifically, Adams's presentation will cover a modified Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) provisioning model and a new approach to packet routing.

Following Burrus's keynote speech on Tuesday, ET's first session-"Hey, You with the Big Node!"-will handle topics such as deep-fiber architecture and the preparation of broadband networks for future interactive services.

ET will then follow in the afternoon with a session dedicated to video-on-demand, poring over transport options (Moving Pictures Expert Group vs. Internet protocol), content protection techniques and network design for on-demand services.

Home networking will lead the way on Wednesday, with presentations exploring how cable operators can handle security requirements, as well as the operational impact of home networking in a cable environment. Cable Television Laboratories Inc. CTO and senior vice president of strategic planning David Reed will also give attendees a primer on the organization's CableHome initiative.

While home networking has yet to reach a "utopian" level, plummeting costs and budding consumer excitement about the technology and applications it can foster will eventually boost its popularity among consumers and cable operators, predicted Scientific-Atlanta Inc. chief scientist of subscriber networks Tony Wasilewski, who will present a paper during the session.

Home networking "is not just plug-and-play and everyone lives happily ever after," Wasilewski said. "It's not that way, or at least it won't be for a few years."

Wasilewski said he plans to make cable operators aware of a number of home-networking related issues. For example, the industrial/scientific band in the 2.4 gigahertz range-a popular, unlicensed frequency used by cordless phones and other wireless communications devices-could face rampant interference once home-networking gear that uses the same band is introduced.

Wasilewski doesn't predict a home-networking "tidal wave" will form in the next two to three years. But he does think "a very sudden onset of interest in home networking will cause [cable operators] to react quickly."

Wednesday's luncheon, meanwhile, will underscore the narrowing gap between cable marketing and cable executives. Barbara Gural, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing's vice president of research, will present the organization's latest study on consumer reaction to ITV.

"In the early days of cable, SCTE and CTAM probably felt that they didn't overlap at all, or if they did, it was very minimal," Clark explained. "In today's changing world, technology and marketing are joined at the hip and, therefore, consumer research on new technology is vital not just for the marketing leaders, but for the technology leaders as well."

In addition to helping engineers prepare to deliver on consumer expectations, Clark hopes attendees will also come away from ET with help on a more personal level.

"They need to find out how they can evolve and re-engineer their own contribution for their personal career over the next two to four years that might be different than today," Clark said. "This is an opportunity to get out in front of the curve instead of reacting 0behind the curve. That's what ET offers."