The term "broadband" will move closer to the
mainstream next week, if the annual Western Show in Anaheim, Calif., is any indication.
But rather than new and exciting technological
breakthroughs, cable operators are hoping to see progress on interactive applications.
"The convergence of technologies is what you're going
to be seeing a lot of this year," said John Malone, chairman and CEO of
It was the Western Show three years ago where Malone
"discovered" Imedia Corp. and its statistical-multiplexing techniques.
Even though that discovery turned into a deal that
subsequently tanked and is the subject of litigation, the Western Show is a historical
breeding ground for hot new cable technologies.
"Whether or nor there are any big breakthroughs this
year [at the Western Show], I don't know," Malone said. "I think that you'll see
the sort of stuff that we said ought to come into existence a year ago."
This year's show, dubbed "Cable Clicks," will
again weigh in heavy with technology, as hardware vendors hand off to the encroaching
software sector and new applications emerge that harness the capabilities of two-way cable
The show runs from Dec. 1 through 4 at the Anaheim
For a one-stop shop on all things technological, or to
catch up on the three major industry technical agendas -- OpenCable, PacketCable and
standardized cable modems -- the CableNET '98 area is a logical starting point. Much of
the technology activity at next week's show will happen in the 8,000-square-foot CableNET
area, and more than 60 hardware and software vendors will show off their latest work
At press time last week, the loudest pre-Western Show buzz
appeared to be about IP (Internet protocol) telephony and packet techniques designed to
run on cable modems.
"Packet and IP are the buzz, since it looks as though
DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service/Interoperability Specification] is about buzzed out,"
said Michael Harris, an analyst with Phoenix-based Kinetic Strategies Inc. Harris added,
"I'll be interested to see if anybody squeaks through with a certified DOCSIS modem
in time for the show."
Several weeks ago, Cable Television Laboratories Inc. said
it was unlikely that any modem vendors would be certified by the show.
Operators are sure to be kicking the tires on the new
That means standards-compliant cable modems that
interoperate with one another, as well as next-generation digital set-top boxes like
General Instrument Corp.'s DCT-5000 and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s Explorer 2000, among
Tom Jokerst, senior vice president of engineering for
Charter Communications Inc., said he will be looking for "implementation
answers" about video-on-demand, as well as "what the options are for interactive
guides." Jokerst will also be on the prowl for advanced fiber optic techniques like
The show opens Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. with a session about
how Silicon Valley views the cable industry. The panel -- moderated by Jim Louderback,
vice president and editorial director of ZDTV -- will include Avram Miller, corporate vice
president of Intel Corp.; Scott Kurnit, president and CEO of The Mining Co.; and Guy
Tribble, vice president of architecture and technology for Sun Microsystems Inc.
On Wednesday, Comcast Corp. vice president of strategic
planning Mark Coblitz will moderate a panel that dissects "next-generation"
set-tops and what they mean to operators and consumers.
Also on Wednesday, Society of Cable Telecommunications
Engineers attorney Steve Ross will moderate a session about technology and the Federal
Communications Commission, and how the two fit -- and don't fit -- together.
Another Wednesday panel will examine the 5-megahertz to
40-MHz upstream-signaling path and its many nuances.
Malone will take the podium during Thursday's general
session with moderator Ben Stein, author and host for Comedy Central. Joining the
discussion about technology's role in entertainment and communications will be Geraldine
Laybourne, chairman and CEO of Oxygen Media; and Jim Robbins, president and CEO of Cox
On Thursday, Laurie Schwartz, vice president of advanced
platforms for CableLabs, will moderate a panel that dissects OpenCable. Later that day,
CableLabs chief operating officer Chris Lammers will moderate a panel about cable-modem
At the same time, Alex Best, senior vice president of
engineering for Cox, will oversee a session about what does and doesn't work with
digital-video techniques. Also, Mark Davis, director of engineering, telephony technology
for Cox, will moderate a technical discussion about cable telephony.