Burrus Tells Engineers: Peer Into Visible Future

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NEW ORLEANS -Worrying about the rapid obsolescence of technology is-in simple terms-time wasted.

That was part of the message futurist and Techno Trends
author Daniel Burrus delivered to about 1,000 cable engineers during his keynote address at last week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' Conference on Emerging Technologies here.

"Keeping up is a fool's game," Burrus said, noting that a cable CTO told him it was difficult to keep pace with technology developments. "I say, take that problem and skip it. Spend that time seeking advantage."

Finding advantages, in turn, can be used against the competition, he added.

Burrus also suggested broadband engineers search for and anticipate the "visible" future, one that will bring permanent rather than more obvious cyclic change.

"There's no advantage in knowing what everyone else knows," he said.

Preparing for permanent change can also be the divider between future success and failure, he added.

"You'll see more change in the next 10 years than you did in the last 20 or 30. The worst kind of change is one that affects you personally.and you didn't see it coming. You can predict the future, but you have to start with what you can see."

Some technology advances Burrus believes will become a big part of the near future are biometrics (the process of using fingerprint and eye scans for identification), video sampling and "ultra-intelligent agents," a network-bound tool that will help people organize their busy lives. Those agents will reside inside phones, personal digital assistants and other devices and essentially "become your friend," he said.

Burrus added that "the power of abundance," rather than scarcity, will drive the Internet economy. He pointed to America Online Inc. chief Steve Case-who kept mailing Americans disk after disk after disk-as a perfect example of someone who knows how to manage that power.

When it comes to technology, the broadband industry must also change its mentality from an "either/or" philosophy to a "both/and" mindset, Burrus noted. In some cases, "there is more than one right answer," he said.

Some examples: the future is wireless and wired, digital and analog, switched and Internet protocol as well as fiber and copper. While electronic books will be "huge," many still will want to read paper as well, he said.

On the issue of how to service active and passive TV viewers, Burrus suggested, "serve them both."

IP VS. MPEG

Another ET speaker who has taken the both/and approach is YAS Corp. chief architect Doug Jones, who presented a white paper on the merits of IP and MPEG (Moving Pictures Expert Group) standards to transport digital video. Both specs are employed in today's cable plant.

"Right now, I can come up with reasons to go one way or the other. Either one works," Jones said.

Home networking and so-called personal-area networks (PANs)-hot buttons at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas-also drew strong attention at ET 2001.

Several CES attendees, consultant Judson Hofmann said, were "still shaking their heads," trying to figure out what it's all about. In cable's case, it could be about quite a lot.

In addition to the networking of computers and printers, cable operators should also look into distributing entertainment over home networks-and use wired and wireless approaches to do that, Hofmann said.

At present, Hofmann said, the cable industry is too narrowly focused on the data side of home networking. Instead, what's happening outside of cable should also be put into focus.

Using what Hofmann called "multimedia appliances," cable operators can network entertainment devices such as DVD players and stereos.

The benefit? It offers cable an opportunity to promote its services throughout the house and essentially push control of the network one step deeper.

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. chief technology officer David Reed followed with an update of the organization's CableHome initiative, which will add home networking standards to the DOCSIS/PacketCable set-up.

Specifically, CableHome's objectives are to extend bandwidth to devices in the home, create interface specifications and build services over home networks that are easy to use and transparent to the customer, Reed said.

Service providers, and cable operators in particular, need to be the "critical driver" of home networking's future, he added.

Reed said CableLabs plans to begin CableHome interoperability testing in the later half of 2001.

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