Cable-Tec Expo: Developing Next-Gen Tech Leaders

TWC's Ludington: Key Conference Sessions to Focus on Attracting New Talent

Cable may have some of the most advanced video and broadband technologies on the planet today -- but what about a decade or two from now?

Bringing a new generation of technology leaders and engineers into the industry will be a key theme at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Cable-Tec Expo this week, according to Jim Ludington, Time Warner Cable’s executive vice president of network national operations and engineering.

Ludington, chairman of the 2012 Expo program committee, said workforce diversity, inclusion and education in science, technology, engineering and math will “ring through the entire opening morning” during the show’s opening general session on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

“We have next-generation technology on display and it’s always great,” he said. “But where is the workforce coming from? Everybody I’ve talked to got into cable by accident.”

The conference runs Oct. 17-19 in Orlando, Fla., at the Orange County Convention Center.
Expo will kick off with a main-stage discussion between inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen -- most famous for creating the Segway scooter -- and Mike LaJoie, Time Warner Cable’s chief technology officer.

Time Warner Cable has worked with Kamen through the operator’s Connect a Million Minds initiative, a five-year, $100 million cash and in-kind philanthropic initiative to boost kids’ literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Kamen “was working to get kids jacked up about science and technology even before STEM,” Ludington said. For cable, such efforts are important “we’re interested in getting our next generation of workforce.”

Meanwhile, whereas Expo has often featured a roundtable discussion with chief technology officers from big operators, this year the opening general session will feature a group of CTOs from smaller operators on a panel titled, “Mid-Size Insights: Challenges and Solutions Faced by Tier 2 and 3 Cable Operators.”

“We hardly ever get to hear from them -- what are their problems and how do they solve them?” Ludington said. Even large MSOs can learn from the small guys, he added: “Every solution you look at you say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

That will be followed by a “leadership panel,” moderated by Ludington, with SCTE president and CEO Mark Dzuban, CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney and NCTA chief of staff K. Dane Snowden.

On the technology front, new themes at Expo will include Wi-Fi and the evolving digital home, SCTE chief technology officer Daniel Howard said. The conference also has added a track on capacity management, given MSOs’ continuous need to keep up with rising bandwidth demands.

All told, Expo’s sessions will include discussions on more than 250 abstracts in six different tracks. “The willingness of the SCTE rank-and-file to share their ideas and their insights -- it’s awesome,” Ludington said.

The conference also will include a 90-minute session on CableLabs’ DOCSIS 3.1, a still-in-progress specification that promises to provide a way to deliver massive amounts of broadband capacity well into the future, as well as sessions on cable’s evolution beyond the hybrid fiber-coax network architecture.

“HFC is 20 years old, and we’re all looking at, What is the next access network?” Ludington said. “What is it, how do we provision it and how does that affect plant powering?”

As it turns out, Ludington’s turn as Expo chairman is a sort of homecoming: He chaired Cable-Tec Expo in 1997, which also was in Orlando. A big topic at the time was TWC’s Full Service Network -- the first widely digital video and interactive TV services -- which launched in 1994 but was being phased out by ’97.

“It’s interesting to look back at the titles from 15 years ago. They’re completely different topics,” Ludington said. “There are generations of differences between them.”

Hot back then: the DOCSIS 1.0 spec, which CableLabs issued in March 1997. “There was barely a [cable] modem out there 15 years ago,” he said. “Now we’re going to be discussing DOCSIS 3.1.”

Ludington acknowledged that getting the 2012 Expo program together involved a lot of moving pieces and some heavy lifting: “You think it’s always going to lay itself out and take care of itself… but it’s always more [work] than you think,” he said.