Cable to Telcos: Let's Get Together

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The following is an edited excerpt from the keynote address delivered by CableLabs CEO Richard Green at NXTcomm in Las Vegas on June 18.

How the world has changed.

No longer are we telephone people and cable people.

Comcast is now the fourth-largest telephone company in the U.S. and Verizon is now among the top 10 cable companies. It looks to me as if we are all, basically, in the same kind of business, competing fiercely with each other to provide the best possible telecom services to our customers. Competition has certainly produced great benefits for the consumer. No other nation in the world enjoys as much facilities-based broadband competition as we have in the U.S.

And now, through your innovation and investment, the consumer increasingly has a greater choice in video services as well. In this competitive marketplace, the name of the game now is: First, understanding real consumer needs; and second, finding the technological and business means to better serve those needs.

Of the projects undertaken by CableLabs, the one that has had the most impact has probably been the cable modem. Think of all the ways that high-speed data networks have transformed communications in the world. And we are still standing on the lower rungs of that development ladder.

When we were getting started 12 years ago, “Internet access” meant “dial-up.” Now consumers can choose among [digital subscriber line] providers, wireless companies, [fiber to the home] delivered data, cable companies and satellite companies.

Today, there are 37 million cable broadband customers in the U.S. Broadband adoption is accelerating. Combined, our two industries have been able to reach 50% penetration of broadband services in this country, in a decade. That's as measured by the Pew Internet Project. That's faster to 50% than color TV, personal computers, cellphones, VCRs and compact discs. So that's something we can collectively be proud of.

At CableLabs, we have just finished the development and certification of DOCSIS 3.0. This specification, like most of our work at CableLabs, is an open, international ITU-T standard. Anyone can build the equipment and that equipment is the same on every continent. These new modems, which are compatible with the existing cable network, will provide speeds of 160 Megabits downstream and 120 Mb upstream.

We are calling the new service “wideband” and Comcast plans to make wideband service available to 20% of its systems this year. Other CableLabs member companies are conducting field trials and experiments with the new technology. Also, we are seeing increased implementation of the DOCSIS modems outside the U.S. and this includes the new DOCSIS 3.0 equipment. Currently, according to ITU statistics, about 40% of the high speed data customers in the world are served by cable modems.

The second project I want to discuss is one we're now calling Tru2way — the consumer-facing brand name. You may know this technology by its obsolete technical name OpenCable and OCAP, or the OpenCable Applications Platform.

First, let me say that Tru2way solves a problem that we at CableLabs have been struggling with for years. That is the fact that we live with technical Balkanization of the video service. Cable operators operate technologically different video networks. Tru2way solves this problem via a software or middleware abstraction solution.

Our thought during the development was to provide a common set of application program interfaces that content developers could write to. If we were able to agree between our industries to use this standard set of Java APIs, we would greatly simplify the content provider's job and spur investment in applications. The bottom line here is that Tru2way is open; it is not exclusive to cable but is available to any multichannel provider. I hope that this is an area that we might work together in the future.

There are natural intersections between your industries and ours, and I truly think we could benefit from a cooperative approach.

First, there are our mutual efforts in 3GPP where we have worked successfully together to extend the IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) in release 7 and the upcoming release 8 to more fully support wireline services. In a related effort, we are beginning to work together in the Open Mobile Alliance to support a standardized framework for IMS client provisioning. The work is going well and my thanks for the cooperative environment that you have helped to create.

Second, let me suggest that on the general subject of network management, we have common cause. We can probably agree that it is better to resolve the technical issues on network management within the technical community. Many of you are active participants in the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), NANOG (North American Network Operators Group) and DCIA (Distributed Computing Industry Association). We believe that technical forums like these are best suited to resolve these very complex issues that arise. It is clear that all service providers are at risk if the government invites itself in and these complex issues are decided in Washington.

We are proud to be part of this great disruptive telecom revolution that has brought so much value to the world. If there's one thing I've learned from working in R&D labs for the past 45 years, the speed of innovation continues to increase. All our networks are quickly going to get more capable, and simultaneously, more complex. I like to think that we are climbing the innovation curve together.

We look forward to building the future with you.