ET 2005 Was Place to Be for Engineers

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The cable telecommunications engineering community is sensing — perhaps like never before — the urgent need to gain the edge on the competition in delivering new and better services for our customers.

It was in that frame of mind that 935 of the brightest engineering minds in the industry enthusiastically assembled last week in Southern California. The occasion: The 2005 Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Conference on Emerging Technologies (ET).

That attendance figure of 935 represents a 20% increase over what this annual conference attracted last year in Dallas, and a whopping 38% beyond what it pulled in down in Miami Beach in 2003. Southern California is known for its surfing, and ET was riding a nice wave.

Clearly, there is mounting enthusiasm for getting ahead of the game and for being smart about how to bring to fruition what we all anticipate is a bright future for cable in the broadband universe. Bigger. Better. Faster. Now.

SENSE OF URGENCY

Call it the Conference on Urgent Technologies. The cable engineer has never had a better opportunity to grab a starring role on the worldwide business stage. Actors who make the movies and television shows that appear on cable may be stars, but so are the men and women who make those movies available to the consumer in the best way possible.

As Paul G. Allen, one of those technology stars, told the assembly at the close of his keynote address on Wednesday morning, “Engineers like all of you are creating the future now!”

Industry stalwart Tom Jokerst (the 2005 program subcommittee chair for ET) noted in his remarks that attendees should consider themselves very wise for having made the choice to be nowhere else but Huntington Beach last week.

Indeed, it dawned on me repeatedly last week that ET isn’t about getting its fingers on the pulse of the industry. It is the pulse of the industry, a proud and strong collection of living, breathing, interacting and heavy-thinking human beings who know that they have a unique opportunity in the unfolding history of telecommunications to make a real difference in the way people experience on-demand entertainment, on-demand information and on-demand communications.

The ambitious purpose of ET each year is to give its attendees a clear-as-possible explanation of where the engineering community is headed in the next three to five years. With all the headline-grabbing heavy rain in SoCal this month, good visibility has been rare in those parts of late. But metaphorically speaking, ET brought its abundant share of good visibility to bear during its time in California this month — visions of the opportunities and challenges that are in the industry’s headlights.

PANELS OF EXPERTS

Ensuring ET’s pleasant atmospheric conditions were five educational sessions, comprised of astute assemblages of presenters and moderators from all across the industry. An impressive 124 abstracts were submitted in response to the 2005 ET Call for Papers.

This figure, as much as our attendance figure at the conference, bespeaks the energy that is being generated our industry’s engineering circles. Jokerst and his subcommittee colleagues had their work cut out for them in paring down the speaker list to the best two dozen or so.

The SCTE is proud to have delivered to its astute audience of cable telecommunications engineers a prominent keynote figure in Paul Allen. He cofounded Microsoft Corp. with Bill Gates in 1976, remained as the company’s chief technologist until 1983, and is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc. and chairman of Charter Communications Inc.

In the days ahead, said Allen, “SCTE plays a key role” for cable telecommunications, providing a vehicle to standardize technologies and best technical practices to ensure the best-possible customer experience.

He shared his excitement over what he described as rich applications that are poised to unleash the potential of the television.

The keynoter cited a statistic that, according to The Yankee Group, digital video recorder homes will reach 33.5 million by 2008, adding that cable and DVR “add up to an experience satellite can’t replicate.”

Allen also took the “triple-play” integrated services convention up a notch to what he calls the “quad play” — everything, everywhere through a harmonious blend of video, data, phone and wireless. He described “a seamless flow of entertainment, information, communications and control across four distinct services, each working in concert to deliver superior customer benefits.”

The five educational sessions that followed featured more than two dozen presenters and moderators talking up such session topics as “Did Somebody Say 'Competition?’ ”; “How Are Things At Home?” (regarding home networking); “Emerging Wireless Technologies — Friend or Foe?”; “Strike Up the Bandwidth Management”; and “Smart Pipe/Dumb Pipe.”

Speaking of regarding the engineer as a star, ET 2005 took time to honor the best of the best with its annual esteemed SCTE Emerging Technologies Awards. Three industry pacesetters — Michael Emmendorfer, Donald Gall, and Keith Hayes — graced the stage last Wednesday as the 2005 recipients.

It’s never too soon to start thinking of next year’s conference. Next year, the scene shifts back East, as ET 2006 will be held in Tampa, Fla., from Jan. 10 to 12. With change so rampant in our daily lives on so many fronts, no doubt there will be plenty of fresh perspectives to share from the Sunshine State next January.

Hold the date, and plan to be a part of the annual high-tech thinkout that every cable telecom engineer who is serious about consuming solid information and professional development makes a point to attend.

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