Facing Cable’s Energy Future


Like virtually every other industry, cable
must confront issues of energy management and formulate
strategies for the future. Ever-increasing demand on
our broadband networks requires us to anticipate how
best to meet customers’ capacity requirements, while ensuring
the availability and efficient use of energy.

In today’s world, our energy needs are generally manageable.
But as we project huge future increases in demand
for our services, we see an impending risk several
years down the road — the possibility that,
without taking some important steps, we cannot
always be assured of a sufficient, reliable
supply of locally available power.

We already are seeing instances where
available local energy is not reliably keeping
up with the demands of our growing
networks. We are concerned that someday
— certainly not immediately, but foreseeably
within the next five to 10 years — we will be
faced with the reality that our ability to grow
will be constrained by the quantity and timing
of obtaining electrical power. That is a
dependency that cannot be allowed to occur.

The single most important thing we need to do is to
change the way we think about energy, starting with the
design phase. By “we” I mean the entire set of players
that are a part of our industry, including cable operators,
vendors, CableLabs, the SCTE, the NCTA, programmers,
broadcasters and others. We also need to reach out to
other network operators who will face similar issues.

It is no longer enough for our industry to specify new
designs or sets of functionalities without factoring in
energy requirements, on the assumption that when the
time comes to purchase and to deploy, we will be able to
obtain enough energy to power what we have designed.
Energy utilization must become an up-front consideration
when we are evaluating new services.

This means organizations like the SCTE must provide
leadership and training in energy awareness and energysaving
methodologies. It means CableLabs must make
energy leadership a part of our specifi cations design. It
means we need lots of innovation from vendors — breakthroughs
in technology, architectures, and whole new
ways of integrating those technologies and architectures
into products and delivery systems. And in partnership
with vendors, it means that cable operators will need
to purchase hardware and software that drive the economics
of that innovation during the natural equipment
addition-and-replacement cycle.

We should be motivated by self-interest, and view energy
considerations in the context of securing future revenues.
Our ability to configure our networks and our facilities
to deliver new services doesn’t mean much if the
energy that is needed to power those services is unavailable,
or unreliable.

Now is the time to move energy considerations
to the front ranks of our industry’s
concerns. Historically, equipment has
been purchased and configured based on
the business objectives at hand. Power requirements
have been a tangential consideration,
relating perhaps to the immediate
issue of the total loading of a single data
center or headend. These considerations
can no longer be tangential. They must be
baked into our planning and procurement

The best way — the only way — to make
this work is through collaboration. Working
together with industry organizations, operators and
vendors, we need to ensure that energy considerations
are squarely on the table as long-range visions are being
discussed. And we need to reach out to universities, government
labs, and others where the best thinking is going
on, and take advantage of it. We also need to get power
utilities on board — they have to be part of the solution.

Our energy consumption issue is what my colleagues
like to call a “high-class problem.” It is a direct consequence
of the incredible growth we can expect in our
businesses, growth that will mean jobs and investment
and that will reinforce the central role our networks will
play in our economy and our society.

Broadband growth is an incredible social good. It is
imperative that we all work together to make sure this
growth will continue by ensuring that we have a real
handle on our long-term energy needs.

Mark Coblitz is SVP, strategic planning for Comcast.