Chippy NCTA General Session takes aim at wireless industry’s next big technology

ATLANTA -- Those weary of the wireless industry’s hype around 5G found a welcome opening general session at the SCTE’s annual Cable-Tec Expo show Tuesday.

The hits started with Cox Communications technology chief Kevin Hart, delivering a mild tongue-in-cheek remark during his general session intro: “You know 5G is going to be great, because it’s got 25% more G,” Hart quipped.

NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell, appearing in the session’s keynote panel, was a little more blunt: “You know what the wireless guys like most? Wireline networks,” he said, remarking on 5G’s need for backhaul and other services typically provided by HFC network operators.

Powell also said, “5G is 25% technology, 75% marketing,” dismissing the technology to little more than the wireless industry’s “latest widget.”

Appearing in the general session panel alongside Powell, CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney compared 5G to Teligent, the late-‘90s-era fixed wireless company he formerly served as CIO for before joining HP. He recalled the challenges of trying to establish point-to-point communications technologies in big cities and around phenomena including trees and fog.

“I think 5G is going to have similar issues,” McKinney said.

The cable industry org chiefs made these remarks as wireless industry companies, including Verizon, market 5G fixed wireless services as replacements for cable broadband.

Masters of cable

The featuring of Powell and McKinney, along with Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers President and CEO Mark Dzuban, on Tuesday’s opening panel session was symbolic of the SCTE’s new center-of-gravity juxtaposition in an industry trade-show universe that no longer includes the erstwhile Cable Show.

According to Dzuban, collaboration between the trio’s respective organizations is more robust than ever. “We have a good relationship spanning ideation and deployment,” he said, describing the synergy between CableLabs’ R&D capabilities, SCTE’s real-world application acumen and the NCTA’s policy-making chops.

“You could do a Venn diagram on how we overlap,” added the session's moderator, Comcast technology chief Tony Werner. “And when we get it right, it’s very powerful.”

For his part, Powell used the well-attended morning session at the Georgia World Congress to hammer home lobbying points: the cable industry doesn’t get enough credit from a policy-making perspective. Oh, and California is way out on a limb in terms of net neutrality legislation.

From a national policy-making perspective, Powell said he’s concerned that the cable industry is getting “left behind in the nation’s optimistic narrative of the future,” the fixation overly applied to tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple.

“No other industry has been as reliably consistent in doing what it says it’s going to do, deploying what it says it’s going to deploy, as this one,” Powell said, drawing applause.

Powell wondered aloud if the cable industry is perhaps too humble in not more loudly tub thumping its own innovations, like the emerging Full Duplex DOCSIS standard that will ultimately deliver 10 Gbps symmetrical broadband.

Perhaps offering cable engineers with marketing responsibilities an idea, Powell referred to this new tech as the cable industry’s “10G” standard.

He also described the NCTA as “at war” with California over its recently enacted state net neutrality legislation.

Tuesday’s session was closed by Cox president Pat Esser, who said his privately owned cable company will spend $10 billion over the next five years on network infrastructure investments. 

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