While 2003 is looking to be a flat year for many industries, for the cable industry, it is shaping up to be a year of resumed growth.
Several factors are likely to fuel this growth, including cable-modem penetration, as well as the emergence of video-on-demand, HDTV and several flavors of voice services. Smack in the middle of the year — and in the middle of the technology — is the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tec Expo, taking place May 11 to 14 in Philadelphia.
HD in the picture
New services are key to the cable industry's continued success and to maintaining its current base of video customers. VOD is clearly a focus for most cable operators, as it provides a service that cannot be matched by satellite. Currently, the satellite industry is relying on digital video recorders, which do provide great consumer features but must be rolled out one box at a time.
HDTV is also a key weapon as operators face off against satellite. Clearly, satellite can offer HD, but they do not have the bandwidth to easily offer local channels in the format. Whether it's the Super Bowl or other high-definition services that have local ad support, this is clearly a strategic weapon for cable.
And, of course, cable-modem service continues to grow rapidly. At the end of last year, cable modems outnumbered digital subscriber lines by a factor of two to one in the United States. Going forward, cable-modem service can grow in multiple dimensions including more customers, more usage per customer and, of course, new services such as voice-over-Internet protocol telephony.
VoIP provides a technology and cost model that can again revolutionize the way people communicate and how much it costs.
But all of these new services require standards work, multiple pieces of technology and hardware, support tools and, most importantly, knowledge — about how to architect and implement the services, and how to manage them once they are in place. Cable operators now manage some of the largest data networks in the world, so things like traffic engineering and service assurance are critical.
SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo is a forum that addresses all of these items and more.
This year's 20th anniversary Expo, themed "Celebrate the Spirit," will be host to a massive display of engineering hardware and software vendors. Additionally, the Expo will feature experts from all parts of the industry.
Roberts' to-do list
The Expo's Annual Engineering Conference (Monday, May 12 from 8:30 a.m. to noon) will start off with a keynote address by Brian Roberts, president and CEO of Comcast Corp. Brian is expected to provide us with his views on where the industry stands, the challenges that lie ahead and how we as an industry can address them.
More specifically, he'll talk about what the engineering community should be working on as we go forward. The Engineering Conference will focus sharply on the underlying technology that will enable these growth services.
Part of this year's conference will also cover issues related to what you need to do to engineer your Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification network for voice services. This is whether you plan to offer them immediately, or if you simply want to future-proof your investment and efforts. This is must-have information for anyone who plans to offer voice over their DOCSIS network anytime in the future.
Touching on some similar themes, Expo will have workshops describing what you must consider when connecting your PacketCable network to the public switched-telephone network. There will also be workshops focused on the security elements of voice networks and how various architectures affect security.
There are workshops covering digital ad insertion and the various approaches to cost effectively providing interstitial ads on digital services. There will be several excellent workshops on VOD, and what it takes to integrate and operate these systems.
Home networking is taking the world by storm, and has the potential to be either a friend or a foe to the cable industry. Because of the important role of wireless technologies such as 802.11a, b, g, Bluetooth and others, we have built in several workshops that will take a look at wireless home networking solutions.
Wired networking is also an important aspect of the future business, with Home Phoneline Network Alliance and HomePNA over coax, as well as other emerging standards. These will also be covered.
Also we will have sessions focused on operating support systems and other new tools to manage your network and your business.
After listening to presentations, Expo attendees can see and touch the hardware on the exhibit floor to round out their experience. When you combine this with the ability to network with other industry engineers and technicians, SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to expand their knowledge.
I encourage you to join us at this year's Expo as we "celebrate the spirit" of cable engineering.