Your 2013 Cable Show Tech-Talk Decoder Ring

Grab-bag of Tech Terms For Those Descending on DC
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It’s time again for The Cable Show, so it’s time to sift through this year’s grab-bag of tech-speak. Always a gas!

Let’s start with The Gig. In sessions, in “The Observatory” area of the show and likely in show news, you’ll be hearing about Gigs.

Funny thing about The Gig: It’s a unit of measure, yes, but in cable, it carries three distinctly different meanings. One involves speed, one involves storage, one involves capacity.

Back to basics: “Giga” means “billion.” It comes after “Mega,” for million, and before “Tera,” for trillion.

A few handy contextual references: There are (roughly) as many bits involved in a Gigabit per second as there are Facebook members; a Gigabit per second is more than 15,000 times faster than the fastest-ever dial-up modem (56 kbps.)

Let’s do it in hamburgers. Let’s say the average person eats 150 burgers per year. If bits were burgers, it would take the Earth’s entire population about 7 million years to eat the equivalent of the number of bits in a Gig. (Burp.)

So whether you’re talking speed, storage or capacity, Gigs are big.

Gig-wise, what you’ll be hearing about at The Cable Show is speed. Gigabits per second, specifically. Synonymous with billions of bits per second.

But wait! The Gigabyte is a unit of storage. Bits and bytes are different; rule of thumb is, there are eight bits in a byte. Gigabytes come into play when talking about how big something is to download.

And then there’s the GigaHertz (GHz) – a measure of capacity. Most cable systems are built to top out at between 750 MHz and 1,000 MHz, and 1,000 MHz is the same as 1 GHz.

THE CLOUD VS. THE GATEWAY

Another chewy set of intertwined topics sure to unfold in D.C.: The cloud versus the gateway. Does one (the cloud) ultimately supplant the other (the gateway)? Putting video in the cloud — which also goes by “network DVR,” although the two have subtle differences — is a hot topic because it’s a great way to keep stuff consistent, one screen to the next.

In tech talk, that batch of activities is known as “preservation of state”; “pause” is a state, for instance. So is “play,” when you resume. 

Yet, the show floor will be bulging with gateways. Half cable modem, half set-top, they’re hot because they’re a way to bridge from today’s world (set-tops connected to TVs) to the other today’s world (tablets, PCs, gadgets connected to cable modems).

In the fullness of time, “gateways” will persist as the thing in the home that exists to do the things the cloud can’t yet do, or isn’t as good at doing. Like pausing live TV, for instance. Buffering locally, so far, works better than buffering in the network.

Reference Design Kit: RDK

As you wander the show floor, you’re likely to see signage and demo-buzz about “RDK,” or “Reference Design Kit.” It’s not the easiest thing to wrap your head around, because it happens at the intersection of silicon and standards. It started out as a Comcast thing, but is expanding to other MSOs. Something like 20 RDK constituents will be showing their stuff this week.

People involved with RDK like it because it shaves time from how long it takes to get new hardware and services to market. It shaves time because it eliminates the repeating labyrinths of regression testing as a device moves from chip to manufacturer to MSO to service environment.

NCTA Newbies

Close to 50 companies will be exhibiting for the first time this week — on the tech side, companies like LG Electronics (connected devices), DigitalSmiths (search and recommendation), Qwilt (OTT traffic management), and Ruckus Wireless (“wickedly fast wireless”). My personal favorite NCTA newbie, as a beekeeper, is Beesion, which apparently does business support systems. I like the honeybee in the logo.

Parting thought: Take a moment to think through how much effort goes into putting on an event as big and multi-faceted as The Cable Show. Be sure to thank any NCTA people you see. They’ve been working their brains out.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.

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