The Five Spot: Phil McKinney

Keying on current trends and what’s around the corner have always been big tenets of CableLabs, the industry’s R&D organization. And there’s a lot on its plate these days including exploring the potential and opportunities for 5G, as well as 4K, virtual reality and augmented reality.

Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, spoke with B&C contributing editor Jeff Baumgartner about these topics and more ahead of last week’s SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver. Here’s an edited version of their chat (and you can read more of it at broadcastingcable. com/Oct23).

What’s the most important new project underway at CableLabs?
That’s a tough question, since there are several innovation projects happening across the organization. Earlier this year, CableLabs announced research around coherent optics. The technology has been used in long-haul fiber optic networks for decades, but we’ve adapted it for use in short-haul access networks, and simplified it to reduce the cost, which will benefit cable operators, and ultimately, their customers.

How has the focus on wireless and mobile at Cable-Labs evolved in the past 12 months?
As cable and wireless continue to converge, we’ve been focused on developing wireless technologies and standards that advance wireless usage for our members and their customers. We’re collaborating closely with the WiFi industry so our members can deliver seamless WiFi experiences through testing, standards development, and regulatory engagement related to wireless devices. We are committed to improving customer experiences with WiFi through increased ease-of-use and improved authentication and enhanced security.

Are you a believer in VR? What key thing needs to happen for VR to become a mass market phenomenon?
CableLabs is actively engaged in the development of VR and AR, and we’re working with industry partners and stakeholders to create technology that can be used to deliver immersive content over cable networks. The key to widespread adoption is connectivity. Ensuring access to high-speed WiFi and data will be essential to power VR, by giving users high-speed immersive experiences with low latency. This is where cable and wireless play a crucial role.

Do you see 4K as a differentiator for MVPDs, or a must-have?
The networks are ready to support 4K. Adoption will be driven by consumers’ adoption of 4K TVs and the availability of content. As the price for 4K TVs continues to come down, we are seeing the growth in consumer purchases of new displays. From my view, the transition to ‘4K TV+’ content will be more gradual than previous transitions to new formats.

Is 5G a threat or friend to cable operators?
The industry is uniquely equipped to move 5G forward, as it is building on a robust and reliable platform for connecting wireless customers. With more than half of all broadband traffic across all technologies initiated over WiFi, new technologies and new spectrum policy supporting wireless broadband are of strategic importance for the cable industry and broadband subscribers.