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A Forward-Looking ET 2004 Recap

The following is a recap of highlights from the Society of Cable Telecommunications Executives Emerging Technologies conference last week.

The future is about technology and the people who will be involved in creating that technology. That's what made last week in Dallas so incredibly poignant for our industry.

The Society of Cable & Telecommunications Engineers' Conference on Emerging Technologies (ET) 2004 attracted almost 800 cable telecommunications engineers and technologists eager to find out where we might be headed as an industry in the next three to five years.

They're a remarkable breed, our cable engineers, able to wed ostensibly conflicting characteristics — creativity with preciseness, big-picture vision with detail orientation and a can-do spirit with a sober awareness of the bottom line. And we're happy to say more of them joined us for ET this year compared with last year. The number of attendees was up 15% over ET 2003 in Miami.

Just before diving in to the first full day of educational sessions in Dallas, we honored one of them — Adelphia Communications Corp. video-systems engineer Basil Badawiyeh — with the Young Engineer of the Year Award, sponsored by Pace Micro Technology, Multichannel News
and SCTE. Basil set a terrific tone for the day ahead. He told his fellow attendees upon accepting his award that his three years in the industry "have been nothing short of an amazing ride." He said that he and his team are currently working on advanced opportunities such as all-digital networks and digital-program insertion (DPI), determined to provide Adelphia's customers with compelling packages and services that only cable can deliver.

Tom Staniec did his own remarkable tone-setting with his preconference tutorial, "The All-Digital Network: Imagine the Possibilities." The vice president, network operations and engineering, of Time Warner Cable's broadband division summed up the future of network architecture like this: "A network should be able to provide everything on demand, from anywhere to anywhere, from anyone to anyone, at any time and in any format."

Fittingly, this ET was held in Big D, as in delivering and digital. The conference, themed "Delivering on the Promise of the All-Digital Network," featured numerous papers designed to propel our thinking forward. Presenter Don Loheide of Cequel III, in a paper co-written with Nimrod Ben-Natan of Harmonic Inc., concluded, "All digital is coming. There is not a single correct migration strategy. The migration to an all-digital product offering is an opportunity to take a fresh look at the networks that were built based on the requirements and technologies of the time and to maximize their efficiency based on the requirements and technologies of today."

Cable Television Laboratories Inc.' John Eng shared in his presentation that the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification can evolve to meet the all-digital/all-Internet protocol triple-play challenges. "Engineering and deploying new technologies take vision, innovation, and commitment from the industry," he said. "The time is now to explore the opportunities to exploit the full potential of HFC to gracefully evolve toward an all-IP future for the cable industry."

The rubber met the road in this respect last week when Real Networks Inc. — whose founder and chairman and CEO, Rob Glaser, delivered the ET keynote address — announced that Time Warner Cable was introducing a major redesign of the MSO's Road Runner high-speed data service home page, courtesy of Real Networks' multi-format Helix Universal system and Real 10 system.

In his keynote, Rob maintained that cable, in order to remain competitive and to retain its market-leading position, must deploy universal server infrastructure, as Road Runner has done, investigate and potentially adopt next-generation video formats, and integrate open, standards-based technologies into the set-tops, such as the AAC audio codec. He said if cable follows these recommendations, it's future is bright.

John Carberry, CEO of Neptec Optical Solutions, further outlined cable's threats and opportunities. Carberry said, "Four behemoths, all accustomed to life without competition, are heading toward competition." The four are the cable, telephone, video, and music industries.

This is a glimpse of what SCTE's ET is all about: Helping our industry quickly create a deliverable vision for the future.