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Q&A With SCTE’s Mark Dzuban

As the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the group is also working overtime to help the cable industry adapt to rapid technological and competitive changes under the direction of a new president and CEO, Mark Dzuban. In a conversation with HD Update contributor George Winslow, Dzuban talked about the group's goals and how its working to help the cable industry expand its high-definition offerings, as well as its involvement in some emerging technologies like 3-D HD. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: What have been some of your key strategies since joining SCTE?

Mark Dzuban: We have a couple of target areas, which I've spent the first six months identifying.

One is to change the paradigm from purely operations technology in the field -- what you might call the outside plant perspective -- to something we could call the business of engineering, which [involves both] technical skills and being conscious about the bottom line.
Second, is to build the [training and educational] content for all the new areas that the industry is looking at, educating the marketplace on wireless, for example, or [Internet-protocol] networking. We are also doing a lot to develop basic engineering skills.
[Another area] is the whole notion of energy management. We want to help our members drive out energy costs and improve on their ability to become independent from existing utilities and existing fuels.
We [now have something] we are calling the SCTE renewable energy group and we doing a lot of work to look at ways to supplement utility power with solar, wind and other sources.

MCN: How are you planning to work with CableLabs on some of these efforts?

MD: Yesterday, I met with Paul Liao [the new CEO of CableLabs] and it was a very collaborative discussion. We want to create an environment where two plus two is five and work together very synergistically.
Phase one of innovation starts at CableLabs. CableLabs is where services and the architectures to support those services are defined. Our job at SCTE is to take that work and run with it from a scaling perspective and life-cycle management.
I believe we are very complementary [in the process of innovation and new technologies] and I want to do a better job of making sure that we are going to build foundations for adjacent and complementary efforts. We've started that by laying out a vision for the scope of work for CableLabs and one for ourselves. It is really the first time it's being defined.

MCN: Satellite-TV got an early lead in providing HD content. What are some of the key tools that you see operators using to free up more bandwidth for more HD content?

MD: You hit on a good example of why I was asked to come on board. My background has been with the network management and the incremental improvements that can be made to networks to meet demand. My cable experience goes back to working with my father, who was building distribution equipment in eastern Pennsylvania in our basement. As a kid of seven or eight, I remember sorting through the resistors.
In terms of HD, some people are having anxiety about HFC to meet the demand, but it absolutely can. There are a lot of very good incremental technological improvements that can be made to meet the demand.
Part of the problem that cable has faced, which satellite doesn't have, is the legacy of analog signals. Until recently, those had to be delivered but reducing those, which the operators are now doing, clears up a lot of spectrum for enhanced digital services like HD.

MCN: Obviously, MPEG-4 compression will also free up bandwidth for more HD content. How fast do you see operators deploying MPEG-4 capable set-top boxes to help with some of their bandwidth problems?

MD: There is a lot of good planning taking place on how you do this efficiently. At SCTE we are looking at every aspect of the issue, from educating the work force to what we are calling it our e-waste program.

MCN: CableLabs is already looking into 3-D HD. How is SCTE preparing for what might be called the next generation of HD with things like 3-D HD or even higher-resolution programming?

MD: We have huge respect for the work CableLabs is doing and we want to make sure we are close to them as regards the alternatives that they're looking at and whatever direction might be recommended for cable industry use.
So, we are heavily engaged with HD and 3D and working with CableLabs and working with vendors on those issues. We try to be the host for different kinds of thinking and helping the industry try to nail it down so you can scale with it and develop it.
There are still a lot of different views of what it looks like. We are working with all the constituents to help narrow that down and help drive it towards an open specification for cable. So we are right on the top of it to make sure we close on the standards that are required for scale.

MCN: The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is working on a standard that is expected to be delivered next year for 3-D HD content. Any sense on when we might have some standards for the distribution of 3-D content on cable networks?

MD: SMPTE is a great organization and having great cooperation with SMPTE is part of our next generation targets at SCTE for collaboration.
They come from a different perspective, though, based on the fact that they are frequently authors of that content, and I don't have a timeline that says definitively when [there will be standards for the delivery of 3D content over cable networks.]
With all IP networks still be defined, I'm not sure you can put a nail in the calendar when it will happen, though I think it will be sooner rather than later based on the demand.

MCN: But you think cable operators are pretty serious about the potential for 3D HD?

MD: No question about it. But the cable guys are being very smart. It is a matter of finding a way to fit it in so that it is not disruptive to the scaling of their networks and is complementary to them.