A couple of decades ago, when the technology was younger and cable had no viable competition, the cable operator could afford to wait for new technologies to prove themselves, keeping the powder dry until all bugs were worked out and the costs came down. Well, not any longer.
In today's industry, one of the most important and difficult responsibilities of the cable technologist is forecasting the future trends and emerging technologies soon to be significant in broadband.
The cable telecommunications business is immensely capital-intensive and increasingly able to allocate much of that capital towards advancing technologies. However, the industry does not have exclusive rights to these technologies. Very often, cable's competitors use the same or similar technologies in an attempt to win away subscribers. This makes the prudent application of technical advances both a crucial defensive, as well as offensive, tactic.
Precisely because technology is so expensive, there is little room for mistakes. Choosing the wrong horse among emerging technologies not only wastes huge amounts of money but also consumes valuable capital that could be used for those technologies with a more promising future. More and more, cable technologists bear the heavy burden of trying to divine the next big technical trend. To do so, they must stay on top of the latest technological advances while remaining wary of those that will fail to live up to their hype.
Perhaps one of the most important tools in helping cable technologist sort the wheat from the chaff is the annual Society of Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Conference on Emerging Technologies. Featuring the latest developments in broadband technology from the industry's leading authorities, this conference provides the definitive word on upcoming trends and technical advances in the cable telecommunications industry.
The SCTE's conference will take place today through Wednesday in New Orleans. There, keynote speaker Daniel Burrus, author of Technotrends
and founder and CEO of Burrus Research Associates Inc., will offer his forecast for the broadband industry, while moderated panel sessions explore node sizing, content-on-demand, home networking and the many opportunities-and obstacles-that lie ahead for the broadband industry.
The keynote presentation will be on Tuesday. As a leading technology forecaster and futurist, Burrus specializes in studying innovations in science and technology and predicting the impact they'll have in the future. Over the past two decades, Burrus has established an exceptional record of accurate previews. During the conference, he will offer his most recent predictions.
In keeping with its training mandate, the SCTE also will provide tutorials on important current issues at this year's conference. These tutorials will allow for more in-depth coverage of evolving topics directly impacting the near-term future of the cable telecommunications industry.
The first tutorial begins today with Gerry White, chief technology officer for RiverDelta, speaking on the topic, "Traffic Engineering: How Do You Know How Much Bandwidth You Need?" During the tutorial, White will provide the guidelines for determining bandwidth needs. As Internet protocol-delivered services continue to advance into cable's broadband networks, so does the need for hands-on information about how to model and anticipate bandwidth usage.
In the already slender 5- to 40-Megahertz upstream signal path, for example, services including high-speed data already join impulse pay-per-view for carriage. Introducing both constant bit rate and IP-styled voice and telephony services not only requires room, but also a clean ride. On the horizon are a myriad of interactive TV applications that require a real-time, two-way link. Where's the starting point to develop a useful model? Is there such a thing as a "data erlang?" How will these services best coexist in a multi-services, IP environment? White's tutorial will answer all of these questions, offering a methodology to help you model bandwidth needs.
Also speaking today is Michael Adams, vice president of network engineering for Time Warner Cable, addressing the current hot topic, "Planning for Multiple IP Deployment." This tutorial will focus on the technical challenges and solutions to providing cable modem customers with a choice of Internet service provider.
Adams will talk about numerous challenges, including a modified Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) provisioning model, a modified approach to packet routing and changes to the operational and business support systems. He also will discuss solutions still in development, including policy-based routing, multi-protocol label switching and others.
In addition to the tutorials, the conference will feature cutting-edge panel sessions and speakers. As program chairman, I feel privileged to have been assisted by an energetic group of industry experts in preparing the technical sessions and gathering the best and brightest to participate in this event. Their vast experience, important industry contacts and seasoned judgment facilitated the selection of a first rate technical program. We selected topics and speakers that we agreed would provide attendees with knowledge and insights critical to understanding the concepts soon to direct the growth of the broadband industry over the next two years.
One Tuesday session will examine the issue of node sizing. The cost of construction and maintenance of outside plant remains the single largest capital expense for cable systems. During this session, panelists will present and defend their views on optimal node sizing and strategies for future node management providing attendees with a chance to consider contrasting positions on node development.
Another session will be focusing on content-on-demand (COD)-the ultimate in customer choice and control. This session will explain the methods for achieving COD, including network architectures for personalized channels, streaming by IP or Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG), securing content and unbelievable headend technologies.
Currently, home network designs are as plentiful as the number of devices that can be networked. Copper pair, coax, power line and wireless options, each with its own long list of potential standards and options, are vying to link up TVs, cable modems, phones, stereos, DVD players, refrigerators and even toasters.
What's the most sensible method for cable? What can't be overlooked? What's the status of cable-installed in-home networks, and how will this unfold over the next three-to-five years? Our panel on Wednesday will address home networking choices, as well as the pros and cons, security methods and future directions of each.
Finally we'll focus on how new technologies provide us with challenges, both of a technical nature and within the competitive arena. Challenges also can give us opportunities to excel in the delivery of new products. This session will look at some of these new products and investigate where the opportunities can be found for the cable television industry, and from where competitive threats may come. The panel for this session will examine the impact of personal video recording devices, multiple Internet service provider carriage, home gateways, information appliances and other issues.
Clearly, there is much at stake in the attempt to forecast technology and this year's Conference on Emerging Technologies will help arm attendees and help them defend against aggressive competitors who attempt to lure away subscribers.
Walter Ciciora is founder, executive vice president and chief technical officer for EnCamera Sciences Corp and program subcommittee chair for the Conference on Emerging Technologies 2001.
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