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Tech Minds Troll NCTA Floor

Chicago -- Just what attracts the attention of your garden-variety
cable-technology guru on the National Show floor?

Everything from cable-ready TVs and HDTV to the media circus surrounding
Michael Jackson, it turns out.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association arranged a tour
Monday afternoon for the press and a band of top MSO technology whizzes,
including Chris Bowick, Cox Communications Inc.'s senior vice president for
engineering and chief technical officer; Dallas Clement, Cox's senior VP of
strategy and development; Dave Fellows, Comcast Corp.'s executive VP and CTO;
Mark Coblitz, Comcast's senior VP of strategic planning; and Kevin Leddy, Time
Warner Cable's senior VP of strategy and development.

With a gaggle of trade press trailing alongside, the group herded into
several vendor booths, seeing switched-broadcast products from BigBand Networks
Inc., Vonage DigitalVoice's Internet-phone offering and video-on-demand systems
from SeaChange International Inc., among others.

Bowick assembled a checklist of the technologies he was interested in,
including television sets with built-in digital-set-top-box functions at the
Panasonic Consumer Electronics booth.

The sets -- equipped with point-of-deployment interfaces for cable
conditional-access cards -- are part of a wave of one-way cable-ready products
emerging from the recent "plug-and-play" agreement signed between the NCTA and
top electronics manufacturers earlier this year and a first step toward
digital-cable-TV devices available at retail.

"When those things start hitting the market later this year and around
Christmas, we've got to be ready," Bowick said.

Fellows, meanwhile, said he had set aside time in his show activities to
simply wander into booths unannounced and see the technologies on display.

Among other things, he was attracted to technologies that supported a unified
Internet-protocol platform to deliver voice, video and data -- an idea posited
by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates earlier that day in the opening

"I need all of my stuff to be IP -- I don't know if it is the same kind of IP
Bill Gates is talking about," Fellows said as he viewed a display for Vonage.
"But I need all of my voice, video and data on one platform."

Pace Micro Technology plc's announcement about a low-cost digital-cable
adapter that can convert digital-video signals into analog for display on older
TV sets was also on the list for Coblitz "I need to see that," he said.

Digital-video-recorder systems that can shuttle from room to room and
switched-video technologies were on the to-do list for Clement.

Telephony was also of interest, but aside from voice-over-Internet displays
from the likes of Vonage and Net2Phone Inc., IP-voice technology was rather

Clement suggested that this had to do with the technology's point of
evolution. "The nice thing about it is that the technology for voice-over-IP is
pretty close," he said. "Now the question is: How to you go to market?"

A visit to the Motorola Inc. booth had some stopping to watch the media
circus surrounding "King of Pop" Michael Jackson's appearance nearby --
reminiscent of the glitzy celebrity appearances that marked National Shows of
the past.

Plastic-surgery decisions of the eccentric entertainer aside, Leddy
nevertheless said he was focusing on HD DVR products in Time Warner 's
Scientific-Atlanta Inc. systems.

"We're eager to roll that out once S-A gets it working," he said. "With HD
on-demand, we want to cater to the high-end customer who buys those HDTV