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SCTE New Technologies Show Draws More Attention
Western Show's Demise Fuels Higher ET Attendance, More Product Demos

FEBRUARY 01, 2005

By Alan Breznick, editor, Cable Digital News

Huntington Beach, California - New cable technology is a hot topic again, at least in engineering circles.

That much seemed evident during last month's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (SCTE) Emerging Technologies (ET) conference in Huntington Beach, CA. In a rare bounce for a cable industry show recently, the ET conference drew substantially more attendees for at least the third year in a row, despite taking place less than a week after the huge International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Show planners said the new cable technology confab drew 935 attendees, up 20% from the 782 people who attended in Dallas last year. Plus, show organizers said, the conference attracted 38% more attendees than the 2003 gathering in Miami Beach.

SCTE officials credit the higher ET attendance to a surge of interest in new cable technologies, standards and services, including voice-over-IP (VoIP), IP video, switched broadcasting, digital simulcasts, OpenCable, PacketCable Multimedia and mobile telephony. "It is clear after being surrounded by the brightest technologists and visionaries in our industry this week in Huntington Beach that enthusiasm for the future of broadband technology continues to mount,' said SCTE President & CEO John Clark in a prepared statement.

The demise of the Western Show appears to be a factor as well. For years a showcase for new cable technologies, the Western Show bowed out in Dec. 2003 because of plummeting attendance and exhibitors. So cable engineers lost their prime place to demonstrate, discuss and debate their new projects and achievements.

While there was still no exhibit floor at the ET show, several companies set up shop in adjoining hotel convention center rooms and suites to show off their latest technologies. Cisco Systems, Arroyo Video Solutions and Ciena all featured displays to demonstrate new products or prototypes.

Several tech vendors also timed product announcements for the show. Besides Arroyo and Ciena, the list includes OpVista, Xtend Networks, BigBand Networks, Narad Networks, Cedar Point Communications, Radiant Comunications and Paradigm Telecom. At the same time, C-COR played up its recent acquisitions and new strategic direction.

In the most ambitious effort at the show, Cisco executives held a morning breakfast for reporters and analysts and staged technical demonstrations and briefings in a separate suite to promote their proposed "wideband protocol" for DOCSIS. Using a prototype Linksys cable modem, they sought to show that their wideband concept could enable cable operators to deliver up to 640 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth using 256-QAM modulation, without any changes to the existing cable HFC plant (see separate story in this issue).

"It's certainly practical in the sense that it works," said John Mattson, director of Cisco's cable product business unit. "The wideband cable modem today is basically designed for the DOCSIS 2.0 modem with a little bit of extra silicon... This is first generation for this technology. We could be in 3 Gbps five years from now."

Cable Officials See Greater Broadband Competition Ahead
SCTE Panelists Eye Looming Threats from DSL, Telco Fiber Builds and Wireless

FEBRUARY 01, 2005

By Alan Breznick, editor, Cable Digital News

Despite their brazen boasts about broadband superiority and pointed putdowns of the phone companies' latest video plans, cable executives are definitely eyeing their rear-view mirrors these days.

That message came through loud and clear at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (SCTE) annual Emerging Technologies (ET) conference in Huntington Beach, CA last month. Cable engineers, consultants and tech vendors warned attendees that, despite several false starts over the past two decades, the phone companies really are committed to competing with cable in the video market this time around. Moreover, they said, the phone companies may finally have the means to carry out their long-stated ambitions.

David Reed, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of CableLabs, said the regional Bells seem deadly serious about using a mix of advanced DSL systems, costly fiber network builds and new IPTV technology to match or even surpass cable's video offerings. He argued that the phone companies, driven by the need to protect their core voice business and generate fresh revenues, will plunge into video even if they don't see it as a very profitable venture.

"The telcos view it (video) as a competitive necessity," Reed said. "They may choose to enter [the market] on a breakeven basis to compete with cable and maintain the viability of their other services."

Reed noted that SBC Communications, BellSouth Corp. and others are investing heavily in ADSL2+ technology, largely so they can move into the video business. He also noted that some of the Bells are shortening the length of their copper loops to boost the capacity of the rest of their networks. "It is now video-over-DSL that is driving a lot of the strategic planning at the telcos," he said.

While Reed doesn't view video-over-DSL as a "disruptive" economic force due to DSL's relatively high cost, he believes that the phone companies won't stop there. In particular, he thinks that they will try to seize the technological edge with IPTV technology and all-fiber and mostly-fiber networks, thanks in part to the declining cost of these new technologies.

"I anticipate that the telcos will try to use IPTV to leapfrog cable," he said. "The emergence of IPTV is certain, although the timing and exact [business] model are not."

Other show speakers agreed. "Competition will intensify over the next 24 to 36 months," stated panel moderator Anthony Werner, senior vice president and CTO of Liberty Media Corp. Although he, Reed and other speakers contended that cable will ultimately triumph because it has the best technology and infrastructure, they urged the industry not to be complacent.