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Cable-Tec Focuses on Wireless, Fiber Future

ORLANDO, FLA.—For a cable engineering event, the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2012 has a lot of wireless technology on its agenda. And in an industry generally steered by the halfdozen giant multisystem operators (MSOs), the conference’s keynote focus on mid- and small-sized firms seems unusual. Moreover, the general themes of “Digital Networked Home” and “Digital Video 2.0” suggest an event far beyond the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ traditional mantra, “All engineering, all the time.”

Cable-Tec Expo 2012 is expected to attract more than 10,000 attendees and about 400 exhibitors.

Daniel Howard, SCTE’s chief technical officer and senior vice president of engineering, explains why the spotlight is on such topics during the event, which takes place at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Oct. 17-19.

“The ability of cable operators to offer wireless services within the house has already emerged as a major opportunity,” Howard says, adding that every session and workshop “is about new services that cable operators are offering.

“It’s about how the networks are being kept up-to-date and are able to deliver and manage new services,” he adds. With the growing use of streaming and on-demand services, much of Tec-Expo’s agenda looks at distribution challenges.

“Capacity management is geared to video because so much bandwidth is devoted to video,” Howard says. “Multiscreen applications drive more bandwidth needs… consumers will keep grabbing more data. Video resolutions will keep going up, and consumers will want more screens going simultaneously.” He says that SCTE’s awareness of this growing category prompted the group to beef up its Orlando workshop agenda to accelerate the training process and prepare field technicians for the changed environment.

Mark Dzuban, CEO/president of SCTE, points out that the expansion of tech topics beyond traditional cable themes reflects “the drive toward IP television.”

“We knew that the growth of applications and accessories was in the works,” he said. In tag-team fashion, Howard finishes the thought, noting that “It’s a lot easier when you have a broadband service provider set it up and manage the connectivity.” That’s the impetus behind the training centers that MSOs are setting up, Howard adds—and the reason for the extensive agenda on the topic at the Orlando conference and exhibit hall.

Howard contends that the WiFi sessions are both timely training and they also demonstrate “the stickiness of cable,” especially in relation to cable operators’ new needs to authenticate subscribers for services such as the new roaming data access options that MSOs are offering.

To augment the conference’s focus on such services, SCTE is running a one-day “Digital Home Symposium” just prior to the full program’s kickoff. The symposium will offer expert presentations and in-depth discussions on technologies, standards and operational processes in the “constantly evolving digital home.” It is intended for both cable system tech staffs and vendor workforces to help them create and implement multiplatform solutions.

As for the focus on smaller operators, including a keynote “Mid-Size Insights” panel on Expo’s opening day, Howard explains, “Mid-size systems are innovating,” sometimes more aggressively than big companies.

“The challenge to big companies is their inertia,” he says, noting that “Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable operators reach more than 10 million subscribers,” and they can often move faster to embrace technical upgrades “much more easily than the big guys.” At last year’s conference, the comparable opening panel consisted entirely of CTOs from large MSOs.

The show’s opening “Mid-Size Insights” session will examine “Challenges and Solutions” of operators, featuring viewpoints from top technical executives from Armstrong Communications, BendBroadband, Buckeye Cablevision and Massillon Cable TV/Clear Picture.

For the second consecutive year, Cable Tec-Expo features “Women in Technology,” during which senior female executives from Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cablevision systems will discuss the status of DOCSIS, the industry’s migration to all-IP, bandwidth/capacity, wireless, and connected devices.

The new emphasis on home networks within mid-sized companies’ strategies represents bigger visions for cable’s engineering employees. The conference includes an “innovation” keynote by entrepreneur/ inventor Dean Kamen (best known for his Segway scooter), whose remarks will include ideas about “Finding and Training the Next-Generation Cable Workforce and Energy in Cable Networks.”

Howard says that such topics reflect STCE’s response to what it sees as a shift in the fundamental technical needs of the industry. The conference organizers also recognized the value of a “new blood” approach. Howard cites “a new template” of topics “specifically to reach newer engineers who have just joined the industry.”

He points out that recent upgrades to industry architecture mean that, “It’s not just about HFC [hybrid fiber-coax] anymore. It’s about everything in the home going IP.

“We’re seeing a plethora of untethered devices and it’s not stopping,” he adds. “We have to feed data to all those products. It has an impact on the capacity of the network.”

SCTE is expected to attract more than 10,000 attendees, about the same size as last year. About 400 exhibitors will be on hand, also comparable to the 2011 event.

In keeping with the cable industry’s recent tradition, Cable Tec-Expo will overlap in Orlando with the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing’s (CTAM) Insight Conference and Summit programs (Oct. 14-16).

Cable Tec-Expo’s line-up of hands-on workshops is segmented into six major categories: Business Services, Capacity Management, Engineering, Smart Energy Management, Technical and Network Operations and Wireless.

“Every year, changes in technology, consumer expectations and the competitive landscape are raising the bar for cable engineering and operations professionals,” says Cable Tec-Expo Program Chair Jim Ludington, who is also executive vice president-National Network Operations and Engineering at Time Warner Cable. He characterizes the event as “the focal point for the training, new products and technology leadership that are helping the industry to maintain its competitive edge today.”

SCTE has been accelerating its “energy management” agenda for the past three years. In Orlando, sessions will look at sustainability issues affecting cable operations.

3DTV, which played a small role in recent years’ programs, will be almost invisible in Orlando.

“It is not getting the exponential mainstream growth that people expected,” Howard acknowledges. He believes that cable operators will see “3D showing up in visualization, from an operational perspective.”

As for other emerging technologies— again many of them beyond cable’s core technical realm—Howard cites conference presentations on advanced encoding (for security and radio frequency over glass (RFOG)), which puts RF signaling over fiber instead of coaxial copper. In a reflection on how the cable industry is changing, Howard notes that some systems are being encouraged by home builders, who are installing RFOG technology into newly constructed houses.

“One of the benefits of RFOG is that you can get a much longer reach, reducing the amount of equipment and the emerging demand,” Howard says, gazing into the future.

Summing up the objectives, as well as the implementation of this month’s Cable Tec-Expo, Howard concludes, “Expo is much more about operations and making sure that the network is capable of current and next-generation needs.”

For more information on the show, visit

Gary Arlen, a contributor to Broadcasting & Cable, NextTV and TV Tech, is known for his visionary insights into the convergence of media + telecom + content + technology. His perspectives on public/tech policy, marketing and audience measurement have added to the value of his research and analyses of emerging interactive and broadband services. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the long-time “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports; Gary writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs.