Back to the Future

Chances are you're reading this -- my first blog post for Light Reading -- on your iPad, Android, or maybe a Microsoft tablet, or possibly your smartphone. If you're slightly old school, then you're reading it on a laptop in the office or at home. Same content, so many different ways of accessing it.

All of which just illuminates how much technology has changed over such a short period of time -- or has it?

Ultimately, content may be managed in a digital environment from ingest to presentation for the majority of us, but there are still the relics of our past architectures out there. In the video world, we have rapidly moved from analog to MPEG-2, then some MPEG-4, and now HEVC (or H.265) is rearing its advanced codec head, all in the last 18 years. Yet there are still Motorola (I mean Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and S-A (there I go again, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) analog/digital set-tops out there that are in high demand by smaller operators, who are draining the last hertz from their analog bandwidth while reclaiming it for more HD or bonded DOCSIS 3.0 channel before upgrading to all-digital networks.

The plant really has not changed since the great rebuilds of the late 1990s, which shows the sustainability of the HFC architecture. We have learned to manage service groups as well as node splits. We have bonded DOCSIS channels for faster Internet speeds. Ultimately we have learned to manage the bandwidth between the headend or nodes and the home. We use analytics to manage our networks as well as our business, and this is reflected in the pricing and packages we offer our subscribers.

We also know that we don't want to be a dumb pipe for the Facebooks, Amazons and Netflixes to cruise along at max speed without paying a toll. So we are trying to refine business models to fit the new paradigms. As the old saying goes, "if you build it, they will come." The "they" in the saying applies to the websites and applications; the subscribers are automatic because they want to access those bandwidth-intensive sites and apps with their new wireless devices. (This is a future topic so stay tuned!)

When I worked at Continental Cable years ago and we were developing Highway 1, we spent a few days rotating between rooms covered in white boards discussing how we would build, operate, market, sell, and manage this new business. The big topic on the walls was the speed we would offer out the gate, and the statement heard most often was "who needs more than 1 Mbit/s?" Well, that 1 Mbit/s became 3, then 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 75, 100. And now some industry pioneers have even pushed north of 1Gbit/s! We have moved from proprietary technologies to DOCSIS 1.0 standards, then 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0 to reach those speeds. And we now have DOCSIS 3.1 in the works to achieve better spectral efficiency.

The moral of the story here, and the foundation for future articles, is that we have created very complex networks that ultimately deliver new and exciting applications, programming, and services. But we are still delivering the basic tenet of those SMATV systems of the 1950s and 1960s when cable was in its infancy, and that is an improved customer experience.

I am looking forward to writing future articles covering the areas mentioned above, as well as others looking at where we as an industry are going. I'm also looking forward to the conversations with those who will reach out to discuss further and/or challenge my opinions. I have truly learned something new every day in this industry and I look forward to many more days of learning -- I hope to help you learn something new too!

— Bob Hunt, Principal/Strategic Advisor, BroadbandBuzz

albreznick 10/14/2013 | 7:33:50 PM
Re: Change, change, change Good point, Dan. Cable operators often get told to change their old ways too. But I don't know if they get the same drumbeat of criticism about everything they are and do, like you say the telcos do. I wonder what Bob has to say about this.
DOShea 10/14/2013 | 2:07:24 PM
Change, change, change This may not be as true of the cable TV companies, but I know that telcos are constantly being told they need to change everything related to their networks, how they do business, how they treat their customers. We might sometimes ignore that many of them have had good--even progressive--intentions all along, or that at least they knew they needed to change before we told them so.
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