Convergence occurring 'at an unprecedented pace,' NCTA's new CTO says

Wired broadband, spectrum sharing, AI, cybersecurity and the prospects for 6G technology are among the areas of focus for Dr. Rikin Thakker, the new CTO of the NCTA.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

August 11, 2023

5 Min Read
Convergence occurring 'at an unprecedented pace,' NCTA's new CTO says
Prior to joining the NCTA in May 2023, Dr. Rikin Thakker was CTO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.(Source: NCTA)

Policies, regulations and standards governing video and broadband remain vitally important to the "cable" industry. But the cable industry is now keeping close tabs on other critical areas that weave into the broader telecommunications sector as cable operators move rapidly into mobile and wireless and explore ways to fully converge their networks and services.

Meanwhile, those same operators must also get engaged with standards and policies focused on new and emerging categories such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI).

That's all to say that Dr. Rikin Thakker has more than his fair share of things to monitor and engage with as he gets settled in as the new chief technology officer and SVP, technology, at the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.

And Thakker's background in both wireless and wireline makes a good fit for an industry that is moving in both directions and, specifically on the wireless front, more eager than ever to explore the use of spectrum-sharing in additional bands.

Thakker most recently served as CTO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, where he worked and advised on issues such as 5G deployment, private networks, spectrum allocation and the Wi-Fi and 3GPP standards. He is also a member of the FCC's Technological Advisory Council (TEC), serves on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) and is an active participant in the CBRS and 6G working groups.

Thakker, an exec who succeeds former long-time NCTA CTO William Check, said he has followed the NCTA's work and broader mission in his prior roles in the telecom industry.

"I was always amazed by the technical advancements this industry has produced and adopted, so I was very happy and glad that this opportunity came along," he said in a recent interview.

He's also been fascinated by the level of collaboration in cable. "It's unmatched. I haven't seen this in any other industry," Thakker said. "The members are unbelievably good in sharing their technical advancements with each other."

Thakker said he's also excited about the breadth and depth of technological advancements that he and his team will be monitoring at NCTA, including the industry's work on DOCSIS 4.0, its "10G" initiative, shared spectrum models and 5G and IoT technologies.

"But at the same time, convergence is happening at an unprecedented pace," he said.

Eye on spectrum sharing

For cable, that convergence is underway as operators, both large and small, add mobile and wireless services to their bundles and keep their eyes on other ways to utilize valuable wireless spectrum. Several US cable operators took advantage of the spectrum sharing aspects of the CBRS band, and there's interest in exploring that model in other bands.

"With respect to spectrum sharing, CBRS has definitely proven that it [spectrum sharing] can work ... That can work very well with some other bands as well," he said, citing discussions and interest in applying similar frameworks for the 3.1GHz-3.45GHz and 37GHz bands.

Monitoring cybersecurity, AI and 6G

Thakker said he'll also be monitoring how AI and cybersecurity regulations and standards as well as future 6G technologies intersect with the cable industry.

"Cybersecurity is another common denominator of view," Thakker said, citing the FCC's proposed IoT security labelling program as one example.

Meanwhile, AI technology is moving at a blistering pace. "If you blink, you miss something," Thakker said. "The regulatory framework [for AI] needs to be defined as well. But while we wait for that, I think we want to keep an eye on AI and understand, basically, some of the use cases that can be brought into our industry ... We are in a very early phase right now, so for now we are closely monitoring it."

Using AI as a network management and customer service tool have already emerged as AI use cases that have taken hold in the cable industry, he points out.

As for 6G, Thakker acknowledges that it's a standard and technology that's still several years out on the horizon, with current expectations that the first phase of the standard will be ready around 2030. Meanwhile, it's clear the industry still has not come close to getting all it can out of 5G.

But he's keeping an eye on 6G developments. In addition to sizing it up at the NCTA, he's been engaged on 6G via a working group at the FCC's Technological Advisory Council (TAC) that is exploring the kinds of applications and services 6G might unlock.

Making the rounds

In the near term, Thakker said he's making the rounds in the industry, meeting with member companies and their CTO offices and tech hubs and centers, and with industry organizations such as CableLabs and SCTE. He's also engaging with leadership at related industry organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and USTelecom. He also expects to get some face-time at the SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo this October in Denver and possibly moderate or participate in panels there.

"Another goal I've set for myself is to build the brand for the association by positioning NCTA as a thought leader when it comes to technology. I want to build that and work as the ambassador for the industry," he said. "The key here is fostering collaboration."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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