Cable Tech

CableLabs looks outward with '4Front' event

Indicating that there are plenty of other events that sing to the cable choir, CableLabs has announced plans to host a cross-industry event next year that will focus on the future of multiple facets of technology, including gaming, artificial intelligence, sustainability, healthcare, automotive and security.

The future path of broadband, of course, will be part of the mix, too. However, the focus there will be on a grander convergence underway that will blend wired and wireless technologies and tie into the cable industry's own "10G" initiatives that envision symmetrical 10 Gbit/s speeds over multiple types of access networks.

That event, called 4Front, is set for June 23-24 at the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Denver.

CableLabs hopes to draw about 1,500 people to a new cross-industry event to be held next June in Denver.
CableLabs hopes to draw about 1,500 people to a new cross-industry event to be held next June in Denver.

The broader idea behind 4Front is to be "outward facing" and to create and establish an event that involves not just the cable industry but multiple industries, Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, explained.

Noting that the cable industry still has plenty of "inward-facing" forums focused on that industry, including the SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo, McKinney said this week's CableLabs Summer Conference in Keystone, Colo., will be the final one of its kind. CableLabs stopped hosting its annual Winter Conference a couple of years ago. Removing those CableLabs-run events will make room for 4Front, McKinney said.

Another big change with 4Front is that it will be open to the public (comparatively, the CableLabs Winter and Summer conferences were largely limited to CableLabs members and the vendor community). CableLabs hopes to draw about 1,500 people to the inaugural 4Front event next year.

As host, CableLabs and its partners are forming the agenda for 4Front, aiming to invite futurists, thought leaders and representatives from technologies across a wide range of industries to keynote and be on panels. Early on, some leaders from the cable industry are already on board to speak, including McKinney; Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA -- The Internet & Television Association; and Tom Rutledge, chairman and CEO of Charter Communications.

4Front also won't feature a vendor hall or a tech stadium but will cover four tracks/themes: Live (healthcare), Learn (education), Work (collaboration tech) and Play (entertainment, gaming, etc.).

"We want the vendors to participate on equal footing with the members of other industries," McKinney said. "To have the impact on these futures, we need to come together and we need to collaborate. We're the host... We don't want [4Front] to come across as a CableLabs event."

4Front also follows collaboration work CableLabs has conducted with the healthcare industry. About six years ago, CableLabs was asked to help the healthcare industry create an organization to help establish interoperability for the devices and systems that serve healthcare. That work led to the creation of The Center for Medical Interoperability (CMI) in Nashville, Tenn. Ed Miller, a former CableLabs exec, is now CTO of CMI, and retired former CableLabs President and CEO Dr. Richard Green is on the CMI board.

"We're not saying we want to create a CableLabs for every industry," McKinney said. "We think some industries are very well established... but staying sheltered and thinking you can do everything within some kind of bubble is so restrictive to the ability to drive innovation."

More collaboration
Timed with the announcement about 4Front, CableLabs also released the fourth in its series of "Near Future" videos, which attempt to look out three to eight years.

Following earlier ones focused on applications for gigabit broadband (2016), how technologies like remote healthcare can help the aging population remain at home (2017) and the impacts of tech on education (2018), this year's Near Future film focuses on how new and emerging technologies such as AI, location-based data and augmented reality will drive collaboration.

"It's about bringing all the technologies together to create a seamless environment to collaborate," McKinney said, noting that CableLabs itself does about 270 hours of Zoom meetings per day.

This collaboration also extends to access networks as mobile and wireless technologies increasingly converge with wireline networks. "Today, wireless is our largest research area," McKinney said, noting that about half of CableLabs' members are mobile network operators. "We spend more on wireless than we do any other technology today."

Here's this year's video:

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner 8/6/2019 | 5:04:04 PM
A dose of deja vu? Pretty interesting move by CableLabs and I'll be looking forward to attending next year and seeing and learning about what's what. My guess is they'll have a very good show out of the chute and time will tell if they can sustain that momentum.

As I gave it more thought, I had almost forgotten that this look outward idea isn't entirely new for the cable industry, even if it's somewhat new to the way CableLabs is thinking about events.

It wasn't that long ago when NCTA rebranded The Cable Show as INTX: The Internet Television & Expo and tried to get lots of outside industry participation. It was an interesting long shot, but NCTA ultimately decided in the fall of 2016 to sunset its annual event.

Later, in 2017, NCTA and other trade groups got behind another event, called The Near Future, held in Washington, DC, that shares some similarities with this new 4Front event, down to the Live, Learn, Work, & Play themes....and had some participation from some non-direct or adjacent cable types, like Google, the Mayo Clinic, IBM. In fact, McKinney did mention to me that the 2017 event (which was a lot smaller than the 1,500 people being targeted by 4Front), was a prototype of sorts for what 4Front will be.   JB

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