ATLANTA — Michael Powell loves the idea of Docsis 3.1. He just hates the name.
Powell, the president and CEO of National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , urged cable technologists to jettison the Docsis 3.1 moniker for cable's next-gen broadband spec Tuesday. Speaking here during the opening general session of Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) 's Cable-Tec Expo show, he said the cable industry needs a much sexier name and a snazzy logo for D3.1 to promote its faster transmission speeds and greater broadband capacity in a hotly competitive climate increasingly defined by Google Fiber Inc. and mobile LTE pitches.
"We need to own this thing and sell this thing with passion and commitment," he said. "We’re in a 4G and 5G world… We need to sell this thing to consumers."
In his wide-ranging question-and-answer session with Cox Communications Inc. CTO and Executive Vice President Kevin Hart, Powell didn't suggest a better name for Docsis 3.1, which CableLabs has just about finished crafting in record time. (See Docsis 3.1 Spec Out in Time for Halloween.) But Hart's boss, Cox President Pat Esser, had a ready answer when the next opening panel began.
"Maybe we'll call it 'Powell Broadband,' " Esser quipped. "Michael would like that."
During his time on stage, Powell also urged cable operators to move faster, take more risks, and push harder to innovate. Although the industry has notably quickened the pace of innovation and become more competitive in the two years since he took over the NCTA reins, he said, more needs to be done.
"Our industry has historically been a little conservative, a little slow on the swing, a little scared to take risks," he said. "I think sometimes we're slow on the uptake."
The former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman warned that the cable industry faces its toughest competition yet from the likes of such tech heavyweights as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Facebook , Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and the like. When he looks up Capitol Hill from his Washington office, he said, he sees "an army mobilizing" of the richest, smartest, most tech-savvy companies "ready to charge" at cable. "I don't know one tech company that doesn't want in on our stuff."
Despite this heightened competition, Powell said he still likes cable's prospects, in large part because of such newer technologies as Docsis 3.0, Docsis 3.1, and cable WiFi. For instance, he said he doesn't worry about Google Fiber's 1 Gbit/s symmetrical speeds too much because cable operators can already come close to matching those speeds with D3 and will be able to exceed those rates with D3.1.
"I don’t get too flustered about 1Gig or Google Fiber," he said. With Docsis 3.1 capable of supporting downstream speeds as high as 10 Gbit/s and upstream speeds as high as 2 Gbit/s, he noted, "we're there and beyond."
While he has his doubts about whether Google Fiber will become a genuine nationwide broadband competitor for cable, Powell has no doubts that the bar for broadband speeds will keep soaring. With US MSOs like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) now offering 505 Mbit/s downstream speeds, he noted that the bar was set at 300 Mbit/s just a year ago and 100 Mbit/s just two years ago.
"Growing broadband speed and capacity is the reality of the world," he said. "We'll have to geometrically increase capacity… In our lifetimes, 10 Gigs will be the Holy Grail."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading