Video services

SCTE Hires CTO to Help Fill Cable's IP Void

The cable industry is still learning the language of IP, so it may not be a huge surprise to see one of its key engineering organizations turn to someone who's fluent in the technology for some much-needed help.

That someone is Daniel Howard, appointed today as the first chief technology officer of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) . And he's being brought on to help the industry not just get smarter about IP, but also help operators get prepared to migrate all services, including video, to the platform. (See SCTE Hires a CTO .)

But why does the SCTE, the cable industry's 27-year-old standards-setting body, require a CTO now?

Mark Dzuban, who took the helm of the Society in early 2009, says the organization needed to put someone in that spot in part to help fill the industry's knowledge gap on IP and, more generally, "to get us to the next level of technological skills as an engineering society." (See Dzuban's the Man.)

The SCTE announced in February that its CTO search was underway. According to Dzuban, the organization, along with its MSO CTO advisory council, looked at more than 200 candidates before the SCTE offered the job to Howard. (See SCTE Seeks a CTO.)

Dzuban says one of Howard's tasks coming in is to beef up the industry's IP knowledge beyond the basic "plumbing" and help the industry get ready to deploy and scale everything from IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technologies to IP video and IP trunking at national, regional, and local levels. He's also coming on board as US operators start to test IPTV and begin to make preparations for its inevitable widescale adoption. (See TWC Taps Microsoft Mediaroom for IPTV Test , SCTE Expo: MSOs Prep IPTV Push , and Comcast Forges 'Excalibur' for IPTV.)

"A lot of the integration is going to drive out costs, so it looks pretty clear to us that the IP domain is going to be critical in the forward-looking network," Dzuban says, noting that maintaining the industry's hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) knowledge base "is still important."

The SCTE believes it has landed an IP specialist in Howard, a broadband vet who has institutional and real-world experience with the technology. Howard is credited as a co-author for the CableLabs Docsis 1.1 and 2.0 specs, and while at Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) was a lead inventor on the chipmaker's primary Docsis 3.0 patent.

Howard joined Broadcom via the company's $136 million acquisition of Digital Furnace Corp. in 2002. Digital Furnace, a startup that was based in Atlanta, developed a software-based product called "Propane" that tripled the upstream bandwidth capacity of Docsis cable modem chipsets.

More recently, Howard was CTO of digital video monitoring specialist VQLink Inc. and a systems architect for Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). He started his career as a senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and co-founded its Broadband Telecom Center.

Howard, who started his new gig Monday, says his top priority is developing IP training programs that will help the industry and its stable of engineers "transition their understanding of the HFC network to the modern world of IP everywhere."

He'll also be working on best practices for IP implementation and play a big role in developing a new tech-oriented journal for the Society. He also sees a need to get the industry's measurement and performance practices up to snuff as it continues to embrace IP-based services.

By way of example, he notes that the industry's existing test gear was initially ill-equipped to handle S-CDMA, an upstream-boosting modulation scheme that became part of Docsis 2.0 in 2002 but is only just now starting to get some field attention from domestic cable operators. (See S-CDMA Gets a Sponsor and Moto Preaches Cable's Upstream Savior .)

He says it took some time to get the test-and-measurement firms in-line with new firmware and new products for S-CDMA. But he thinks such problems can be avoided with new services, such as IP video, if the SCTE gives more attention to test and measurement well ahead of deployment phases.

"That's an area I think SCTE is particularly well suited to implement," Howard says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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