What's Next for CableLabs

Now that CableLabs has let go a good chunk of its staff, it plans to go on a hiring binge as it shifts its focus to long-term "innovation" projects this year.

In an interview with Light Reading on Tuesday afternoon, CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney revealed plans to hire "probably a dozen and a half" new tech specialists over the next "six to nine months" as the cable industry's R&D house places greater priority on longer-term cable-related "innovation" projects. He then plans to add more employees after that once he re-assesses the organization's manpower needs.

"We'll do an initial push and then hold back some of that money," said McKinney, a former HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) executive who was hired by CableLabs three and a half years ago to carry out an innovation agenda. "There's no way we'll be able to build the innovation pipeline" right away.

The planned hiring spree will come after CableLabs released 27 staffers, or about 15% of its total workforce, last Friday in the organization's biggest internal shakeup ever. McKinney said the move, part of a restructuring plan unanimously approved by the CableLabs board in November, was made to "free up head count" and additional resources for the group's fresh focus on innovation research projects that are three years to eight years out, rather than one to three years out. (See CableLabs Shifts Focus, Cuts Staff .)

With this shift in emphasis, McKinney said CableLabs will devote about half of its annual $55 million tech budget to these longer-term projects. The other half of the budget will continue to be spent on its traditional, shorter-term projects, such as the current testing and approval of DOCSIS 3.1 products. Just last week, for example, CableLabs announced the certification of the first five D3.1 cable modems. (See CableLabs Certifies First D3.1 Modems.)

Asked which areas will see increased focus under his innovation agenda, McKinney ticked off high-speed data, wireless, SDN, NFV, security, IoT and business services. In other media interviews, he has also cited next-generation video technologies and cable's role in healthcare technologies. He said the new innovation team will explore questions like: "What does that look like five years from now?" and "What work do we need to do now?"

Besides boosting its spending on tech specialists dedicated to innovation projects, CableLabs plans to build a prototype lab in its Silicon Valley offices in Sunnyvale, Calif. McKinney said this lab will help push prototypes of new cable technologies out into the market sooner, rather than wait for tech vendors to develop them. In addition, CableLabs intends to step up its co-funding of longer-term research projects by several universities.

"Today we're very dependent on vendors," he said. "The key to the innovation game is you've got to get out there fast and fail fast."

Despite the staff layoffs last week and the organization's new hiring plans, McKinney does not intend to make any changes in his tech executive team at CableLabs. From CTO Ralph Brown on down, he said the "core people" will continue carrying out their current responsibilities.

Mckinney also emphasized that the new wave of consolidation among cable operators will not impact CableLabs' annual budget, which now totals about $70 million. He noted that the organization's 55 MSO members pay a fixed percentage of their gross revenues in annual dues. So, even if several of its members combine into bigger entities, CableLabs' funding should not be impacted because the total member revenues should stay the same.

Light Reading CEO and Founder Steve Saunders recently conducted a video interview with McKinney about CableLabs' priorities going forward. Stay tuned for that interview on our site as well.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

nasimson 1/30/2016 | 6:06:29 AM
Re: OTT will eat cable Thank you jbtombes. You're right. What I meant was DocSys. Thanks for making it explicit.
mendyk 1/27/2016 | 12:08:29 PM
Golden Rule 2.0 "The key to the innovation game is you've got to get out there fast and fail fast." Thanks for the laugh, Alan. This one almost knocked me out of my chair.
jbtombes 1/26/2016 | 6:58:33 PM
Re: OTT will eat cable Hello? The cable industry is 20 years old? The first cable system in the US was built around 1948, so you're off by about 50 years. Maybe you're thinking DOCSIS? The first version was released in 1997, so you'd be closer to the mark there.
nasimson 1/24/2016 | 7:17:04 AM
OTT will eat cable Cable a 20 year old industry desperately needs some innovation. Not incremental or peacemeal but radical. Otherwise OTT will continue to eat it, just it has been eating it.
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