Six weeks after their two respective organizations agreed to merge, the heads of CableLabs and SCTE/ISBE are gearing up to speed the development and deployment of new cable technologies, applications and services.
Speaking Thursday on an SCTE/ISBE LiveLearning webinar produced by Light Reading, CableLabs President and CEO Phil McKinney and SCTE/ISBE President and CEO Mark Dzuban said the merger will hasten the pace of cable tech innovation and development by joining the science side of the industry (CableLabs) with the execution side (SCTE/ISBE). They ticked off a number of areas where they expect to make that happen, including cable's ambitious "10G" quest, the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs, wireless networks, fixed-wireless convergence, latency levels, 4K/8K video and support for lightfield displays and telehealth services.
The merger discussions "focused on two objectives: effectiveness and efficiency," McKinney said. "Effectiveness meaning higher impact, more impact, more breadth, as we see some of the technology changes coming into the industry but also efficiency – take that time out, compress that timeframe so that the pace of the innovations coming into the market can meet the needs of the members."
The union of the two main cable tech organizations, which effectively turned the smaller SCTE/ISBE into a subsidiary of the larger CableLabs on January 1, comes as the industry seeks to shed its old image as a legacy provider of traditional video and data services over coaxial cable lines. With increasingly aggressive moves into fiber and wireless networks, PON technologies, IP video and network virtualization, among others, cable now bears increasingly less resemblance to the industry of a generation or two ago.
Focus on '10G'
In particular, cable leaders are pinning their hopes on "10G," their label for a new, network-agnostic platform designed to deliver multi-gig symmetrical speeds, enhanced security and lower latency levels over a combination of hybrid fiber/coax (HFC), fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and wireless networks. As a result, they are aiming to ramp up the development and deployment of that next-gen platform over the next few years.
"Our objective is to bring 10G to life," Dzuban said, repeating his mantra from previous talks on the subject. "10G is going to be a highly valued product."
Pressed for examples of potential 10G applications by Light Reading Senior Editor Jeff Baumgartner, who moderated the session, Dzuban and McKinney cited "extreme live streaming" of music and dance events, telehealth sessions between doctors and patients, multiple IoT devices in the home, 4K/8K video, lightfield displays and holographic imaging, among other things. They noted that, due at least in part to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, work on all these applications has accelerated.
"I think we're further down the road with a lot of these applications" than many people think, said Dzuban, predicting that "life will not be the same" in a post-pandemic world. McKinney concurred: "Does life go back to pre-COVID? I don't think so."
The road to DOCSIS 4.0 and fixed/mobile convergence
Focusing on DOCSIS 4.0, the next-gen broadband specs from CableLabs that's a key part of the 10G initiative, McKinney said both silicon makers and device manufacturers are now working on products to support the new technology. While he declined to offer any new timetables for D4.0 product testing and development, he noted that SCTE is already creating early training sessions for engineers about the spec. Dzuban added that SCTE/ISBE is now working with vendors on crafting the "piece parts" for DOCSIS 4.0, such as "the housing and infrastructure pieces."
Although some industry analysts and other experts have questioned whether cable operators will universally deploy DOCSIS 4.0 because of the expected high network upgrade costs, Mckinney and Dzuban downplayed those concerns. They noted that COVID-19 has already shown the need for both more downstream and upstream capacity on broadband networks as hundreds of millions of people have worked and schooled from home.
"I think you'll see DOCSIS 4.0 get traction around some of these new use cases," McKinney said, referring to the potential 10G applications cited earlier. "I think you'll see very specific applications that will drive DOCSIS 4.0." Dzuban agreed: "I look at DOCSIS 4.0 as a key arrow in our quiver."
On the wireless front, McKinney said Wi-Fi, CBRS and mobile in general are now "becoming very important for the industry" as cable operators seek to expand the reach of their wired networks with "edge-out" strategies and deliver fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services over unified networks. He noted that half of CableLabs' global members are also mobile operators.
Questioned about the two major annual industry events that the two groups host – namely, CableLabs' new 4Front conference in June and SCTE/ISBE's long-running Cable-Tec Expo in the fall – Dzuban and McKinney said they will continue to run as separate events because they are "complementary" conferences serving different purposes and audiences.
In one change, though, the leaders plan to ramp up Cable-Tec Expo into a bigger, hybrid, global event using the digital tools developed for last fall's virtual Cable-Tec Expo conference.
- SCTE/ISBE members greenlight CableLabs merger
- CableLabs, SCTE/ISBE ink letter of intent to combine
- Cable-Tec Expo: 10G-compatible network delivers holographic stream
- Cox's Kevin Hart to chair Cable-Tec Expo 2021
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading