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Cable Tech

Reliability: A keystone in the post-pandemic world

The cable industry, and humanity as a whole, has faced a year unlike any other during the modern telecommunications era. Since March 2020, our robust telecommunications infrastructure eased some of the frustration of the dramatic changes we all experienced, provided the infrastructure for our new, largely virtual lives, and amplified how dependent the modern world has become on technology. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also sped up progress in the broadband sector, bringing us closer to the promises of 10G and sharpening focus on the critical role connectivity plays in our everyday lives.

Throughout the course of 2020, cable broadband providers needed to evaluate, change and accelerate the pace of innovation and network optimizations. In response, providers upgraded, hardened and positioned access network technologies, one of our industry's core assets. This push to advance existing infrastructure will have important impacts on what is possible in the future.

With their vast reach, cable broadband providers are in a unique position to enable their subscribers to rise to the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic and innovate in response. The next societal game changer is probably residing in the mind of a cable subscriber this very moment, and with the right broadband network conditions, it can be brought to life.

The importance of reliability

The 10G platform and its four pillars – greater speed, capacity, reliability and security – are the perfect ingredients to pave the way for technological innovation and new immersive experiences. While all four attributes are interwoven and important, reliability is the one that stands out as essential to this game-changing platform.

Reliability is the foundational pillar on which the others can build. If the network is consistently causing anxiety and stress for subscribers, then we are falling short. When I think about the importance of a reliable network, my mind goes to my 95 year-old grandfather who remains in good enough mental and physical conditions to allow him to continue to live independently in his own home. Anyone with older relatives understands the concerns they face: What do I do if I fall in my home and need care? How can I ease the worry of my family when I am alone for much of the day? Connectivity and today's technology offer solutions to address many of these concerns, but they all depend on the reliability of the network.

Our in-home experiences must be as reliable as the water coming out of the kitchen sink. And while the complexities of operating large broadband networks are significant, we have the ability to leverage and even create technology to simplify the management of networks and prepare to offer enhanced reliability now. With increased availability of statistics coming from the network, operators can leverage this vast amount of data to learn from and react to adverse changes at an amazing pace. The new knowledge and advanced way of examining performance is referred to as proactive network maintenance. The proactive approach can help address issues before they turn into large outages.

Planning for reliability

The primary threat to reliability is loss of power. Howsoever this loss of power arises, it obviously inhibits the ability to serve the subscriber. Despite being out of our control, environmental unknowns like hurricanes, fires and earthquakes present one of the greatest risks. Proper planning for service disruptions of this nature, however, is within our control and should be completed long before the next big threat bears down on a region.

The best way to prepare for and address these risks is through the development of a rigorous business continuity plan. By conducting exercises that walk through scenarios and create plans for reacting to conditions resulting from the incident, the industry can better prepare to provide the high level of reliability that is required for today's digital environment. These drills force us to ask and answer questions such as: How much battery backup should we have on that node? How prepared is the supply chain for replacing network equipment and what is the lead time from the vendor? Do we know where key service level agreements are in our high-risk geographical footprints? Where we depend on external partners for support, what are their disaster response plans in the face of similar challenges?

Formulating answers to these and other timely questions in the form of a business continuity plan or playbook can be one of the cornerstones to increasing reliability as we push toward 10G. SCTE•ISBE's ANSI-accredited standards body published an operation practice that provides a good framework (SCTE 206) for cable broadband providers to use when crafting, refining and documenting their own plan.

In closing, the 10G platform will continue to develop over time, but the work we do as an industry to build a framework for the platform is underway now. It is essential that as the infrastructure is developed, the industry continues to embrace the reliability cornerstone and not lose sight of its important role in life enhancing (and sometimes live extending) technologies. As we begin to emerge from the other side of the pandemic, it is encouraging to see the investment the industry has made to advancing necessary infrastructure during this challenging time while also investing in fresh approaches to what were everyday activities.

Derek DiGiacomo is Senior Director of Energy Management Programs & Business Continuity for SCTE•ISBE, the not-for-profit membership organization leading the acceleration and deployment of cable technology. For more information, visit www.scte.org.

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