Cable Tackles Impending Energy Crisis

The cable industry has determined that its demand for power will outstrip capacity in five to 10 years, adding risk to its ability to grow the business. But right behind that comes the hard part: Doing something about it.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) SVP of Strategic Planning Mark Coblitz called on the cable industry to create a long-term energy plan on Thursday at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI) Forum in Philadelphia. His vision doesn't include the formation of yet another cable joint venture like Canoe Ventures LLC or PolyCipher LLC . (See Comcast's Strategy Chief Calls a Power Play .)

"I'm not convinced [the initiative] needs an organization at all," Coblitz said in an interview with reporters following his keynote. Instead, he hopes MSOs, their suppliers, utility companies and even other types of network operators can get behind an idea that he hopes to implement over the next five to 10 years. There's no one person in charge of the effort, but Coblitz will be one of its top evangelists.

"It's more about a mindset," he said, noting that this isn't just about feeling good about being green, but about solving an issue that puts cable's future as a business at risk.

But cable organizations such as the SCTE, CableLabs and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) will all be pitching in on various elements, such as setting standards and specifications and turning energy management into bona fide business requirements. Having Comcast get the ball rolling automatically gives the effort some serious scale.

In a follow-up panel, MSOs and programming execs alike agreed that creating a common language and metrics for energy management and establishing best practices will be an important early step.

Without those baseline, common metrics, it's impossible to do apples-to-apples comparisons, noted Steve Bradley, director of engineering and sustainability at Cox Enterprises.

Blind cable with science
Coblitz also insists that "some actual science" and true innovation -- not just marginal improvements -- will be required to pull this off.

John Schanz, Comcast's EVP and chief network officer, likewise challenged vendors to come up with "breakthrough thinking," down to the chip level. "This is a big apple to chew on across the ecosystem," he said. And there's a good chance that vendors will take heed -- Schanz, after all, is the guy at Comcast who's buying all this equipment.

And cable, Coblitz said, faces a challenge that the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) don't, even with their power-hungry data centers. Comcast has data centers, too, but they can be repositioned to areas that can provide adequate power. Comcast's massive (and local) access networks and their thousands of hubs and nodes don't have that luxury.

Coblitz likened this crisis to the one that cable identified with IPv6. Comcast, he said, predicted with good accuracy that IPv4 addresses would run out in 2011 or 2012, when it made the transition to a strategic imperative in 2004. Comcast saw IPv4's address depletion as a potential growth-killer based on the surge of IP-connected devices Comcast anticipated seeing join its broadband network down the road. It was that sort of thinking that also pushed CableLabs to include IPv6 as a required ingredient in Docsis 3.0 gear.

Comcast's migration to IPv6 didn't happen overnight, and Coblitz believes cable's energy crisis won't be solved that quickly, either. "This isn't going to be done in 2014. ... This isn't about instant gratification," he said.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

gconnery 12/5/2012 | 5:39:00 PM
re: Cable Tackles Impending Energy Crisis

... would be to eliminate the need for cable STBs by working with the consumer electronics industry to define standards that would allow TVs to support cable TV, including VOD, without the need for an external STB.

If a typical dual tuner DVR consumes 40 Watts (whether "on" or not) and there are 46 Million digital cable customers in the US, then eliminating those STBs would save some 1,840 Megawatts.  Or something like two nuclear power plants worth of power.

Of course they won't do this because they're not serious.  They'd like to save energy to save themselves money but they wouldn't give up an ounce of control to accomplish the goal.

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