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IP protocols/software

Previewing the Cable Show

Oprah Winfrey. Paula Zahn. Dr. Jill Biden. Rahm Emanuel. Candy Crowley. David Axelrod. Ed Gillespie.

Even more than in previous years, the media and political luminaries are lining up to appear at this year's Cable Show, which starts on Tuesday, June 14. Maybe it has something to do with the show being held in Chicago for the first time in years. Or maybe it has to do with the presidential election next year. Or maybe it's just time for a little celebrity cable love.

Whatever the reason, it promises to be one of the livelier cable shows in years. Even Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts -- fresh from his demo of a cable application for the iPad in Los Angeles last spring -- plans to get in on the act again, by showing off Comcast's latest cable IP doodad.

Beyond the celebs and new gadget demos, cable executives will be grappling with some major issues this time around. So here, in no particular order, are some of the key points that we'll be tracking at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center.

IPv6 -- Now that World IPv6 Day has come and gone, it's time to see what lessons have been learned by the industry. Except for Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cox Communications Inc. , most cable operators don't seem to have made much progress in migrating from the fading IPv4 protocol to the new IPv6 protocol. With the clock ticking, it will be interesting to see how MSOs plan to pick up the pace. The show's opening IPv6 Summit should provide some answers.

IP Video -- No longer a bugaboo in cable land, IP video is now seen as the industry's salvation in an increasingly competitive environment of connected TVs, over-the-top (OTT) video providers and telco fiber builds. So far, we've seen some technical trials, iPad pilots and other fledgling initiatives by the likes of Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC). But when will the industry really shift into second or third gear on IP video? A Wednesday morning technical forum will hopefully offer some clues.

Multi-Screen Video -- Two years have now passed since Comcast and Time Warner announced their grand vision of a "TV Everywhere" future. Yet, with the notable exceptions of Comcast and Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), few MSOs have introduced major multi-screen ventures so far. Instead, they've largely dabbled and delayed as such chief rivals as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) have moved forward. Or, like Time Warner and Cablevision, they've focused almost exclusively on the iPad, not the other screens. Are content licensing rights proving to be a bigger hurdle than expected? Is the business model still lacking?

OTT Video -- Welcome to the new cable bugaboo. Such major Internet video providers as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), YouTube Inc. , Hulu LLC and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) scare the dickens out of cable operators with their ability to offer thousands of video titles over broadband links for low prices. But OTT represents an opportunity for MSOs to offer managed, higher-quality versions of these services. Realizing this, Suddenlink Communications just launched a Web video portal with plenty of OTT content for subscribers. Will other MSOs follow suit?

Cable Multimedia Gateways -- As part of the industry's migration to IP video, cable operators and vendors are now developing powerful home networking hubs to send voice, data and video signals around the home. Relying on the channel-bonding power of Docsis 3.0, these gateways will feed cable set-top boxes and other IP-connected devices. Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) and ZON Multimédia are planning D3 gateways in Europe, while Shaw Communications Inc. , Comcast and Time Warner Cable are exploring them in North America. But gateways are pricey devices that may prove tough to install en masse. Are they really the answer for most MSOs? Surprisingly, there will be no show panels directly addressing this subject, so we'll check out the exhibit floor buzz.

CMAP -- With Comcast and Time Warner Cable still loosely at odds over plans for the industry's proposed next-gen access architecture, several key equipment vendors have been getting cold feet about entering the market. In recent weeks, RGB Networks Inc. has pulled out, while Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) are hedging their bets. But CommScope Inc. , with its purchase of LiquidxStream Systems Inc. , and a Comcast-backed startup, Benu Networks LLC , are now jumping in. So it will be interesting to see how the vendor shuffle turns out. Also, if Comcast and Time Warner Cable do finally work out their differences, what will CMAP's new name be? A tech forum panel may shed some light here.

So many questions, so little time. We'll see what answers Chicago brings.

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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