Cable Tackles Impending Energy Crisis

Cable's figured out that it has an energy problem on the horizon. Now, comes the hard part ... solving it

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

March 16, 2012

3 Min Read
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 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

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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