As I'm writing this, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) is putting the final touches on another successful Cable-Tec Expo. Here's a quick blush at some of the key trends and takeaways from the 2006 confab, which took place in late June here in Denver:
Bandwidth—How to do more with what you've got was again a hot topic at this year's show. In addition to tools that can help operators stretch their existing bandwidth (switched digital broadcast, advanced codecs and the reclamation of analog spectrum, among them), the show floor was teeming with electronics and gear designed to enhance and extend the spectrum band to 1 GHz and beyond.
DOCSIS 2.0b and DOCSIS 3.0—In addition to HDTV, the use of channel bonding to supercharge high-speed data services represents another technical trend that looks to consume more of cable's spectrum. In addition to all of the expected product news about DOCSIS 3.0, this year's Expo produced the first news release (courtesy of the Cisco, Scientific Atlanta, Linksys combo) to publicly use the term DOCSIS 2.0b, viewed as an interim step to the full 3.0 spec that aims, in the short term, to beef up cable's downstream to a shared cap of at least 100 Mbps. Comments made by the CTOs of Comcast and Adelphia, however, did not exactly give DOCSIS 2.0b a ringing endorsement, leading people to believe that 2.0b will likely find initial traction not in the U.S., but in regions such as Asia, where telco competition is applying pressure on cable operators to speed up their offerings well beyond what they can squeeze out of single-channel DOCSIS technologies.
Cutting the cord—The cable industry also appeared well on its way to building out—or at least having access to the tools for—wireless meshes that provide mobility and hook seamlessly into their existing HFC networks. On the floor, vendors said many of the major cable operators are already in the process of installing this equipment on their networks. Operators have been quiet regarding their specific plans about where these meshes will be installed and what types of services will be enabled by them (Why tip your hand to the competition, right?), but there are expectations that the industry will be much more forthcoming on those plans well before the end of this year.
While this only gives short shrift to the major themes and technical trends of the '06 Cable-Tec Expo, we will offer extensive coverage of the show's product news and sessions in our August issue.