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ENGINEERING WISE - Dzuban, what are you doing?

Sat, 07/31/2010 - 8:15pm
Mark Dzuban, President and CEO of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers

Helping cable meet challenges today and tomorrow.

Now there’s a phrase I’ve heard once or twice. It’s usually accompanied by raised eyebrows, shrugged shoulders and an expectation of another challenge on the horizon. And it invariably involves some disruption of the status quo to “move the ball.”

Mark DzubanBut I’m not here to talk about me. This is about Daniel Howard, the SCTE’s newly christened CTO and a guy who’s been knee-deep in forward-thinking ideas for the past 20 years. A guy whose roadmap for the future of cable sometimes takes turns that aren’t always on the radar of others.

When we began our search for a CTO, there were a variety of good paths we could have chosen. Big names with major MSO pedigrees. Thought leaders who had established themselves as visionary technologists. Long-standing contributors to the industry’s RF and HFC legacies. There is a tremendous pool of talent out there.

We needed someone who could take us “back to the future.” Someone who could help resurrect the fundamentals of engineering knowledge that are so critical to our business, and who at the same time could drive understanding of the next-generation technologies that will help cable to thrive in the years to come.

Howard stood out for a variety of reasons, but – no surprise here – I especially liked his willingness to think out of the box. As we make changes at the SCTE to help cable maintain its leadership position, that’s exactly what we’re going to need to be successful.

We’re at an important point in our industry. At the same time that we are exploring new IP-based architectures that can revolutionize what we can deliver and how we can deliver it, we’re finding a need to address existing networks whose complexity continues to put new demands on the knowledge base of the field engineers and operations workforce. As the opportunities for failure modes increase with growing network complexity, we need renewed emphasis on fundamental, good engineering skills and best practices.

It’s estimated that two-thirds of network failures are due to human intervention. If we as an industry are going to achieve the customer service goals that we’ve laid out for ourselves, we need to ensure that we provide everyone who touches our plant with the knowledge and skills required for creating an optimal service environment as cable technology progresses.

Daniel’s science and educational background are tailor-made to those needs, but he’s also got the ability to look over the horizon at the technologies of tomorrow. A dozen years ago, when cable modems were just getting out of the starting gate, Daniel co-founded Digital Furnace and became an evangelist for DOCSIS. Over the past decade, he’s taken on an array of positions: nurturing start-ups, exploring new technologies with Broadcom and Motorola, and even a stint overhauling student computer networks for Atlanta Public Schools.

If you look closely at all of those stops, the common theme has been the leveraging of IP-based technologies to drive change and growth. Daniel was a co-author of the DOCSIS 1.1 and DOCSIS 2.0 specs that helped to make cable the multi-dimensional business opportunity it is today. He’s been kneedeep in discussions with cable operators about the potential of CDMA and IPTV technologies. He took on established thinking with Atlanta Public Schools and developed a networked approach that created a 2:1 student to computer ratio, turning student access that previously had been limited to a few hours a month into daily availability of PC use.

Change hasn’t always come easily for cable. At every turn, there has been tension between two very important groups: those who rightfully are focused on meeting current customer service needs and those who are looking at what’s needed to capitalize on new opportunities.

At the end of the day, change has been instrumental to our industry’s competitiveness in the marketplace. Daniel is the right guy in the right place at the right time for our industry. He understands the issues – and, more importantly, has the educational background to get others to understand complex problems by stating them in layman’s terms.

As consumer demand changes the nature of cable, it’s absolutely critical that the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers invest in resources to build the educational content for the emerging generation of technologies. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that IP technology in the form of IMS, IPTV and all-IP transport will drive the ability of cable service providers to deliver bigger and better bundles.

What are we doing? Helping cable to meet the challenge today and build the assets to meet the challenge of tomorrow.

E-Mail: mdzuban@scte.org

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