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Engineering-Wise - Weathering the Storm

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 7:15pm
Mark Dzuban, President and CEO of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers

Literally

With SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2010 in the rear-view mirror, it would seem that our recent New Orleans event would be a logical place to start any discussion of cable networks and technological evolution and the realization of new business opportunities.

Instead, though, I’d like to wind the clock back a couple of months to the beginning of September, when my family was huddled in our Hatteras, N.C., home and Hurricane Earl was lashing at every window and wall.

There’s no way to describe adequately what it’s like to ride out a hurricane 25 miles out to sea, on the farthest extremities of the Outer Banks. When the rain is horizontal and the waves are crashing and the wind is howling so loudly that you can’t sleep, there’s a feeling that you’re teetering on the edge, somewhere between exhilaration and exhaustion. At least that’s my opinion.

Mark DzubanI’m not sure that my wife, Shawn, always shares that enthusiasm. Even though Harbor House has been engineered and provisioned to withstand the very worst that nature can throw at it, there are times when Shawn has made it clear that the hurricane experience is a rollercoaster ride that she wished she’d declined.

Earl was one of those times. But in the midst of the commotion of the wind and the rain and the surf, Shawn found comfort in yet another noise from the outside. With the area’s strongest storm of the year swirling about, it was cable television – specifically the local Charter Communications system – that would give Shawn and all of us a window on what to expect and where the storm was headed. And as I sat watching our home literally serve as the backdrop for a Weather Channel report on the storm, there were a few things that came to mind about our industry and our technology and how far we’ve come:

• It says great things about our industry that cable networks not only have evolved well past their entertainment roots, but have become a critical part of the telecommunications infrastructure in many communities, as well.

• Cable has hardened its networks so that consumers have access to the critical communications services they need, even in the most adverse circumstances. (A tip of the hat to Charter, which kept service glitch-free throughout our bout with Earl).

• Cable’s zeal in deploying new technology and entering new markets will help the industry weather today’s competitive threats and retain its role as a leading provider of services to the digital home of the future.

All of those thoughts were fresh in my mind when we cut the ribbon on Cable-Tec Expo last month. As I walked the floor and listened to the sessions and met with vendors and operators, it was clear just how vital that spirit of innovation and commitment to meeting the needs of customers remains in our industry.

As I spent time at Expo, I thought about how the ability of all of the partners in the value chain to come together for what is essentially a technological summit has made our industry stronger and paved the way for the high service quality and reliability that carried the day in Hatteras.

The ecosystem that has spawned each succeeding generation of cable technology is a fascinating blend of operators’ needs, innovation by existing vendors and entrepreneurial thinking by newcomers who recognize the promise of our industry. Expo is a unique experience where those factors coalesce to create new ideas and new approaches that touch aspects of the cable telecommunications infrastructure.

While “sexy” products like voice, data and advanced video services turn heads on the show floor, the ability of our networks to withstand the forces of nature is the work of unsung heroes: the cable and connector vendors that have created new techniques for better shielding and more secure connections; the network monitoring suppliers that have developed tools for helping operators respond to crises in real time; and the field engineers, technicians and MSO regional managers who have redoubled their commitment to the highest-quality service delivery in the most adverse conditions.

At SCTE, we’re taking our own closer look at emergency services management. We’ve created a page of Disaster Planning Resources on the SCTE’s website, but that’s just a start. In the future, we’ll be supplementing links to health, weather and other government organizations with additional tools that will elevate the industry’s readiness to deal with any catastrophic event.

Our industry has come a long way in terms of bringing quality and value to our customers, but the bar continues to be moved higher. One of the real ironies of our business is that natural disasters make people more reliant than ever on our networks at precisely the times when those networks are most vulnerable to interruption. It’s vital to our mission and to the success of our industry that we continue to create an atmosphere that helps us to maintain the highest level of service to our customers – no matter what the circumstances may be – in the future.

E-Mail: mdzuban@scte.org

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