Engineering-wise: Unknown unknowns
Here’s a different way to begin a column about SCTE Cable-Tec Expo: Let’s talk about some of the things that could go wrong.
No, I’m not trying to take a “glass half-empty” approach to Expo. I can assure you that our staff has taken every precaution to ensure that this year’s event in Atlanta – as always, our industry’s pre-eminent showcase for technology products and learning – goes off without a hitch.
Nevertheless, here’s the reality: As an industry that delivers important telecommunications services to our customers, we need to anticipate and be prepared to respond to the natural and manmade events that can jeopardize our ability to meet our customers’ needs.
As we’ve witnessed time and again in recent years, even when we expect the unexpected, the effects on our networks can be extreme. Hurricanes, blackouts and the latest nomenclature – the “superstorm” – are only the tip of the iceberg (hopefully we won’t have to deal with those) when it comes to events that can impact our ability to deliver the services that keep our customers connected.
While Expo will be home to countless discussions and product demonstrations designed to improve service delivery now and in the future, a focus of this year’s show also will be on how cable can increase its ability to cope with disruptive events.
The reason is simple: With each new step in cable’s evolution from a video service to a provider of diverse communications products, there has been a concurrent increase in reliance on our networks by customers. This goes beyond cable’s emergence as a primary source for residential voice and data connectivity. Today’s cable system operators are expanding their market presence with high-quality, highly-reliable business services, as well as with Wi-Fi hotspots that are being counted on by consumers to provide “anytime, anywhere” access within the operator’s market footprint.
Let’s be clear that when it comes to the vast majority of operational circumstances, the industry has done an outstanding job of increasing quality of service and network reliability.
When networks are impacted by cataclysmic events, however, the effects are more keenly felt because it is at these moments – when the networks are at their most vulnerable – that the consumers’ need for communication and information is greatest.
With Superstorm Sandy less than a year behind us, we’re taking steps at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo to sharpen the industry’s focus on how to prepare for the worst. Thought leaders from the operator and vendor communities – including Alpha Technologies, Time Warner Cable and others – will be showcasing mobile units that are designed to expedite repairs and accelerate the recovery of damaged networks.
In addition, we’ll be fortunate to have with us Brian Allen, Chief of Security for Time Warner Cable and the person responsible for TWC’s crisis management and business continuity programs. At our annual luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 22, Brian will be talking about the experiences of TWC and its employees before, during and after the ravages of Sandy last fall.
Sandy’s landfall across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut was a defining moment for emergency preparedness for our industry. The industry quickly brought critical services such as free Wi-Fi to the hardest hit areas, while expediting the repairs and the delivery of critical resources that would be needed to restore network operations.
Time Warner Cable, for example, began tracking and planning for the storm a week before its arrival, and responded in a highly efficient, well coordinated manner. Among the key elements of the plan: the establishment of fueling stations for crews; deployment of mobile charging and Wi-Fi access vehicles and other voice and data communication tools; creation of neighborhood street teams to ensure optimal customer care; and sponsorship of a fleet of food trucks for those displaced by the storm.
At Expo, Brian Allen will talk about how planning and execution were crucial to Time Warner Cable’s responsiveness, but he’ll also take the forward-looking view of the industry’s needs. He’ll share lessons learned from the company’s post-mortem and steps that are being taken to prepare for future crises, but he’ll talk about the need for new approaches to business continuity and crisis management, and about how cable engineering and operations professionals can increase the ability of the industry to be prepared for emergencies.
Like the expectations for cable service, the bar for emergency preparedness keeps getting higher. By sharing and incorporating the lessons of Sandy, our industry can improve preparation and response for the next crisis.
At SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, we will indeed talk about what can go wrong. But more importantly, we’ll talk about the steps that are being taken to ensure that if disaster strikes, cable is ready to take the steps that are needed to minimize inconvenience and maximize availability for its customers.
I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta.