John Brouse, director of network development at Jones Intercable, was named the 1996 Polaris Award winner at the SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies in San Francisco last month. The Polaris Award is sponsored by the SCTE, Corning Inc. and CED magazine and was created to recognize the efforts of the "next generation" cable engineer who exemplifies an aggressive and innovative approach to fiber optics deployment. A reception was held in Brouse's honor, and he was bestowed with the "Rising Star," a piece of Stueben crystal.

Brouse has been instrumental in the design and deployment of Jones' innovative fiber optic architectures in both Broward County, Fla. and Alexandria, Va.

As system engineering manager in Broward back in the late 1980s, Brouse was responsible for getting the "Cable Area Network" fiber system installed. That unique design called for the addition of a route redundant fiber network running in parallel to the coax network, with a switch that connected the two. In the event of a laser failure, the switch would activate, and the coaxial network would seamlessly continue to provide service to customers.

After moving to Jones' corporate office in Denver, Brouse became part of a team that conceived and built a ring-based fiber architecture in Alexandria, Va. This network consists of 10 interconnected rings that provide complete network redundancy and route diversity. Its headend is recognized as a model for the future.

Brouse thanked his colleagues, including Hugh Bramble, John Linebarger and Bob Luff. "I particularly want to thank Bob for having the courage to hire someone who didn't know anything about cable TV," Brouse said.

Attendance high in spite of weather

More than 1,300 technology executives gathered in San Francisco for the conference, in spite of a major blizzard which hit the East coast. An estimated 200 Emerging Technologies attendees spent the first day of the conference stranded in their homes, though, with mountains of snow separating them from any plans for westward travel.

Those who made it to the conference were privy to the latest information on network availability, telecommunications and high-speed data. Several vendors, including Motorola Inc., Scientific-Atlanta Inc., General Instrument Corp. and others, stepped up to deliver their technological viewpoints.

Despite the apparent plethora of quantitative data which flooded this year's ET gathering, some executives scheduled to present papers at ET said there are still more questions than answers about telecommunications, high-speed data and digital video. But, they said, those questions have moved well into adolescence from last year's more elementary stance.

"I think, as an industry, we've moved ahead significantly, but I'd say without hesitation that there's a long way to go," noted Andy Paff, president of Integration Technologies, the joint venture company recently formed by Antec and Nortel.

Growing number of standards bodies

Significant progress is being made toward development of standards that will greatly impact the cable industry, but the growing number of interested bodies represents a "potential for conflict," according to a presentation by Curtis Siller Jr., a distinguished member of AT&T Bell Labs, and a representative from the IEEE 802.14 committee.

Siller's comments were made during a pre-conference tutorial session on standards activities, which reviewed the progress of DAVIC, IEEE 802.14 and the SCTE's own subcommittee structure. Furthermore, Siller said he'd like to see more participation from the cable and telephony industries in the 802.14 committee, which is attempting to create a standard protocol for cable TV-based networks. Although nearly 140 companies attended the last meeting (held last November), Siller called for more MSO representatives to attend future meetings.

Daljeet Singh of Harmonic Lightwaves detailed the progress made so far by DAVIC, which is attempting to forge a worldwide standard set of protocols for communications networks. The group's focus has been directed toward its Release 1.0 document, which was agreed upon following a week-long meeting last month in Berlin.

Just how will those two groups work out any differences between them, given that there is a plethora of other, informal standards consortia? That will be a key question, according to Siller. Already, the Broadband Link consortium announced last December, which includes AT&T, Hewlett-Packard and others, has different methods of accomplishing similar goals. Siller said these consortia shouldn't be viewed as a way to "go around" the standards-setting process. He did, however, acknowledge that cable system operators are on a fast track and felt that the IEEE process "needed to move more quickly" than it had been so far.

Singh agreed, and noted that because the DAVIC committee is run more like a company, it's focused on making significant progress over a short amount of time, much like the MPEG process. Siller noted that a number of steps have been taken to reduce the potential for conflict, including the addition of liaisons between groups and adoption of existing standards in whole.

Cryptography critical to security

As the explosive growth and popularity of the Internet and other on-line services and transactions continues, it will become increasingly important for both network providers and content developers to use ever-better security methods to control access to the content. That was the message delivered by Harvey Gates, Ph.D., of BDM International, during a pre-conference tutorial on digital cryptography.

In fact, these security systems will have to be both dynamic and rugged as high-powered computers make it possible to defeat sophisticated access control systems that had been considered robust.

Gates' presentation focused on both secret key and public key encryption systems and how they work. Gates explained that more than half of the 500 secret key systems are based on the Digital Encryption Standard (DES), while the public key system de facto standard was developed by RSA Data Security Inc.

DES was developed by IBM and became a government standard in 1977, Gates says. The standard is recertified every five years and is scheduled to be reviewed again next year, when some changes are anticipated. Presently, DES systems have 64-bit keys consisting of a 56-bit random key and 8 bits for error correction.

Furthermore, symmetric secret key systems are considered to be quite secure — brute computing force is the only known way to defeat them. These powerful computers would cost at least $1 million to beat a single DES system, Gates notes. These secret key systems require that the sender and receiver both have the same key, which requires that the keys be properly protected and managed.

Conversely, public key encryption systems are asymmetric, which requires two sets of keys — one "public key" published for the owner, and one "private key" held securely by the owner to decrypt the plain text. These "one-way" systems employ a variety of techniques, but the most popular is exponentiating prime numbers, Gates says. While these public key systems eliminate the need for a secure key distribution system, the process is slow — typically between 0.6 megabits per second and 1.0 Mbps.

Dramatic network improvements

The introduction of status monitoring devices and backup power throughout cable networks can make a "rather dramatic" difference in network availability and the number of perceived video outages, according to a detailed analysis undertaken by David Large, a principal with the Media Connections Group.

For example, simply by adding selective power improvements, a real-world network's downtime could be reduced by a factor of more than two, while video perceived outages can be reduced by a factor of six — all for a total cost increment of one percent over the cost of a network upgrade, or $2 per home, Large said. "This has to be the cheapest thing you can do to make your network work well," he concluded.

Of course, a major rap against using standby power is the cost, maintenance and disposal issues associated with lead-acid batteries and generators. But new technologies are being developed to overcome some of those shortcomings.

One development includes the flywheel energy storage method, which is being pioneered by companies such as SatCon Technology Corp. These devices often have a life of 20 years, need maintenance only every seven years and provide up to two hours of service, fully loaded. They can be recharged in five hours and provide 36V and 48V DC output, according to Richard Hockney of SatCon.

The company's new flywheels, designed for telecommunications use, will be field tested later this year and are scheduled to be in commercial production in 1997, Hockney said.