Now there is Smart Cable TV.

Tom RussellThe Digital Revolution has enabled and promulgated advances in systems management, reliability and delivery of services undreamed of, or relatively primitive in implementation, only a few short decades ago. Adding the adjective “smart” to devices and services has become fashionable to imply doing things better by applying higher “intelligence” to design and operations. We have smart highways, smart power grids and SCTE’s Smart Energy Management Initiative.

Now there is Smart Cable TV, a term coined by the International Telecommunication Union’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T). In May, ITU-T Study Group 9 (Broadband Cable TV) formed a Focus Group (SCFG) to examine future cable technologies and subsequent opportunities for standardization. Focus groups are open to participation by non-ITU members – and, in fact, it is encouraged – as long as they are from a country that is a member of ITU to bring the best ideas forth for discussion.

So what does “Smart Cable Television” mean? To some extent, it remains an open question, since the focus group will be entirely dependent upon contributions and the efforts of those who choose to participate. The SCFG does have an initial charter and broad definition: to examine and report on “advanced services and technologies for cable networks” and identify the potential impact on existing and new standards – and, perhaps, new areas of further study – within that domain. All of this will be in cooperation with other ITU Study Groups (noted later) and standards-setting organizations (like SCTE, ISO and ETSI) in cable television technical communities around the world, as well as research organizations and academia where appropriate.

Some of the areas that the SCFG will be looking at are higher-efficiency cable modulation schemes (to carry more information per bandwidth), advanced services like UHD (ultra-high-definition television), advanced 3-D TV capabilities, interactive home networking and service applications carried over cable networks. Again, this is only a starting point. The focus group will consider improvements to existing technologies, as well as those that may be in future deployments, all with the goal of assisting in their development through coordinated global standardization.

The first step is to perform a gap analysis of the breadth and depth of existing and in-development cable network technologies and standards to create a list of areas currently unexplored or underserved by standardization. This analysis will provide a baseline for the subsequent tasks. The focus group will collect ideas from stakeholders on what the future of smart cable could be, examine and analyze requirements and capabilities for cable networks to support advanced service delivery, develop a common lexicon where needed, provide input for use cases, and identify where further efforts at standardization are required.

Many initial areas where this will be examined in detail have been defined in the focus group’s “Terms of Reference” document, which is the charter for the group.

Briefly, beyond what has already been touched upon, these areas include (in no particular order): support for multiple screens and device integration, application platforms and related frameworks, user interface enhancements and quality of experience, content creation and digital rights management, and applications of cloud-based services such as remote DVR and data storage. Also, transport technologies such as deployed HFC, RF over Glass and passive optical networks, along with systems management of cable networks to enhance reliability, energy efficiency and service quality. Additionally, the SCFG will examine emergency alerting and disaster recovery, mitigation and avoidance of interference sources, and accessibility and human factors for cable networks.

All of this gathered information will then be used to chart the roadmap for the focus group to report to SG9 on the need for possible revisions to published standards and areas for further study, while avoiding overlap with other ITU-T Study Groups. Close coordination and collaboration with these SGs on parallel work or items of commonality between the areas of study (for example, SG16 on video coding and IPTV, SG5 relating to RF interference, SG15 on transport/modulation technologies, and SG17 in dealing with security) is important to reach this goal.

As you can see, the focus group is starting out with a very full plate of items to collate, analyze and report on. As far as working methods are concerned, the multitude of tasks will be subdivided among committees – yet to be formed – in order for this to be achievable in the time allotted.

The focus group is intended to be a short-lived (about one year) activity, so early and active involvement by those with an interest in promoting and building future technologies for cable networks is needed in order to reach the goals and deliverables I’ve noted above. Participation and contributions from organizations and individuals who do not usually take part in the standardization efforts of SG9 are especially encouraged to join. (Full disclosure: SCTE is strongly supporting the focus group, and I am its chairman.)

The inaugural Smart Cable TV Focus Group meeting is to be held at ITU’s headquarters in Geneva June 19-21, and there are provisions being made for remote participation where feasible. More details are at the SCFG’s website.