Less than two months after their two groups agreed to join forces, the heads of CableLabs and SCTE/ISBE are focusing on how to speed up the development and deployment of cable's next-gen broadband services and applications.
Appearing on an SCTE/ISBE LiveLearning webinar that Light Reading hosted late last week, CableLabs President and CEO Phil McKinney and SCTE/ISBE President and CEO Mark Dzuban said the union of their two groups would accelerate cable tech innovation and development by coupling the science side of the industry (CableLabs) to the execution side (SCTE/ISBE). As examples, they cited various areas where they expect to see that happen, including cable's ambitious "10G" quest, the new DOCSIS 4.0 specs, wireless networks, fixed-wireless access and other efforts to bridge the nation's digital divide.
The two cable tech chiefs particularly see the merger quickening the industry's broadband network upgrade efforts, both on the wired and wireless sides. In that regard, they are pinning their hopes on "10G," cable's name for a new, network-agnostic platform designed to deliver multi-gig symmetrical speeds, enhanced security and lower latencies over a mix of hybrid fiber/coax (HFC), fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and wireless networks. Accordingly, they aim to ramp up the development and deployment of that next-gen platform over the next few years.
"Our objective is to bring 10G to life," said Dzuban, who has turned that line into his mantra on the subject. "10G is going to be a highly valued product."
Asked about potential 10G applications, Dzuban and McKinney ticked off "extreme live streaming" of music and dance events, telehealth sessions between doctors and patients, multiple IoT devices in the home, 4K/8K video, lightfield displays and holographic imaging, among other things. They noted that due at least in part to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, work on all these applications has accelerated.
"I think we're further down the road with a lot of these applications" than many people think, said Dzuban, predicting that "life will not be the same" in a post-pandemic world. McKinney concurred: "Does life go back to pre-COVID? I don't think so."
Driving DOCSIS 4.0 and fixed/mobile convergence
Turning to DOCSIS 4.0, the next-gen broadband specs from CableLabs central to the 10G push, McKinney said both silicon makers and device manufacturers are crafting products to support the new technology. Although he did not offer any new timetables for D4.0 product testing and development, he noted that SCTE/ISBE is already creating early training sessions for engineers about the spec. Dzuban added that SCTE/ISBE is teaming with vendors to develop the "piece parts" for DOCSIS 4.0, such as "the housing and infrastructure pieces."
While some industry experts have questioned whether cable operators will deploy DOCSIS 4.0 en masse because of the expected high network upgrade costs, Mckinney and Dzuban downplayed such concerns. They noted that COVID-19 has already proven the need for both more downstream and upstream capacity on broadband networks as hundreds of millions of people have worked and schooled from home.
"I think you'll see DOCSIS 4.0 get traction around some of these new use cases," McKinney said, referring to the potential 10G applications. "I think you'll see very specific applications that will drive DOCSIS 4.0." Dzuban agreed: "I look at DOCSIS 4.0 as a key arrow in our quiver."
Moving on to wireless, McKinney said Wi-Fi, CBRS and mobile, in general, are now "becoming very important for the industry" as cable operators aim to expand the reach of their wired networks with "edge-out" strategies and deliver fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services over unified networks. He noted that half of CableLabs' global members are also mobile operators.
Bridging the digital divide
Questioned about the industry's efforts to extend broadband speeds to unserved and underserved areas, the two cable tech leaders pointed to moves by such leading operators as Comcast, Charter and Cox to offer basic broadband packages at low cost to poor and rural households. They said the industry would continue to explore ways to reach more unserved homes, including extending its HFC networks, using fixed-wireless access and exploring other wireless tech options with Silicon Valley.
"It's about availability and price points," Dzuban said.
Asked about the competitive threat posed by new satellite broadband services, McKinney said he's not worried about it because satellite broadband speeds generally top out at 75 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s, much lower than the maximum speeds that cable operators can deliver, and have higher latency. But he quickly added that new satellite players like Elon Musk's SpaceX firm can still play a vital role by filling a hole in the market.
"No one industry can solve the digital divide problem by itself," McKinney said. Calling SpaceX's Starlink service "a very viable solution," he also advised viewers to "never underestimate Elon Musk."
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading