The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo may be a technology show for engineers, but the technologies it showcases have changed the way we view and interact with our world. This hit home as I was reading a recent essay in Time Magazine titled "The Meaning of Summer Camp". The author--a mother writing about sending her daughter off to camp--observed that "today a wilderness is any place without bandwidth". That's hardly a definition you would have heard ten years ago!
There was a lot of talk about bandwidth at the 2008 Expo: the expected impacts of the transition to digital, the growth of HD programming, how to manage the increasing deluge of network traffic, and lots more. Since bandwidth has been a much-discussed topic in these newsletters (including our article above ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report00804_6.html ) from the Cable Show in New Orleans), we chose to focus on plant reliability at SCTE Expo. Reliability of the cable network and the services offered on it has been a passion of ours over the years.
Our timing proved to be prescient. Senior cable industry executives usually fill their speeches with cheerleading about new services, increasing bandwidth and all the great things the executives see cable as doing. In a refreshing departure in the opening panel discussion, Steve Burke, Comcast's COO, said that current cable system reliability is "not acceptable".
Burke said the biggest challenges to Comcast's business are not on the IP side, but come from traditional video. With video on demand and HD video both key parts of the customer value proposition, he noted that current 2% or 3% error rates need to be significantly reduced. Cable must have a "laser focus on reliability". He noted that Comcast has to "spend millions on status monitoring to see problems before our customers do." Reliability has to be improved to "take away the root cause" of customer complaints.
This was the first time we can recall a cable executive saying the words "status monitoring" in an executive panel at a major cable event. Cable's technical folks have long wanted to address these issues, but found it hard to justify to the bean counters.
Inspired by Burke's comment, we met at the show with several companies offering monitoring systems, and are following up with phone calls and on-site visits. We'll report on cable monitoring in the next issue.