Leaders Reflect on Building the Network of Tomorrow

SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2022

The SCTE Cable-Tec Expo kicked off earlier this week for its first in-person conference since 2019, and this year a few of the key themes heard throughout the show all tied back to the legacy that the industry is building for the next generation.

"We have a foundation for our industry that goes way beyond any of our lifespans. The decisions we make today in the design, deployment, and operations of our networks establish a legacy," said CableLabs President & CEO Phil McKinney in his opening presentation with SCTE President & CEO Mark Dzuban. "Just like those that came before us in our industry left a legacy that we are all benefitting from, we as an industry have an opportunity to lay this foundation for a legacy for the next generation of leaders, engineers, field operations, and executives around the world."

While 10G was definitely a buzzword throughout the conference, McKinney explained that at CableLabs, 10G is just the groundwork of the legacy that the industry is looking to leave behind: "We're looking even beyond 10G. What does 100G look like? What does 500G look like?"

"The decisions we make today in the design, deployment, and operations of our networks establish a legacy ... " 

—Phil McKinney

A Network That Exceeds Expectations

Of course, being able to move forward sometimes requires reflecting on past accomplishments and what it took to get the industry where it is today. One significant achievement highlighted was how cable's networks not only "met the moment" when Americans first went home at the beginning of COVID, but exceeded every expectation possible.

In Comcast's case, the network experienced a 32% surge in traffic virtually overnight—an equivalent of two years of growth being pulled forward. "No one typically designs networks like that. It's because of the strong technology that we've developed as an industry that we could handle that. And because customers weren't worried about the connectivity and whether it was going to work, they could focus on all the innovations that connectivity allowed. So we pulled forward a couple of years' worth of innovations at least," said Charlie Herrin, president of the technology, product, experience organization within Comcast Cable. But from then on, customers changed their expectations forever, he said. 

Moving forward, he continued, the industry has to make sure it's ready for the media that is coming. Optimizing a network for its user—and a network that leverages AI, machine learning, algorithms, automation, and advanced optics—are part of readying today's platforms for the needs of tomorrow. "Together with everyone [in the industry] we can lock arms and build the next-generation network, the next-generation experiences that are personal, high bandwidth, and tremendously powerful for the businesses and consumers that use them," said Herrin.

A Workforce That Will Get Us There

Comcast Cable President and CEO David Watson also emphasized how the industry's workforce, which not only worked tirelessly during the pandemic to ensure the network exceeded customers' expectations, will need to continue to adapt as technology and customer demands evolve. Fortunately, the ability to adapt has always been a part of what makes up the industry's DNA. 

"There's a crunch in terms of the sheer amount of people you need to pull all of this off. But … as we change the network—the big component of the network to virtualize and add more capability—it does require people to get trained up on how to do this, on how to manage a virtualized network," said Watson. "There are more software elements than ever in terms of how we manage the digital capabilities … We're adding to it. Our people are adaptable. The frontline leadership—they are on their toes working hard and dealing with all these changes as we evolve. It's a lot of activity happening all at once."

10G's Role in "Creating Infinite Possibilities"

Michael Powell, NCTA President & CEO

NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell also participated in a fireside chat about the critical role that cable's next-generation network, 10G, will play in shaping America's future and in addressing society's greatest challenges, particularly in healthcare. As a board member for the Mayo Clinic, Powell explained that as medical science becomes more driven by AI and advanced technologies, the future of healthcare in the next half century will ride on a highly reliable complex network. "If these pieces—the cloud, the network, software, and medical knowledge—don't come together, the world will be in significant distress [for future crises] … " said Powell.

The 10G fireside chat was followed by recognizing six of the 10G Challenge award winners. The 10G Challenge was created to support and inspire innovators to leverage the 10G network, and gave away over $300,000 in funds to services that strive to make a difference in healthcare, farming, education, entertainment, and in overall improving a person's quality of life. To borrow this year's Cable-Tec Expo slogan, 10G is really about "Creating Infinite Possibilities," and the myriad of opportunities it will bring in every facet of life. 

As 10G inches towards becoming a reality for households across the country, CableLabs also unveiled its latest installment in the Near Future video series to help audiences envision what the next generation of broadband will mean, and how it will forever change the way people live, work, learn and play: