New SCTE CTO Maps Agenda With Strong Emphasis on IPTV

Daniel Howard, CTO, SCTE

Daniel Howard, CTO, SCTE

September 28, 2010 – The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers has taken an important step toward asserting an expanded role in shaping the industry’s technical future with engagement of a chief technology officer committed to fostering cable’s migration to an IP foundation.

“What I keep hearing from the suits I interact with is unified network, unified work,” says Daniel Howard, who takes on the CTO job following a career that included founding Digital Furnace and a stint at its acquiring company, Broadcom, where he was a lead inventor on the company’s primary DOCSIS 3.0 patent. Howard was also co-author of the industry’s DOCSIS 1.1 and 2.0 specifications and has been deeply involved helping MSOs model growth agendas.

“The problem today is that when new services come along it takes us way too long to respond because we don’t operate in an all-IP environment,” Howard notes. “It’s really about the flexibility you get with IP to have services be locationless and deviceless and to follow you along.”

Howard’s sense of urgency about the need for unification on IP isn’t just a matter of technical analysis. “My teenage kid would rather watch crappy over-compressed video on her netbook than watch the HD version on our big-screen TV,” he says. “And it’s because while she’s watching she’s typing away, Facebooking, connecting with friends. I feel we as an industry have to jump on that bandwagon. Plus the cost savings that go with operating on an IP foundation are not insignificant by any stretch.”

For an industry that has spent a lot of its technical, not to mention network capital, on efforts to compete in an IP world by building new functionalities on a non-IP foundation, the mandate that has brought Howard to the SCTE represents a major strategic shift. “Daniel Howard’s diverse background and experience will accelerate SCTE’s ability to drive new programs for the benefit of the entire industry,” says Tony Werner, executive vice president and CTO of Comcast. “We believe he’ll bring fresh perspectives that will enhance SCTE’s continued efforts to provide leadership as the IP evolution continues.”

As previously reported (July, p.24), the SCTE under the guidance of president and CEO Mark Dzuban has taken a much more proactive role in addressing industry technology challenges, working in tandem with CableLabs as the conduit for formulating standards on many projects but also spearheading new development efforts that go beyond the organization’s traditional role.

“Mark and I can’t help but come up with ideas,” Howard says. “We’re both entrepreneurs and inventors.”

That said, Howard makes clear that what comes out of the brainstorming won’t necessarily lead to SCTE-driven initiatives. The difference will have a lot to do with whether a specific solution or idea is already out there and ready to be exploited or whether the solution will require cable optimization through processes such as CableLabs undertakes.

“I think the right demarc on that is whether it’s a matter of true invention of new science where CableLabs plays,” he explains “At the SCTE we look at applied science. Nobody is inventing IP. It’s been around a long time. A lot of it is about protocol interactions, figuring out how to link devices and IPv6. All that falls within the SCTE’s purview.”

In other words, a lot of what’s about to take shape in cable with regard to making use of IP will not require a lot of new invention but will require the type of guidance on practices and training which SCTE is well suited to provide. Indeed, from where Howard sits, the industry is about to go into a phase where the chief benefits to be derived from IP aren’t the new revenues driven by more broadband signups but, rather, the cost savings and efficiencies that come with putting the technology at the operational core.

“We’ve seen exponential growth in the broadband subscriber base, but I think we’re going to start tapering off in broadband subscriptions,” he says. “When the whole market becomes all broadband, where do you go from there?

“The answer is you have to drive cost out of the network. It’s cheaper in the long run to have everything managed in a unified manner without having to comply with 15 different standards and to have the ability to add new services without having to deep six a bunch of equipment. If you look at encoders and stat muxers, they’re all CPU based and so they may as well be regular servers running apps. That’s the world we need to move to if we want to deliver the most services at the greatest cost savings.”