Cable's thought leaders: More security, recognition for broadband and the 5G hype cycle

Cable's heavy hitters took to the stage during the opening panel Tuesday at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. From left, Comcast's Tony Werner, NCTA's Michael Powell, SCTE's Mark Dzuban and CableLabs' Phil McKinney. (FierceTelecom)

The cable industry isn't getting enough recognition for what it does with broadband, security should be a higher priority and 5G is overhyped.

The cable industry's thought leaders gathered on the stage at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo to share their views and present a united front for the industry. Cable's "Big Three" included NCTA President, CEO and former FCC chairman, Michael Powell; SCTE President and CEO Mark Dzuban; and CableLabs CEO and President Phil McKinney. The panel was moderated by Comcast's Tony Werner, president of the technology organization, Comcast Cable, who is no lightweight himself.

The three cable industry organizations function as a well-oiled machine these days with CableLabs, which is backed by cable operators, acting as the R&D arm that comes up with specifications that are turned into standards by the SCTE. The SCTE is also proactive in the training and education of cable employees across its various chapters. NCTA holds down the policy and regulatory front for cable operators.

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Years ago, there was some friction between some of the cable organizations, but those issues have been ironed out in the face of increased competition and a more challenging regulatory environment.

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McKinney said that one of the technologies that probably doesn't get enough play in the industry is security, particularly as it relates to IoT devices. On that note, CableLabs is putting more of its brainpower behind better security with micronets.

"Micronets takes the concept from what the enterprises do with network segmentation, but brews it down to the consumable," he said. "Behind that, though, it brings some AI machine learning. So it actually takes devices that are misbehaving and segments them off into separate networks. CableLabs actually developed software for it, so we got some work that's going to be taking a couple of years yet.

"But as those pieces become available, we will take that to open source for the industry so that all the members, and all of the member vendors can take advantage of that. We think security is probably one of those areas that doesn't get enough attention. We need to amend and we need to do more in that area."

After a preconference session on distributed access architecture (DAA) on Monday, which Dzuban said had a record number of 615 attendees, the DAA drumbeat continued during the opening session.

"So this (DAA) architecture really needs to be defined by the community so we can launch it to scale," Dzuban said. "That's our job."

Among other features, DAA will give the cable industry a better starting point for virtualized networks and software-defined networking.

"Everybody knows software is becoming pervasive and is taking over every aspect," Werner said. "And this is really taking that one step of pushing software that much closer on our network to the customer and giving us a software-defined network all the way to where it really matters on top of DOCSIS. It's just a network that's flexible and more powerful."

In the face of next year's broader rollout of 5G services, Powell said the cable industry didn't get enough credit for its broadband efforts, including the deployment of 1 Gigabit downstream speeds that are becoming pervasive.

"You know who does love wired networks? The wireless guy," Powell said. "There is no vision in America's network future that doesn't include a various serious component of fixed architecture, and that fixed architecture path could be led by this industry. We are the most significant infrastructure in this industry today in the United States of America, and to the world. It is our platform on which all innovation and hope for our economy is built upon and promised.

"What we should learn from 5G is 5G is 25% technology and 75% marketing. They are storytellers, and they've been doing it for 25 years. What would have been bold three is ago is if we were out talking futuristically about having Gig out to America in a year and get the credit for it that we deserve in the narrative that we lead with."

Powell said the cable industry is sometimes too humble in its storytelling, and his comments drew applause from the conference attendees.

"We are the national leader on infrastructure," he said. "We should be the number one voice at the table. We should be the one articulating a future vision, putting consumers, communities, and homes, and governments in that vision, administrating that leadership through our actions. No industry that I'm aware of has been as reliably consistent in doing what it says it was going to do, deploying when it said it was going to deploy, than this one."

Powell on policy

Powell also said that the FCC was governed by a statute that was archaic, perhaps referring to the Telecom Act of 1996. 

"Most of its provisions do not in any way reflect the reality of the marketplace, the nature of technology, or the technological predicates that underline its original drafting," he said. "It is badly out of date. I think one of the most important things a new chairman could do is be filing off the rough edges of that statute as much as jurisdictionally possible in order to make it better reflect the reality of the marketplace.

"I think the second thing you have to do, both through the execution of policy and the use of the bully pulpit, is there's no coherent policy framework that incorporates the big tech companies. We essentially act like they're one market and we're some entirely different market, when there really is a symbiotic relationship between the two, and for that flywheel to turn evenly, requires policy that coherently addresses both sides of that ecosystem and not isolated to one or the other.

Powell said it was unsustainable to have a world in which some technology was viewed as a completely unregulated, untouched space while incumbent infrastructure companies, by virtue of their legacy, are substantially regulated.

"You should be a convener of those communities to try to establish bold and optimistic visions for the United States, that we, as a community working together, can be driving towards the betterment of the information age economy for the American consumer," he said. "Right now, things are too divisive and competitive, as if it's a zero sum game, they're going to win, we're going to lose, our cord is going to get cut, they're going to prevail. That's the way everybody wants to talk about the horse races these days.

"The reality is, we need every single ore in the water pulling in the same direction if this country hopes to be standing on the medal podium with the Chinese and everyone else when the history is written of this age."