I had a discussion with a very Internet protocol (IP)-savvy friend recently. Commercial services offerings by cable companies came up, and my friend quickly revealed that his impression of commercial services was essentially a drop with a cable modem on the end feeding an IP router. Certainly that is one of the services the cable industry provides to business customers, but the menu has a lot more choices than simple drop services. What are those choices? Depends on whom you talk to. Some cable operators are offering virtual local area network (VLAN) capabilities over fiber or coax perhaps using multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). Others are looking at deploying full IP services to the business including IP private branch exchanges (PBXs) as terminating equipment. Then there’s the whole area of wireless, whether in the flavor of plant extensions or as WiMax or Wi-Fi service providers to public spaces. The list goes on. Do you like a good debate? Bring together a couple of commercial services sales engineers to argue the best approach to serving the business community. In fact, just plan to be in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 12, and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers will bring the debaters together for you. That’s the setting for SCTE’s next one-day symposium, this time on commercial services. As mentioned, the range of services and technologies that enable these business services is enormous. There is the choice of wired or wireless, and if wired, should that be coax or fiber to the premises? These issues will be explored in depth during the full day of technical papers and roundtable discussions in Charlotte. There is a danger in learning more about the inner workings of the technology that enables the services. Like Dorothy in the Land of Oz, the magic is gone when you discover that there are mere mortals running the machine. However, customers are like the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Lion and Dorothy. Each has a need that he or she believes the Wizard can satisfy. In the land of MSO-provided commercial services, these customers are quite happy to believe in you, the wizard. But for that to happen, you must deliver to their expectations, and that can be easier said than done. Fortunately, there are those who have pioneered the way and learned valuable lessons in meeting consumer expectations in the business services market, and they will be in Charlotte to share with their fellow wizards. Unlike the Land of Oz, the path to fulfillment of the customer’s dreams must not be a long, winding road. Market forecasts peg potential revenue from commercial services in the billions of dollars, but capturing that revenue depends on making it easy for customers to find the solutions they seek. To that end, should a cable operator take a build-it-when-they-ask or a build-it-and-they-will-come approach? Both are used. Both likely have their place. But which approach makes the most sense not only in meeting customer demand but also in anticipating the need in such a way that you can rapidly move to fulfill the request? Many issues must be resolved before commercial services become a cable mainstay. Properly engineering the service is critical to ensuring a long and prosperous business foray into the commercial services market. SCTE’s Commercial Services Symposium in October seeks to provide insight if not answers to the more important questions. Oz never looked more promising. Marv Nelson is SCTE vice president, Professional Development. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.