An old expression once associated with Japanese international trade policy – "import or die, export or die" – has stuck with me over the years.

The intense dualism of that saying aside, it fits an island nation limited in natural resources but blessed with significant levels of human ingenuity. The equation applies elsewhere, too.

Take the somewhat insular cable branch of the larger telecom family. Cable: light on resources (if debt-heavy) but well-endowed with clever engineers.

The industry has thrived in part by its strategic adaptation of certain technologies – analog lasers and satellite distribution being classic cases in point. (See our December 2007 review of Jim Chiddix’s career for more along those lines.) On the vendor side, I’ve always liked the story of Concurrent, a company that joined cable by realizing one day that its real-time computer systems could be adapted to meet the industry’s video on demand (VOD) objectives.

The process of adapting new technologies can turn inward. The DOCSIS initiative is the prime example of cable operators working with select vendors to tame and brand something that once roamed wild and free. The currently unfolding, second-generation DOCSIS 3.0 reference designs for cable modems are the latest chapter in that book.

Where the industry is headed in terms of access optics – homegrown or opportunistic adaptation – is an open question, one indicated in this month’s Tech Guide on passive optical networking (PON).

But one thing is for sure: the optical market is global. See this month’s Backtalk page for a mention of the massive International Opto Electronic Expo in China. (There’s a country, incidentally, that seems untouched by the import/export imperative. It does well enough by exporting and banking the reserves.)

Optics is also a market guided by international standards. How the cable industry’s ingenious suppliers recognize and interpret that point suggests divergent if not conflicting perspectives.

Jonathan Tombes
Editor

The Daily

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