The cable industry is better positioned to deliver a wide array of on-demand and interactive services than competing industries, but it will take a robust set of standards and broad interoperability across numerous systems to usher in the future quickly and cost-effectively. That was the consensus among a panel of experts presented by the SCTE at the recent New England Cable & Telecommunications Association confab in Newport RI. David Fellows, CTO of Comcast, pointed out that only the cable industry is capable of rolling out both broadcast-style and targeted switched services. "We offer the best of both worlds," he said. "We have the ability to evolve to meet changing customer demands." All new services coming to fruition will rely on a switched IP infrastructure and common storage systems, Fellows said, so it is vital that the industry standardize a platform to support these devices, with Time Warner’s ISA (Interactive Services Architecture) and Comcast’s NGOD (Next Generation On Demand) the two leading candidates. Network intelligence But how should these standards be applied to today’s legacy networks? Steve Davi, senior vice president of engineering at SeaChange, said the key is the development of more intelligent networks to handle more applications and more content. Future applications will need to support different codecs, multiple distribution mechanisms and various end devices, such as PCs and cell phones, while burgeoning content requirements, in the form of VOD and subscriber-generated programming, will need both low-cost and easily streamed storage media. And overseeing all of this will be a sophisticated policy management system aimed at dynamically switching bandwidth to suit network requirements. "Standards are critical for interoperability," Davi said. "We need software to integrate easily and lower operational costs." Joe Matarese, systems integrator of NextGen Streaming Video at C-Cor, said that equipment costs, at least, were coming down even while integration and interoperability issues were becoming more complex. With video over DOCSIS as the next step, he urged the development of a new architecture that could provide "diversification of content" so that it could be used across a range of applications and services. Such a system would require advanced policy and management controls, as well as more robust "video service assurance." "We need better mechanisms for capacity planning and to improve the quality of the subscriber experience," he said. Silos and set-tops But if IP video is the wave of the future, operators will need to tear down today’s service silos within their plants, said Susan Kim Riley, chief technology officer of Camiant, a developer of PacketCable Multimedia solutions. By decoupling return and edge devices from session management systems, it becomes possible to "develop applications for any server to any subscriber." "By leveraging a common set of applications to multiple media resources, you’ll see much quicker development of these cutting-edge applications," she said. But the most crucial piece of the puzzle is the set-top, argued Nishith Sinha, systems engineer at Cox Communications. "Embedded settops with different operating systems makes deployment of services difficult," he said. He advocated a more open architecture based on NGOD or even the OpenStream system currently being pushed by the music download industry. Ultimately, he added, a migration from the streaming model of content delivery to a downloadable system may be inevitable.