Divining the future is never easy nor is it 100 percent accurate. However, there is still a need in business to try to understand what the future possibilities might be. This is the premise of SCTE’s annual Conference on Emerging Technologies (ET). The further out one attempts to predict the future, the lesser the likelihood of accurately hitting on the correct scenario or technologies that will be in play. While looking too near term raises the accuracy potential to near 100 percent, one ceases to be very predictive. ET sets its sights on the three- to five-year horizon, which means that there will be some misses, but the probability of a hit is reasonably high enough to have value. The 2004 Conference on Emerging Technologiesætaking place Jan. 13–15 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Dallasæwill focus on a number of areas that are going to be influenced by technologies now in the lab or in trials. The question is which of these technologies will have the highest value in terms of services for the customer while providing the highest return on investment for the cable operator. Areas to be covered include: transport technologies, consumer premises devices from both retailers and the cable providers, network management tools and emerging competitive technologies. (Find a complete listing of session topics at et.scte.org.) In tackling these topics, this year’s program subcommittee is taking a slightly new approach. There are going to be multiple and competing technologies proposed as the best solutions for the future. These ideas need to be fleshed out to derive the pros and cons with the use of each. In many of the sessions, more time has been allotted to the presenters to allow them to fully develop their ideas. Further, to make sure that alternative concepts are drawn out and discussed, each session includes a time for panel interaction between the presenters, moderator and reactors to the presentation. Competitive appraisal In the final session, the focus turns to alternative service providers. Much attention lately has been given to the direct broadcast satellite services as competitors. Of course, there are others that have been around for quite some time, such as the video rental business. But enabling technologies now are coming on the scene that could render the cable network as a high-speed access network to Internet-provided video programming. Alternatively, there has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the intent of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to build fiber-to-the-home architectures for delivering IP telephony, high-speed data and video programming. There is also a competitive capability emerging through wireless access points that promise speeds capable of delivering multiple channels of digital video programming as well as data and voice. Understanding these competitive technologies is essential if the cable industry is going to put up a fair fight for consumer dollars. Some of these alternative access technologies will be the focus of the last session. The intent will be to present what the technologies are capable of and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Having this information enables the cable operator to better position its service against future competition. ET promises to be both lively and informative. You won’t want to miss this conference in Dallas, Jan. 13–15. Make plans now, and come prepared to be challenged in your thinking with respect to the future of cable telecommunications. Marv Nelson is vice president, technical programs at SCTE. Email him at email@example.com. Register for ET 2004 online at et.scte.org through Dec. 19 and save $100. For questions, call SCTE’s customer care center at 800-542-5040 or 610-363-6888.