Switched digital topped the hit parade in Denver. By Simon Applebaum Bandwidth is the cable industry’s equivalent of oil—a precious commodity to be conserved, the core of technological innovation and a source of revenue. The better operators can exploit their hybrid fiber coax bandwidth, the better they can provide competitively priced, reliable services to their customers. The marketing strategies debated next week at the CTAM Summit in Boston will be effective only to the degree that cable’s engineers—who met last month at the 2006 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver—can devise ways to put their bandwidth to work without alarming Wall Street. We asked five of cable’s top technology executives, Communications Technology senior tech editor Ron Hranac and our own technology columnist, Mike Grebb, to give us their impressions of Cable-Tec Expo. Not surprisingly, they report that cost-effective exploitation of cable’s bandwidth was the hot topic. As Hranac told us after the Expo, the challenge for cable’s engineers is to increase capacity and eventually go all-digital/IP without "spending billions on another round of plant upgrades." CHRIS BOWICK SVP, ENGINEERING, CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER, COX COMMUNICATIONS The emphasis on switched digital video at Cable-Tec Expo left the largest impression on Chris Bowick. It "was all over the place," he says, in large part thanks to Time Warner Cable’s embrace of the bandwidth-optimizing technology (see "Meet the MSO-Time Warner Cable," June 26 issue). Besides the exhibit space dedicated to switched video, the technology was a top subject of Expo panels and dominated hallway buzz. Also catching his eye: Narad Networks and other exhibitors offering alternative ways to increase bandwidth, such as advanced video codex, use of MPEG-4 video transmissions and virtual fiber overlays. Bowick, who served as the Expo’s program chairperson, also was heartened by the attention commercial services received from both exhibitors and panelists. "It was great to see commercial played up here for the first time," he says. "The view was front and center. We’ve been in that business for a long, long time, and now the rest of the industry is catching up." DAVE FELDMAN VP, TECHNOLOGY, CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS Echoing Chris Bowick, Dave Feldman says switched digital video was the star attraction of Expo ’06. "A seminar on the subject was the first one I attended there," he recalls, "and I came away clear that switched will help us improve the channel capacity and the revenue-generating capability of our plant without having to rebuild." Feldman also was impressed with the set-top vendor presentations using the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP). "There was a lot of interest over OCAP and how to scale delivery of interactive TV services to consumers," he says. MARK BISHOP SVP, HARDWARE, NATIONAL CABLE TELEVISION COOPERATIVE What struck Mark Bishop most at Cable-Tec Expo were the bandwidth-optimizing products displayed by Terayon, RGB Networks, Harmonic and BigBand Networks—and the crowds they attracted. "More people than I imagined were looking at the cool switched digital video gear, or multiplexing equipment for use in all-digital transmission. Harmonic’s booth was overflowing," Bishop says. "What impressed me besides the products were the number of people at those booths saying they want to deploy them." RGB’s multiplexing aggregator also picked up good marks from the NCTC exec. Wherever Bishop roamed at the Expo, he caught an upbeat buzz. "It was a positive, `we’re winning the war’ kind of a show," he says. "Everyone I talked with there boasted about generating new revenue units right and left, triggered by VoIP. You got a picture that this industry is beating the competition on all fronts." TERRY CORDOVA SVP, ENGINEERING, SUDDENLINK COMMUNICATIONS "The primary trend highlighted at the show was a migration strategy to all-digital architecture," says Terry Cordova. "For that reason, I thought some of the most interesting technology presented at the Expo concerned digital simulcast, digital ad insertion and VOD." Cordova was captivated by the number of new exhibitors participating, including sellers of high-speed data and wireless technologies. Their Expo presence "support the convergence/migration [of cable operators] to a more IP-based world," he says. "What continues to impress me the most is the quality and format of the Expo," adds Cordova. "More and more software companies are getting a forum to contemplate, test and develop new products for our customers." JIM CHIDDIX CEO, OPENTV "I’ve learned this vendor stuff is harder than it looks!" says OpenTV’s Jim Chiddix. "I can say I didn’t get out of the OpenTV booth much. "What impressed me was the greatly increased focus on switched digital video—and not just because of OpenTV’s involvement with it. While stopgap measures can relieve bandwidth pressure, SDV has always been the endgame on the HFC evolutionary path. At Expo it took a big step in moving from an idea to a solution, leading ultimately to unlimited bandwidth." RON HRANAC SENIOR TECH EDITOR, COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY "My best guess is [that] the buzz [was] about making more efficient use of bandwidth, and switched video as an answer to that," says CT‘s Ron Hranac. Solid turnout also impressed him. Floor traffic was good and even throughout the Expo, "and that pleased the exhibitors," he adds. "The general sessions were reasonably well-attended and a few of the technical workshops had a standing-room-only crowd." MICHAEL GREBB CABLEWORLD/CABLEFAX DAILY "It was as if every booth was pitching a way to solve bandwidth problems," says CableWorld columnist and CableFAX executive editor Michael Grebb. "People are coming at it from so many angles." Switched digital video, in particular, was trumpeted as a solution, Grebb reports. "The Expo showcased a realization that switched video will eventually become a major way that cable operators reengineer their systems," he says. Motorola’s booth also got Grebb’s attention. The company’s "Follow Me" display showcased networked digital set-top boxes that allow consumers to control DVR functions from any set-top within the home. The next-generation boxes can also transfer multimedia content to mobile devices through a USB connection.