Technology Outlook: The Cable Show 2014

An image of the Imagine Cafe at the 2014 Cable Show.
An image of the Imagine Cafe at the 2014 Cable Show.

The Cable Show 2014 was back in Los Angeles this year – which usually allows for a larger contingent of content folks to attend given the proximity of Hollywood. This year saw a good mix of technology folks rubbing shoulders with content-types but it almost felt like two shows in parallel – one set of tracks attended mostly by the techies of the industry and the other attended mostly by the content folks.

Some of the more interesting themes from the show are highlighted below.

Big Data

Several panels had experts from vendors and cable companies discussing the status of Big Data efforts in Cable. One recurring theme that was different from past shows was the interest in “Data science” and not just “Big Data infrastructure” in and of itself. That demonstrates a maturing of the technology and its assimilation into the Cable TV ecosystem.

Big Data infrastructure – such as Hadoop – are the building blocks enabling the processing of large amounts of data. Data science refers to the extraction of knowledge from the data – by a set of applications running over the infrastructure so that algorithms can be applied to generate meaningful results that can further be applied to solve various problems. A focus on Data Science requires the existence of a reasonable Big Data infrastructure in the first place and reflects the beginning of the maturity phase of Big Data in Cable.

The applications of Big Data being discussed on panels included Digital Advertising Insertion (DAI). In DAI advanced targeted advertising is being implemented by focusing on subscriber behavior (for instance – advertisements inserted compared to those being watched or being skipped) leading to a better understanding of what advertisements have a higher likelihood of being watched by a subscriber.

Cloud, SDN and the Open movement

Comcast has publicly announced that its X1 user interface is cloud based and is built using OpenStack. Private cloud – and specifically OpenStack – was one of the more frequent topics of discussion at the Cable Show 2014. It came up during the CTO panel and on several other panels with most speakers mentioning it as a current or roadmap item. OpenStack has garnered enough support from the vendor ecosystem that Cable companies appear to be feeling confident enough to embrace it for their future endeavors following in Comcast’s footsteps.

On the other hand there was hardly any discussion of Software Defined Networking (SDN) at the Cable show. When the author asked a question about MSO plans for SDN at the CTO panel the answers were not very satisfactory. It appears that Cable industry is taking a wait and see approach to SDN. There are people in Cablelabs who are working on SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) efforts, but the operators themselves are still in the early understanding phase of SDN and NFV.

With the vendor ecosystem also coalescing around OpenFlow (an Open API for SDN’s Southbound interface), it would appear it is but a matter of time before we start seeing more SDN traction in the Cable industry.

The industry buzz OpenStack and OpenFlow initiatives brings a new trend to watch in the Cable industry – that of using Open Source products at a fraction of the cost of purchasing expensive products from the vendors in the industry. Add to that the availability of Apache Hadoop and the Open trend appears inevitable to accelerate in Cable.

The Internet of Things

Several panels and exhibits focused on topics in the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is supposed to enable every device to be Internet-enabled – therefore creating a lot of data every second of every day. This data will need to be processed and shared in near real-time and at a scale that would eclipse the scale of today’s biggest Big-Data efforts.

The IoT session in the Imagine Park (or startup-city as I think of it!) was quite eye-opening in that it exposed the audience to the breadth of the impact of IoT in our daily lives.

One presentation, for instance, by Carnegie Mellon University showcased inexpensive “disposable” robot helicopters that could be used to help in rescues inside burning buildings or observing nuclear reactors. Another demonstrated wearable technologies that sense and share muscle “tiredness” data in an athlete or a pilot in real-time and communicate their status to a monitoring authority. Perhaps the most interesting thing from a communications perspective was that the live demo of the wearable technology suffered from too many wireless devices in the demo area clogging up the WiFi bandwidth – so the information being collected by the wearable sensors could not actually make it to the monitoring station!

Did I hear someone say, “Bandwidth is king”?

0 thoughts on “Technology Outlook: The Cable Show 2014

  1. Thanks Kshitij for writing this excellent summary of the cable show. As you point out, the mix of Hollywood and Tech always make for an interesting show.

    One observation I made regarding SDN is that it appears as if the headend appliances (encoders in particular) are giving way to software versions, such that the headend will essentially become part of an operator’s data center; or is it the data center will become part of the headend?

    Regarding the IoT, there was at least one demo by CableLabs that points to the IoT going to an IoE (Everything). CableLabs demonstrated an app whereby pausing or playing a movie would change a room lighting (two totally disparate systems being connected); more on that in a future video.

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