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SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Will Focus On Improving Bottom Line

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SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Will Focus On Improving Bottom Line

Organizers Hope for Up To 10,000 Attendees at Philadelphia Show

May 1, 2003

By Alan Breznick, Editor, Cable Datacom News

For the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 20 months ago, a major cable convention may actually not suffer a steep decline in attendance. Organizers of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (SCTE's) annual Cable-Tec Expo are banking on no more than a slight falloff when they open their 20th anniversary show in Philadelphia this month.

SCTE President/CEO John Clark said he expects 9,000 to 10,000 cable engineers, managers, vendors and other techie types to attend Cable-Tec Expo 2003, which will run May 11-14 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. That would be only a small drop from last year's confab in San Antonio, which drew just under 10,000 attendees. The show's attendance peaked at 11,000 two years ago, when the SCTE staged the expo in Orlando.

Likewise, Clark said, the number of show exhibitors should come close to matching last year's total in San Antonio. As of late April, 341 exhibitors had signed up for booths on the convention floor, down just a touch from last year's total count of 350. The booths will stretch out over slightly more than 200,000 square feet of space, once again almost identical with last year's figure.

"There's been a last-minute rush," Clark said, referring to it as "the post-Iraq uptick" because the surge started once the fighting in Iraq started to wind down. "Our late exhibitor signup activity is significantly ahead of prior years, even double prior years," he said. "We think it's a very healthy sign."

The list of exhibitors includes 62 newcomers, a jump from last year's 52. Although there are numerous dropouts from last year, at least partly because of the slumping economy, Clark said all of the big names from last year will be back. "There are no major exhibitors who are not returning," he said.

Besides the speedy end to the war in Iraq, Clark credits the relatively healthy attendance and exhibitor figures to the show's tight focus on technology, equipment and software. "One of the strengths of Expo is the simplicity of its mission," he said. "It's all engineering, all the time."

Clark, who's marking his sixth expo at SCTE, also gives credit to the show's new location this year. With a hefty chunk of the organization's 14,500 members hailing from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, convention organizers picked Philadelphia as the 2003 show site years ago, breaking from their usual rotation among Orlando, San Antonio, Denver and Las Vegas. Clark noted that 40% of the SCTE's members live within a five-hour drive of Philly.

"Many people are calling this the planes, trains and automobiles Expo," he said, chuckling. "We're reaching out to a new cluster of members."

In a shift from its usual practice, Cable-Tec Expo will have a keynote speaker this time around. Comcast Corp. President-CEO Brian Roberts, whose company is headquartered not far from the convention center, will deliver the keynote address at the show's opening session on May 12. Clark calls it a stroke of good fortune that the convention will happen to be in Philadelphia just a few months after Comcast closed its purchase of AT&T Broadband to become the nation's largest MSO.

"It's dumb luck," Clark said. "His (Roberts') technological vision will be of great interest to our members and attendees... In some cases, there's nothing like being there and hearing it."

Besides Roberts, three other major speakers this year will be CableLabs President-CEO Richard Green, E! Networks President-CEO Mindy Herman and ADC Chairman-CEO Richard Roscitt. They will participate in the show's standard CEO panel on May 12, which will be moderated by industry publisher, author and columnist Paul Maxwell.

The expo's other major speakers will be the four members of the show's traditional CTO panel. This panel, which will be moderated by technology analyst and author Leslie Ellis on May 12, will consist of: Charles Dietz, senior vice president of engineering for Insight Communications; David Fellows, CTO of Comcast Cable Communications; Sudhir Ispahani, chairman-CTO of United Pan European Communications; and Michael LaJoie, executive vice president of advanced technology for Time Warner Cable.

Clark sees the addition of Ispahani to the panel as another interesting twist this year. "We think the international European perspective will bring a new layer to our CTO panel this year," he said.

But Fellows and LaJoie, representing the industry's two giant MSOs, will probably draw the most attention from the crowd. In particular, vendors and other attendees will likely be hanging on every word from Fellows now that Comcast has become the dominant cable operator in the nation.

As in years past, Cable-Tec Expo will feature more than 20 educational workshops on current engineering issues. The list includes video-on-demand (VOD) deployment, traffic management, operation support systems (OSS), DOCSIS implementation, IP telephony, wireless technologies and high-definition TV (HDTV).

"We really have an operational focus to them," Clark said. "The purpose of the workshops is to increase net income. It's really a here-and-now, bottom-line focus for Expo."

There'll also be a special panel discussion on VOD deployment issues, which both Clark and several cable equipment suppliers expect to be a hot topic at the show. In particular, they say, engineers will be debating ways to deliver VOD more economically and on a larger scale. "You're going to see a lot of VOD stuff at the show," said Peter Polit, general manager of broadband data and Voip for Thomson Consumer Electronics.

In one more new twist, the show will present Spanish simulcasts of three workshop sessions, namely the ones covering voice over HFC DOCSIS networks, VOD deployment techniques and troubleshooting reverse path RF problems. With the nation's Hispanic population growing by leaps and bounds, Clark calls it a sign of the times.

"Our ÔOperation Espanol' program is exploding," he said, noting that the SCTE just received $51,000 from the Kaitz Foundation to start offering the organization's cable certification training in Spanish. Although he doesn't know exactly how many SCTE members or show attendees are Spanish speakers, he does know that the numbers are "certainly growing."

"We want to make sure we're out ahead of the curve," he said. "It really expands the promotional pool."

Not surprisingly, Clark expects show attendees to be focused more on bottom-line issues than ever this year. "Driving operational efficiencies is number one, with the emphasis on creating free cash flow," he said.

Almost universally, equipment vendors agree. For cable operators, "it's more about incrementalism right now, leveraging what they already have," said Tim Doiron, director of marketing and product management for Arris. "I don't think science experiments are hip right now."

Nevertheless, some new products and services may seize the limelight this year, particularly on the video side. Take HDTV, for example. Clark and some vendors think that, like VOD, both high-def and possibly personal video recorders (PVRs) will be hot items as cable operators seek ways to match the offerings of satellite TV providers. "The competitive perspective comes up more than ever now," said one cable executive.

Pace Micro Technology Americas, for one, plans to showcase its two HDTV digital cable set-top boxes at the expo. The two boxes are the Pace DC-550 HD, which is now in field trials with Time Warner, and the new Pace DC-755 HD, which is Motorola two-way network compatible.

On the data side, tech suppliers expect home networking and wireless connectivity to be two prime topics of discussion. At the show, many vendors are expected to show off their latest wireless and home networking gadgets and software. To cite one example, Texas Instruments will pitch the use of the 802.11 wireless technologies over coax.

"Home networking and wireless are going to be hot," Polit said. "We think that market's ripe and ready to go."

The long-awaited introduction of IP telephony will likely be a hot topic too. With such independent Voip providers as Vonage Holdings Corp. rolling out service and CableLabs recently certifying or qualifying nine more PacketCable devices, engineers will be debating how fast the cable IP telephony business should develop.

"The question is: Is this the year for voice-over-IP (VoIP)?" said Ben Stanger, manager of product marketing for Cisco Systems' cable business unit. "I think we're pretty close. The stars may be lining up for some growth and some real revenue development, certainly by early 2004."

But don't expect any major debates over the basic high-speed data business. About seven years after the commercial launch of the first cable modems, cable operators are pretty satisfied with how their high-speed data operations are developing, even though they're always seeking to squeeze more profits and cost-savings out of the service

"I think data delivery is in a nice place right now," said Al Servati, director of marketing for cable modem products at Conexant Systems. "There's no controversy around it. Nobody wants to add a hard disk to the cable modem."

Even with all these technical and operational issues, however, many engineers may be most focused on personal concerns, like whether there's enough work for them in the consolidating cable industry. Don't be surprised to see a bunch of techies upgrading and circulating resumes at the show.

"I think a lot of them are worried about the fact that they don't have jobs," said Peter Percosan, director of broadband strategy for Texas Instruments'

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