The first all-virtual version of the SCTE/ISBE Cable Tec-Expo will have a few tricks up its digital sleeve when the annual industry event is delivered next week to a laptop near you.
In addition to a roundtable featuring industry CEOs and remarks from Michael Powell, president and CEO of the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association – Monday's opening general session will also feature a demo that will show off the capabilities of "10G," an access network-agnostic initiative that envisions speeds up to 10 Gbit/s along with enhanced security and low latency capabilities.
"It will be a real statement for the industry," Mark Dzuban, SCTE/ISBE's president and CEO, said. "It's a next generation of science perceived to be very futuristic, but we're going to deliver it today in its first format."
SCTE/ISBE is keeping the details of the demo under wraps, but Dzuban noted it "will be a component of the future of 10G."
Based on recent demos held under the 10G umbrella, a demonstration of a light field display or a form of volumetric video that conjures up images of the holodeck from "Star Trek" fame are among the possibilities.
Last month, for instance, Mediacom Communications, NCTA and CableLabs teamed up to host a "10G Smart Home" in Ames, Iowa, that included a light field display delivering 3D video that would require about 500 Mbit/s to 600 Mbit/s of throughput. That demo used a light field display from Looking Glass Factory to deliver holographic-like images and video to what was the equivalent of a 32-inch monitor.
Cable-Tec Expo 2020 was originally set to take place in Denver, but, as its been with basically all in-person industry events this year, that plan was scrapped due to the pandemic. SCTE/ISBE had to explore alternatives after getting word in May that the Colorado Convention Center would be used as a temporary medical facility through the rest of 2020.
Dzuban said his organization had already begun to explore ways to virtualize pieces of the event for a good part of two years, but ramped up those efforts once it was clear that this year's show could not be held in-person.
In somewhat of a break, the platform that SCTE/ISBE uses for a typical Cable Tec-Expo (from a company called Freeman) also offers live/virtual hybrid capabilities that could be tapped for a completely digital and virtual form of this year's show.
It's a "fungible methodology" that SCTE/ISBE could also explore for the 2021 event, currently slated to take place in Atlanta next October, COVID-19 willing, Dzuban explained.
"We are looking at having a hybrid that will go global from a virtual perspective," he added. "That may not be the full program, but there will be key assets like the [technical] papers."
But going virtual this year also wreaked havoc on the show's traditional funding model. The first all-virtual Cable-Tec Expo is free to anyone, and was salvaged by a "significant contribution" from several presenting sponsors that include Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communication and the SCTE Foundation. SCTE/ISBE isn't disclosing the amount of the contribution.
"The agreement is, it's open to everybody," Dzuban said.
For this year's online event, Cable-Tec Expo will feature 40 workshops backed by presentations of 119 papers selected by the event programming committee. Most will be delivered live, with on-demand versions going up each day at 6 p.m. and available for later viewing through January 16, 2021.
Sizing up the virtual audience
SCTE/ISBE is not discussing registration numbers, though Dzuban said the event is already seeing a "huge international" contingent starting to build.
"We've never done this before, so it was kind of pioneering. So far, it looks promising, Dzuban said. "Doing the best job we can [in 2020] will be important for next year, because I think this is a trend that's going to be with us for a long time, if not into perpetuity," Dzuban said.
And there's still no telling how the free, virtual version of Cable-Tec Expo, which could draw in audiences that typically could not make a live, in-person event, will compare to what Expo would draw under normal circumstances.
SCTE/ISBE has not released attendance figures in recent years. The 2017 show in Denver drew 8,800, and the 2016 Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, home to Comcast, drew more than 10,000.
But the 267 tech paper submissions received for this year's event was a record.
Dzuban said this part of the annual event (the NCTA publishes all papers presented at Cable-Tec Expo) remains critical to the industry.
"These papers support the premise of prior art," he said. "The notion is that once it becomes presented, it [enters] our archive as an asset to our industry. Not all industries do this. This is protecting our future from a science perspective."
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading