More Than 70 State Legislators Experience the Future of Connectivity at CableLabs
For the past several years, CableLabs has annually hosted a large group of state legislators from dozens of states across the country to discuss the future of broadband connectivity. It was our privilege to repeat that honor recently, both to showcase the cable industry’s innovation roadmap and to listen to the interests and concerns of a diverse group of lawmakers.
Policymakers were excited to see firsthand the emerging network technologies that will enable increased cable broadband performance—faster symmetrical speeds, lower latency, enhanced reliability and better security. Collectively, the group of network technologies that will enable this increased performance is the cable “10G Platform,” which will equip cable networks to deliver 10 gigabit services.
CableLabs’ Rob Alderfer, Vice President of Technology Policy, kicked off the visit with an overview of the current state of cable broadband networks and the technologies on the horizon that will drive increased broadband performance. Gigabit-speed service is now available to nearly the entire footprint of the cable network in the United States. Although gigabit service is state of the art today, CableLabs sees an even faster future for connectivity with symmetrical multigigabit speeds coming soon to consumers through the 10G Platform. To help envision this future, CableLabs also screened its latest Near Future Video—“The Near Future: Diverse Thinkers Wanted”—to illustrate the applications and services that could be enabled by widely deployed 10G networks, including holo-rooms, on-call mixed reality (MR) and autonomous taxi fleets, among many others.
The state legislators then took part in a tour of CableLabs, including a series of demonstrations and discussions in the areas of wired network technologies, wireless network technologies, cybersecurity and immersive media.
Wired Network Technologies (Fiber and Coaxial)
In CableLabs’ Optical Center of Excellence, Curtis Knittle, vice president of wired technologies, demonstrated multi-gigabit broadband service in action, with speeds of nearly 5 Gbps being received by a single cable modem using DOCSIS® 3.1 network equipment—a clear step toward 10G. Curtis also provided an overview of the emerging wired network technologies that underpin the 10G Platform, including advances in DOCSIS technology (DOCSIS 4.0), fiber optic access networks (Full Duplex Coherent Optics) and distributed access architectures (Remote PHY and Remote MAC/PHY). Collectively, these technologies will scale to deliver 10 Gbps.
Wireless Network Technologies (Wi-Fi, Mobile and Fixed)
CableLabs continues to grow its investment in wireless network technologies, recognizing that the consumer’s broadband experience depends on a robust wireless connection. Joey Padden, a distinguished technologist at CableLabs, provided a live demo of gigabit Wi-Fi. Robust wireless connectivity, through home Wi-Fi networks, is essential to the delivery and full enjoyment of the full capability of the current cable broadband service and the 10G service of the future.
Joey led a discussion of the underlying technologies and constraints to future growth, including how a shortage of wireless spectrum is a major bottleneck for delivering on industry innovation. Policymakers can play a key role in helping enable the market by making more spectrum available for new and existing technologies, such as Wi-Fi. Recognizing the importance of spectrum policy, CableLabs is an active technical contributor to these important decisions, which were of high interest to the visiting lawmakers.
Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to enhance all our lives through increased efficiency, convenience and productivity. However, this proliferation of Internet-connected devices also creates meaningful risk for consumers, online services and the broader Internet. Insecure IoT devices can fuel cyberattacks, spread ransomware and steal sensitive personal information, among other concerns.
The 10G Platform seeks to mitigate these risks through a number of new technologies, including CableLabs® Micronets. CableLabs’ Mark Walker, Director of Technology Policy, and Kyle Haefner, Senior Security Engineer, demonstrated how new tools such as Micronets will allow cable broadband customers to stay ahead of attackers. Protecting consumers has proven to be a priority we share with legislators. CableLabs and the cable industry are leveraging decades of experience and leadership to help address the challenges and risks that insecure IoT poses.
Immersive Media (VR, MR and Light Fields)
The tour also provided the legislators with the opportunity to experience the latest in virtual reality (VR) and discuss the near future of immersive media technologies, including on-call MR and holographic light field displays. CableLabs’ Eric Klassen, Innovation Project Engineer, and Debbie Fitzgerald, Director of Technology Policy, led the discussion and provided legislators with a sense of the applications that cable’s 10G broadband networks will enable. To support the development and adoption of immersive media, CableLabs helped found the Immersive Digital Experience Alliance (IDEA), which is standardizing a new media format for the transmission of volumetric media, such as light fields.
Following the lab tours, the event wrapped with a future-focused session on emerging technology megatrends with CableLabs’ CEO Phil McKinney. Phil provided an innovator’s perspective on key trends that will significantly impact technology development. For example, he highlighted exponential increases in storage capabilities (e.g., biological-based and memristor technologies), artificial intelligence, robotics and bandwidth. Phil explained how these technology megatrends will fundamentally change how we each live, learn, work and play.
As CableLabs continues to build the technologies that will make 10G networks a reality, we recognize the importance of dialogue with policymakers through events such as this. It is critical that government officials have a sound understanding of the industry’s innovation roadmap, and it is equally important that industry listen to public policy interests. Together, we can build the future of connectivity.
Driving Global Connectivity Well Beyond Cable Technology
CableLabs participates in more than 30 unique standards organizations, industry consortia, and open source efforts.
CableLabs is focused on developing innovative technologies, not only in the performance of cable’s hybrid fiber coax (HFC) networks, but also in many areas that extend beyond the traditional cable network, including wireless (both licensed and unlicensed), cybersecurity, network function virtualization (NFV), optical technologies for access networks, and the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to network management and orchestration. To be successful, CableLabs recognizes that, in these areas beyond traditional cable technology, it must engage and work with the broader technology community to drive advancements. This effort is visible through CableLabs’ deep commitment to leading and contributing to standards organizations, industry consortia, and open source efforts in these broader areas.
Developing standards and industry specifications are at the core of CableLabs, which has been in the specification and standardization business since its inception over 30 years ago. In 1997, CableLabs released the initial version of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), the technology that enables broadband service to be provided over an HFC network. Standardization of the cable interface specification allowed the cable network operators to work at scale with the network equipment manufacturers to build the interoperable technology needed for cable to meet the exploding demand for broadband Internet access.
Ever since, CableLabs, along with its members and the vendor community, has continued to advance DOCSIS technology. Cable operators today have largely moved to DOCSIS 3.1 technology, enabling the availability of gigabit-speed broadband across nearly the entire cable footprint in the US, and driving towards a “10G” network capability. As cable has broadened its focus, CableLabs has responded by broadening its standards efforts and industry engagement.
Improving Wi-Fi and Enabling 5G through Wireless Standards Engagement
CableLabs contributes significantly to almost a dozen different standards organizations to improve wireless connectivity through standardization related mechanisms. Our work is not restricted to improvements in the traditionally separate spheres of in-home and mobile wireless and includes work toward a seamless network convergence for the future. Along those lines, CableLabs is engaged in the O-RAN Alliance, where we are leading an effort to establish an open virtualized RAN (“radio access network”) fronthaul specification which will allow for low-cost small cells with DOCSIS network backhaul.
At 3GPP, CableLabs is driving the Wireless-Wireline Convergence (WWC) effort to make the operation, management, and traversal of 5G wireless networks and 10G DOCSIS networks more seamless. CableLabs is also working to bring consumers a faster and safer in-home network experience through a next-generation adaptive security platform, CableLabs ® Micronets, which enables enterprise-level smart security at home. Beyond making home networks safer, we’re working to make them more powerful; exhibited by our role in achieving recent milestones with carrier-grade Wi-Fi certification through the Wi-Fi Alliance’s VantageTM and launch of the new EasyMeshTM certification program.
Driving Increased Performance of Optical Technologies in the Access Network through Broad Industry Collaboration
As cable drives its fiber infrastructure deeper into the HFC network, CableLabs has developed new technology for use of fiber in the access portion of the network and has promoted standardization of such technology. We are involved at several global standards development bodies—including IEEE, ESTI, O-RAN, and SCTE where we work to level-up all aspects of the fiber network. These efforts combine our internal specification development— work (such as Coherent Optics specifications) with broad industry collaboration in order to deliver dramatic improvements to the access network across all areas. This means that while working toward ever faster speeds through developing the next generations of PON protocols, the whole network ecosystem needs to be addressed, which includes innovation in network operations with projects such as Proactive Network Maintenance (PNM).
Building a Common, Secure, Foundation for IoT Devices of the Future
CableLabs envisions a future empowered by technologies that improve our lives—a future where augmented reality (AR)/ virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays, video walls, AI-enabled media, ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) devices, light field holodecks and displays (as seen in our latest Near Future video) are just the beginning. However, in order for AR/VR devices to be populated with high-quality content, for video walls to connect seamlessly, or for our IoT devices to assist us securely, we will first need high-quality, secure, industry-driven standards on which the technology and applications can be built. This belief has led to our involvement in the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), an industry effort to develop a secure interoperability specification for IoT.
Catalyzing the Future of Immersive Media Experiences
Recognizing the importance of building consensus throughout the ecosystem, even beyond the broadband network, CableLabs is significantly involved in and contributing technical expertise toward a number of emerging technology areas, including significant projects in video, VR/AR, and immersive media. Essential to the actual adoption of standards, we recently played a founding role in establishing Media Coding Industry Forum (MC-IF) to address patent licensing of future MPEG codecs. In addition, we announced a new collaboration called IDEA (Immersive Digital Experiences Alliance) to establish and promote end-to-end delivery of immersive content, including light fields, over broadband networks.
To learn more about our work in standards, open source, and industry consortia please see our members-only (login required) Standards Strategy Update (April 2019) on current engagements.