Viva CES! But what's there for cable?

After Santa, the International CES comes to town - well, to Las Vegas, at least. There's sure to be a lot of whiz-bang things to see using artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), and ...

Viva CES! But what's there for cable?
Viva CES! But what's there for cable?

After Santa, the International CES comes to town - well, to Las Vegas, at least. There's sure to be a lot of whiz-bang things to see using artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), and 5G. The applications for each of these technologies target enough industries to fill the sprawling Vegas convention center. But where does cable fit in?

For starters, AI plays a role in diagnostics, said CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney. Proactive network maintenance (PNM) can take advantage of the data that is captured in DOCSIS to identify problems in the network that might be affecting a single house or an entire neighborhood.

CableLabs conducted a demo with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and showed an intermittent problem at an employee address. PNM tools were able to determine there was a loose connector on the set-top box. The employee called his wife and she pushed it in to solve the issue.

Approximately a dozen vendors have embedded PNM from CableLabs into tools and systems that operators can use in their networks. "This is another output from CableLabs. It is not a specification," McKinney said. "It is taking advantage of our unique knowledge and insight into how DOCSIS and HFC operate."

Certain AI applications depend on low latency and near compute; while latency issues can be solved in the local network, if the AI engines are in a faraway city, distance can still be a problem. The trend will be away from a small number of large data centers to a large number of small ones, McKinney said.

"Cable is unique in that it has a large amount of real estate," McKinney said. "As the footprint in the node or headend shrinks, (operators) have the space to put (compute) in."

What will compute platforms look like? They could be a distributed microcloud close to the customer, for example. And what kinds of new services could we see as a result? Perhaps social VR, or health monitoring applications, "the kind of capabilities (needed) to allow people to age in place," McKinney said.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another topic sure to be hot at CES. Cybersecurity is becoming an enormous issue as a result of the increasing number of devices in the home. CableLabs chairs the security committee at the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF). "We don't sell a product, so we got selected because we have R&D without the buy-in," McKinney said.

Beyond security, there also are bandwidth and connectivity issues with IoT. The devices need a reliable network, but operators also have to be prepared for the increased traffic. Taken to the extreme, autonomous vehicles could generate a terabyte of data for every hour of drive time. Once they are fairly ubiquitous, owners will all come home after work and park the cars in the garage. It then becomes the largest IoT device connected to the WiFi network.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has wireless spectrum that hasn't really been used to this point. "It was granted a decade (or so) ago … for vehicle-to-vehicle conversation," McKinney said. "It could be used for other capabilities."

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