The cable industry needs what Phil McKinney, President and CEO at CableLabs, describes as a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. He says a BHAG is a vision, an ambition and a rallying cry. It defines a compelling target and a clear finish line to motivate and focus an industry, but does not have to outline the detail of how the target will be met. “BHAGs have been used to rally a nation, like when President John F Kennedy set out the goal to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.”
The decade in question was the 1960s, of course – Kennedy set out that vision to a joint session of Congress in May 1961. And McKinney used Cable Congress recently to argue that the cable industry needs a BHAG – and he then presented what CableLabs (the innovation and R&D lab that is shared by cable operators) thinks it should be. This amounts to the delivery of life-changing consumer services built around low-latency connectivity, multi-gigabit networks, virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence.
“The BHAG answers the question of why we need multi-gigabit networks and what people are doing to do with all that speed,” he said.
CableLabs has created a video, which you can watch on YouTube, that shows how a family could live and work a few years from now (and the not-for-profit organisation is focused on the 3-8 year time-frame with its current innovation efforts). A man travels home in a driverless car, checking work files and text messages and shouting to neighbours while the car navigates itself. His wife/partner is in her home office running an interactive remote presentation with work colleagues, who appear to be in the room with her. Graphics are presented in mid-air that can be swiped as if they were on a tablet screen. When she finally closes the meeting, you see how this virtual boardroom is in fact a run-of-the-mill study.
Their teenage daughter is doing her college studies and a hologram projection of Albert Einstein is explaining his theory of relativity with the help of rotating planets that surround him – offering a vision of how augmented reality could make education more immersive. Her younger sister is talking to her Grandma in a meadow, although in reality it is actually her bedroom.
A brother is playing a VR game that turns the entire house into a space station, and slowly the rest of the family join him in this made-up world. The catch-line for the video is ‘The near future – bring it on’.
McKinney highlighted work within CableLabs to reduce the latency of DOCSIS broadband networks, something that is needed to meet the ‘design criteria’ for the near-future vision. “The purpose of the video is to inspire the innovators out there who will be creating the services [of the near-future]. We want them to recognise that the cable network is the best network for them to build their experiences on.”
He said there is already a long line of companies in Silicon Valley that want to engage with the cable industry and talk about how they can build new services, like those seen in the video, on cable. He also invited people to give feedback on the vision to CableLabs and to challenge it if they think it is wrong.
Meanwhile, McKinney noted how the new focus on the 3-8 year ‘near-future’ timeframe follows a strategic pivot at the start of 2016. CableLabs now invests half its money into technologies that will appear in this time frame.
He challenged cable operators to meet needs that consumers have not even recognized yet. He called on executives to be open to outside ideas, even those that seem crazy. He praised the entrepreneurial spirt of the cable industry, “which is made up of people who started from nothing and built businesses and networks by taking very big risks with capital spend.”
Photo: A scene from the CableLabs video, which is designed to articulate the cable ‘BHAG’.