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Technology

Rewinding the Year in Technology

12/16/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

If one were to collect every issue of this magazine for the year to cull the big technology headlines, the resultant stack would weigh just over 20 pounds and the list would span 14 single-spaced pages.

This year, as with every year in recent and prolonged memory, technology wound its way into just about everything. This translation will cover deals, core technologies and just-plain-funny stuff.

THREE BIG TECH DEALS

Three big deals rose above the rest in 2005. On the wireless front, the “big Sprint deal,” in October, which vaulted Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Advance/Newhouse to the top of the “watch” list in ’06 for wireless spigot development.

On the set-top front, there was Cisco Systems Inc.’s surprise, $6.9 billion offer for Scientific-Atlanta Inc., just before Thanksgiving. Before that, in March, Comcast formed two joint ventures with Motorola, (total value: $1 billion).

The latter gives MSOs a new way to wish for open conditional access on one of the two forks of the duopoly, shifting the decision-making power over licensing rights from Motorola to Comcast. The former does the same thing for the other fork of the duopoly, but in a different way — one has to imagine along the lines of Cisco’s lifelong pursuit of “open standards.”

Both deals underscore a revived need for technologies and techniques that work nationwide (think retail here), regardless of the geographic boundaries of individual cable providers.

Other deals of note for the year: Comcast and Cox buying Liberate; Comcast linking up with TiVo; SBC buying gear from Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta; Microsoft and Real Networks settling their deeply-seated differences; and Microsoft’s decision, in November, to build a way to read the secrets of CableCards into its ’06 line of home-media centers.

Whew.

Speaking of Microsoft: As a key technology supplier to the telcos, the software giant cropped up plenty in headlines this year, especially when its Internet-protocol television software hit some bumps, in the June timeframe.

In the core technologies area, three big developments punctuated 2005. One was the surprise momentum behind simulcast, to make all analog channels available in a digital format. Now, everybody’s doing it.

No. 2 was the big push by Time Warner Cable, among others, to start switching video. Watch for significant action on that front in ’06, as a bandwidth conservation technique.

And three was the most significant technology with a mind-numbingly dull name: DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) 3.0, the secret sauce that will, at least in theory, annihilate all big-bandwidth wanna-bes. That’s the one where you glue four or more channels together, sum the throughput, and wind up with loads of bandwidth.

MADE YOU SAY 'HMMM’

Lastly, there’s the “Things That Make You Go Hmmm” section, which includes this gem, from this magazine’s “Through the Wire” section: Ring tones downloaded into cellular phones are a $3 billion business. That’s 10 times the market for music downloads in the same timeframe, according to Level 3 CEO James Crowe, who dropped word of the development at a Kagan Research Inc. conference in May. Go figure.

That’s a brief summary of the big headlines from the 20 pounds of aggregated Multichannel News editions for the year.

May your holidays be jargon-free and bright.

September