The emergence of the hospitality industry as a fertile market for video, voice and data service providers is sparking a renewed interest from both the hotel and cable/telecom sectors.

With little or no compatibility among service providers and hotels, increasing bandwidth requirements and a growing appetite for high-speed data (wired and wireless), HD, VOD, and always-on connectivity, hotels are now raising the bar for these advanced services.

“There’s a great deal of interest with cable MSOs, and we’re engaging that issue and the adoption of standards,” said Doug Rice, EVP and CEO for the Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) group. “Hotels want to control the channel lineup for guests, brand the experience and integrate guest services via TV from hotel to hotel. But we would much rather have all the technology at the headend with tru2way in each room,” Rice said.

The sticking point is cable’s footprint and how to extend it nationally.

“Nearly 75 percent of the hotel market rooms get content from satellite, but cable has more content to offer hotels,” said Rice. “That’s what we’re discussing with seven hotel companies, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Comcast. We want enough discussion to push a standard to an OCAP standard then push it out to the industry.”

And eventually push satellite out of the picture.
 
“Satellite requires a headend in the hotel, and it’s not a simple headend,” Rice said. “It’s difficult to maintain and requires lots of engineering. The hotel industry is now about creating the home away from home, and it’s currently frustrated by not giving its customers what they want.”

Space counts, particularly in the hotel sector, where the discreet placement of set-top boxes and other devices is considered a must.

“A set-top box in every room is not what the hoteliers want,” said Glen Hardin, chief architect for video systems at Time Warner Cable. “But they need something with an RF two-way device and a return path for VOD. Hoteliers want an off-premise solution and a cross-MSO offering, but that requires a multi-MSO agreement.”

Encryption hurdles
   
Pending such collaboration, MSOs still face a basic technical hurdle.

“The use of Interactive TV, digital, HD and other technologies and applications has hit the hotel market and radically changed the way we equip hotel rooms. But (the hotel market) uses a proprietary encryption scheme with little compatibility, which has created a market at risk within our footprint,” Hardin explained.
 
Others recognize and have addressed this conditional access dilemma.

“There is a push by larger hotel chains for HDTV content, so cable operators need to meet certain encryption requirements,” said Jay Lee, CTO and VP of business development at ATX Networks. “Cable operators have lots of HD content but it is encrypted in other formats like Scientific-Atlanta’s Power Key. This is a very significant requirement.“

In its UCrypt platform, ATX opted to enable decryption of programs via CableCard and output content in either ‘clear’ or the LG Electronics-based Pro:Idiom encrypted format. RL Drake has embraced Pro:Idiom with its hospitality system product.

Vecima Networks also re-encrypts using Pro:Idiom in its MetaQAM product, which demodulates up to 32 QAM carriers and supports up to 6 multi-channel CableCARDs to decrypt streams for both SD and HD programming.

There is some movement toward an OCAP (tru2way) standard and a solution, but it will take more time. “Within 12-18 months we expect to send a complete standard to CableLabs,” Rice said. “We’re definitely moving forward.”

A common approach is the best solution, Rice said: “We’re in the exploratory stage and the problems such as billing systems are not difficult to solve. But they require standards.”

-Craig Kuhl

The Daily

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