How smaller operators will meet the FCC’s ban on set-tops with integrated security is a story line with legs. Make that multiple sets of legs.

In a paper presented at the NCTA’s Cable Show in Las Vegas, the Comcast Media Center argued on behalf of a “centralized services bureau” that could “outsource much of the capital and operating requirements of an OCAP infrastructure.” Anticipating demand for practical solutions, several vendors were demonstrating and discussing options on and off the floor at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando. And the topic is slated for discussion at this month’s Independent Show in Monterey, Calif.

As reported two weeks ago, a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) from Beyond Broadband Technology has made it through an initial trial, with BBT Partner Bill Bauer now eager to move into set-top production. Evolution (PCT) and Conax

Demonstrating smart-card technology approaches for smaller operators at Expo to the removable security conundrum were two other companies: Transparent Video Systems and Evolution, the company formerly known as PCT. More on TVS later, but for now a quick overview of Evolution’s collaboration with Norwegian-based CA company Conax.

Conax brings to this discussion a track record and a bevy of set-top partners. The company has more than 250 installations around the world, with at least a 100 on cable via the Digital Broadcasting Video – Cable (DVB-C) standard, said Conax Technical Manager for North America Rohit Mehra.

While Conax has to date worked primarily with set-top manufacturers such as Humax, Samsung, ADB and Thomson, Mehra is bullish on two Korean-based firms: Homecast and KAON Media. “They give you the same quality, and give you whatever quantities you look for,” he said.

In North America, Mehra said Conax is deploying its smart card technology on Homecast and KAON boxes with two small operators in Canada, Nor-Del Cablevision and Cable Cable Inc., both in Ontario.

In both cases, the integrator was Think Broadband. The approach will remain the same, but the integrator going forward will be Evolution, whose CTO Brent Smith was formerly with Think Broadband.

“We really tried to meet the price points of operators in the 2,000 to 10,000 subscriber range,” Smith said. Mini headend

Apart from any satellite receivers such as Motorola integrated receiver/decoder (IRDs), the headend so far has consisted of the Conax piece, multiplexers from Scientific-Atlanta and edge QAMs from Arris. (That would be the Arris D5, an early entrant into the now burgeoning edge QAM market. “The D5 is a fantastic piece of equipment, and very cost effective,” said Mehra.) The billing solution is from Great Lakes Data Systems.

Apart from the IRDs, the headend equipment requires little real estate. “Maybe half a rack for 250 to 300 channels,” said Mehra.

Compared to a National Authorization Service-Regional Access Control (NASRAC) solution from Motorola and the CMC, Smith said the breakeven point is around 400 to 500 subscribers, with the set-top boxes being the lower variable cost that makes the solution more attractive as penetration rates increase.

Mehra said Conax would have a DCAS solution when chips sets become secure enough, cheap enough and garner enough support. “We are already doing this smart-card-less, system-on-a-chip in the Chinese market.”

Timing is the key, said Smith. “What we are looking at is: How do we create an immediate solution,” he said. “Not two years from now, two months from now.”

Jonathan Tombes

The Daily

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