Three cable veterans are pushing an entirely new downloadable security method that could give cable operators more flexibility as they move toward CableCARD-free set-top security solutions. The new open standard was developed by Beyond Broadband Technology, a company the 3 cable execs founded more than 3 years ago.
"The primary objective was to develop a low cost set top box that would allow systems to efficiently migrate from analog to digital transmission," said BBT co-founder and WinDBreak Cable pres/CEO Bill Bauer. Other BBT co-founders are Buford Media chmn Ben Hooks and Tele-Media Broadband pres/CEO Tony Swain. R.L. Drake Co, the first manufacturer to sign on, plans to have prototypes ready for testing by the end of Q1 ’07 and manufactured product available, in quantity, by Q3.
Boxes are expected to cost less than $100 for the most basic, one-way models, which will look more like power cord transformers than set tops, allowing them to be mounted on the wall or back of the TV set. BBT’s technology creates an alternative to CableLabs‘ OpenCable-based downloadable security specs known as DCAS, or Downloadable Conditional Access System. Major CE manufacturers such as Panasonic and Samsung have already signed CableLabs’ host license agreement to develop DCAS-enabled boxes. But those boxes aren’t expected to be ready until mid-’08 at the earliest.
Largely for that reason, several MSOs have asked for waivers of the FCC‘s requirement that cable operators only distribute set tops with separable security after July 1, 2007. BBT’s system, however, could allow downloadable, separable security before the deadline. BBT officials spent Thurs at the FCC briefing commissioners and some Media Bureau staffers, and in a Thurs letter to FCC chmn Kevin Martin, said that continuing without a low-cost security alternative "would have forced many cable systems, particularly the smaller ones, to fail, sell or consolidate because they cannot comply with the Commission’s current mandates."
BBT said cable ops can choose between local, regional or national control of the boxes, which will also support both one-way and two-way transmissions, and MPEG-4 encoding to accommodate HDTV streams (DCAS is designed for two-way boxes). BBT predicts that headend equipment will cost less than a quarter of currently installed equipment when used in tandem with its HITS-like transport system (provided by C-BAND satellite operator Syndetik). Bauer said cable ops need more low-cost options. "It comes down to dollars and sense," he said. "We have to remain competitive."
• Ben Hooks Q&A in CableWorld (July 31, 2006)