Several factors are contributing to the long-awaited adoption of OCAP, newly re-named Tru2Way*. First, it has provided a ready answer to the FCC‘s ban that went into effect last July on the deployment of set-top boxes with integrated security. Second, the application side of this technology is maturing, with new interactive features designed to boost favor among cable’s video subscribers in an increasingly competitive market.
As a result, this platform is well into a deployment cycle. Time Warner Cable appears to have taken the lead among the larger MSOs (see related story here), but innovative smaller operators, such as Sunflower Broadband, are also striving to become OCAP compliant and take advantage of what this technology offers.’
Stephen Schneider, director of technical operations for Sunflower, explained that the process of becoming OCAP-compliant begins at the headend.
"In order to fully support all implementations of upstream messaging, we will need to have DSG up and running …. We will need carousel/asset/application servers and some other headend equipment to be able to fully deploy other people’s OCAP applications," Schneider said.
According to Schneider, once the headend has been upgraded, there are two more paths to OCAP compliance: set-top boxes and development.
"We will need a critical mass of OCAP-compliant host devices (set-tops) before we launch anything. As we look to purchase OCAP-compliant set-tops, we are of course focusing on future-proofing as much as possible. Right now this means looking at boxes with more memory in either RAM, FLASH, or HDD or combinations thereof, and ones that we feel will fully support DCAS when it’s ready," Schneider said.
Schneider added that, also on the CPE side of the equation, will be the management of the applications (both bound and unbound) in regards to both setting policy on priority, thereby maximizing efficiency in what will turn out to be a very limited amount of memory.
"And, of course, we will need to deploy OCAP middleware to make it all work properly, which will be an additional expense and another set of operational complexities," Schneider said.
Schneider said that Sunflower is also writing some of its own OCAP applications.
"The final piece of the puzzle will be the development resources (human and otherwise), associated emulators, environments and skill-sets needed to do it with affordably, with excellence," Schneider said. An opportunity to leapfrog For small operators making the analog-to-digital transition, Jeff Berenson, VP of integration and deployment for iTV solutions provider Vidiom Systems, sees an opportunity for operators to leapfrog their technological inventory straight to Tru2Way.
After all, why undertake two upgrades back to back when you could have one upgrade with a longer relevant lifespan and increased cost effectiveness?
"If you need a new headend or new support, you’ll probably get the new technology anyway," Berenson said. Consumer (un)awareness "OCAP isn’t just going to show up one day," Berenson said. "Customers won’t see a lot of change. But, if they move or upgrade to HD, do something that involves a change, they’ll be getting equipment that is OCAP-compliant."
Schneider believes that gradual implementation is the way to go, not only to insulate the operator against subscriber technological overload or backlash, but also to allow Sunflower to grow into OCAP along with the industry.
"We haven’t really started talking to our customers about OCAP yet, mostly because we are still in the early stages of the project," Schneider said. "As we begin to roll out applications, we still might not refer to the underlying specifications per se, but will probably just focus on the benefits to the user."
* For the purposes of this discussion, the terms OCAP and Tru2Way may be used interchangeably. "It will take 10 years to get ‘OCAP’ out of our vernacular," Berenson said.
– Jennifer Rinaldi