Translation Please

The Gateway...It's Baaaaack

10/06/2009 9:24 AM

Maybe this could’ve been predicted: The “gateway” is back. It’s one of those heavily-prefixed terms that almost never seems to stand on its own seven letters.

 

The last time “gateway” was in vogue – in the ‘02 timeframe — press releases bulged with phrasing like “robust residential gateway,” or just plain “data gateway.”

 

A refuge of vagueness, Will Strunk would’ve harrumphed onto “gateway.”

 

A “gateway” is a thing that allows or controls access into other things: A computer to another computer, a network to another network.

 

As cable providers evolve their networks for linear and on-demand TV services over IP (Internet Protocol), so will the “gateway” re-emerge to bridge between MPEG transport (set-top path) and IP transport (cable modem path).

 

Put another way, watch for the gateway to be an elixir for the “any device” part of “TV Everywhere.”

 

Here’s how to shake down a gateway for specificity. Say you’re wandering around the upcoming SCTE Cable Tec Expo. You spy a box. Maybe it looks like a set-top; maybe it looks like a cable modem. You’re told it’s a “gateway.”

 

First, ask about the bill of materials. What’s in it? If you hear “tuners,” ask: MPEG or DOCSIS?

 

If the latter, ask how many. The number of DOCSIS tuners indicates the number of channels that can be bonded into a nice shelf for IP video services.

 

If you hear “MPEG,” the box includes a hedge – “legacy video” tuners, just in case it needs to revert into a set-top box.

 

The business philosophy for the gateway is plausible. More and more homes have multiple HDTVs. A high-end screen warrants a high-end set-top; dual-tuner HD-DVRs run in the $400 range. So, a home with three HDTVs rings up $1,200 in boxes.

 

Instead, maybe there’s one mambo-gateway, feeding two smaller, $100-ish IP boxes, for the two other HDTVs. Shave $400 or so off the total cost of CPE, per house.

 

All of this beelines to the next big topic in this evolution: The “remote user interface,” or “RUI.” More on that next time.