AT&T to Shutter Multivendor Trial


AT&T Broadband confirmed last week that the company's open, multivendor trial in Jacksonville, Fla., will come to a close. The company is in the process of converting the system back to equipment made by its dominant supplier, Motorola Broadband Communications Sector.

MSO spokesman Steve Lang said AT&T's conclusion is that it's still cost effective to use a uniform architecture across cable properties.

A source familiar with the trial, which was inherited from MediaOne Group Inc., said linking other vendors' equipment and software to the Motorola Broadband-based system proved to be quite a challenge.

"It was like connecting an Apple [computer] to a PC," the source said.

MediaOne, now part of AT&T Broadband, announced the multivendor pilot in February 1999, becoming the first U.S. operator to use an open conditional-access platform capable of accommodating digital boxes from more than one manufacturer in the same system.

Specifically, the MSO used Philips Consumer Electronics Co.'s set-tops, Canal Plus S.A. "MediaHighway" middleware and headends from DiviCom Inc. (now Harmonic Inc.).

The pilot offered customers a lineup of digital programming, impulse pay-per-view and a channel guide.

One industry source familiar with the situation said thousands of customers were involved, but the MSO declined to provide specific figures.

Rumors surfaced last year that AT&T Broadband would launch a similar, multi-vendor pilot in Minnesota, but that didn't happen.

Industry sources said the Jacksonville test was aimed partly at creating alternatives to Motorola Broadband and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s proprietary signal scrambling technology called DES, or Data Encryption System.

DES is a published standard, but without some encryption details. In order to be compatible with Motorola and S-A systems, set-top vendors must obtain a DES license.

The open-access control elements used in Jacksonville for conditional access were based on Digital Video Broadcasting Group specifications, which are popular in Europe. OpenCable will use DES inside point-of-deployment (POD) modules, which are credit-card sized devices that fit inside standards-based set-tops.

Spearheaded by Louisville, Colo.-based Cable Television Laboratories Inc., OpenCable's goal is to bring in multiple set-top box and network equipment manufacturers and to sell interoperable set-tops at retail channels.

The shift to a multivendor cable environment has already occurred as OpenCable specification development continues. For example, AT&T Broadband has secondary box deals with Philips and Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co. Time Warner Cable, whose dominant set-top source is S-A, has ordered set-tops from Pace Micro Technology plc and Pioneer New Media Technologies Inc.

Lang said the MSO remains solidly behind the OpenCable initiative.