Cable Backs Security by Download

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The cable industry has moved closer to creating a world with wider availability of digital-cable-ready TV sets, telling the federal government it expects to introduce downloadable conditional-access systems (DCAS) for interactive devices by July 1, 2008.

Cable advised the Federal Communications Commission to use CableCard Host Interface License Agreements (CHILA) — for interactive digital-cable-ready devices — signed by Panasonic Consumer Electronics, Samsung Electronics America Inc. and others as a template for consumer-electronics manufacturers in the interim.

MANDATED UPDATE

Both initiatives came in FCC-mandated filings surrounding the so-called two-way talks among cable, the CE industry and other interested parties.

The cable and CE industries stuck an accord two years ago, allowing for one-way cable features, activated by CableCards, to be built into TV sets. That technology eliminates the need for consumers to lease set-top boxes.

But the accord covered only one-way services, so operators did not heavily market the feature, because consumers could not access interactive program guides or on-demand programming.

A modest 80,000 CableCards have been deployed in the last 18 months.

During that time, both industries sought common ground on two-way CableCard talks, but the complexity of the issues and number of parties in the talks “proved unwieldy,” the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said.

Meanwhile, Panasonic, Samsung, LG Electronics and Digeo Inc. signed two-way CHILA licensing agreements with CableLabs.

Those agreements allow TV manufacturers to build interactive digital-cable-ready sets — capable of the two-way communication needed for IPGs and VOD — via a two-way CableCard.

These two-way agreements, and improvements in downloadable security methods, ease the pressure on cable and CE makers to reach an omnibus two-way deal.

In the Dec. 1 filing, the NCTA suggested the FCC use the current two-way CHILA agreements with Panasonic, Samsung, LG Electronics, Digeo, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and others as the de facto standard for all two-way deals.

The NCTA also suggested the FCC use cable’s OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware specification as the common software language to make sure any two-way device built would work on any cable system.

The NCTA also said the largest MSOs have committed to begin launching OCAP in 2006, with the roll out completed by July 1, 2009. The commitment covers all 750-megahertz systems with 5,000 or more subscribers.

KEY DEMOS AT FCC

“The cable industry is committing to deploy OCAP over a three-year period to give assurances to consumer electronics manufacturers that televisions or other IDCR devices built to OCAP and OpenCable specifications will work nationwide,” according to the NCTA.

But the cable industry is increasingly more bullish on downloadable security as a preferred solution.

Last week, prior to the NCTA filing, the cable industry demonstrated Motorola Inc. conditional-access software downloaded and running on an S-A box, and vice versa, at the FCC, said CableLabs deputy general counsel Jud Cary. NDS conditional-access was demonstrated on a Samsung TV set, as well.

“It’s a real win for cable, for the CE industry and for consumers,” Cary said of downloadable conditional access.

With downloadable security, after July 1, 2008, consumers could buy a digital-cable-ready TV, plug the cable drop to the back of the set and then call their operator, which would send software to the TV to activate full two-way service.

“DCAS can replace the existing and more expensive CableCard-based 'separate security’ system for retail IDCR devices, thereby making such equipment more affordable at retail,” the NCTA said.

Samsung already has stepped up, signing a deal last week with CableLabs to put DCAS in consumer devices. “They came up with a good solution,” Cary said.

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