Engineer Pitches GPS -- for Set-Tops


While originally designed for military use,
global-positioning-satellite receivers have vaulted into a mass-market consumer product in
recent years.

Boaters rely on GPS to plot their course, rental-car
companies offer GPS systems to help drivers find their way around unfamiliar cities and
new golf carts equipped with GPS receivers help hard-core golfers to pick the right clubs
by calculating their exact location on the links.

PanAmSat Corp. chief technology officer Robert Bednarek has
come up with yet another use for GPS receivers -- one that he thinks could eventually
change the way satellite providers or cable operators distribute programming. In December,
Bednarek won a U.S. patent for bundling GPS receivers inside set-top boxes.

If content providers and their cable and satellite
distributors can use GPS to calculate the exact position of subscribers, they could ensure
that subscribers who bought programming services are actually the people receiving them,
Bednarek said.

GPS would also allow programmers or advertisers to push
content or ads to individual subscribers according to their exact locations, he added.

Regional sports programmers could make best use of the
technology, Bednarek said. He added that a partner pitched the idea to some sports
programmers, and to the National Association of Broadcasters last year, but so far, they
don't have any bites.

DirecTV Inc. vice president of receiver and data-broadcast
systems Jon Toellner said GPS receivers have some potential, but not in subscribers'
homes. "If you bundle GPS in a set-top, it only makes sense for mobile or marine
applications," he added.

The company considered bundling GPS receivers inside
set-tops years ago, and it even began the process of obtaining a patent, but it dropped
the project because it was deemed too expensive, Toellner said. "You might end up
doubling the price of the [set-top], or even more," he added.

But Bednarek expects that adding a GPS receiver to a
set-top would only add $10 to $15 to the cost per unit, since much of the hardware needed
for the GPS receiver, including the power supply, already exists in set-tops.

Scientific-Atlanta Inc. considered using GPS to help
overcome security issues in Asia when it was preparing a bid for News Corp.'s Star TV
set-top contract in 1993, chief scientist Tony Wasilewski said. The contract later went to
a subsidiary of NDS Ltd., a News Corp. division.

Wasilewski said he doesn't see an immediate use for GPS
set-tops for cable operators. "I don't think we would see this because we have other
methods to do security and prevent migration of set-tops between systems," he added.