The Gateway: It’s Baaaack

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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 the 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.

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