UP Front - September, 2007
McSlarrow: OCAP acronym ‘completely drops the ball’
During his keynote address at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow joked that he had banned the use of the acronym “OCAP” at NCTA headquarters because “it completely drops the ball” when it comes to defining the OpenCable Application Platform. In a July CableLabs Webcast, it was dropped from the official lexicon in favor of the OpenCable Platform.
“The OpenCable Platform is about hardware and software, and OCAP was just software,” said Margit Tritt, director of APS program management for CableLabs.
Tritt said MSOs are publicly committed to the OpenCable Platform, and that the goal is to make as seamless a transition as possible to the portable hardware and software. Tritt pointed to the 13 companies that displayed OpenCable exhibits at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show as proof that OpenCable is gaining momentum.
Bob Mechler, CableLabs’ software engineer for eTV and OpenCable, said the OpenCable developer’s conference at the NCTA show drew 300 attendees for the keynote address and averaged 200 during the sessions designed to help developers write applications for the technology.
OpenCable was initially conceived by CableLabs and cable operators 10 years ago as a stack of software that resides between applications and the operating system within a consumer electronics device such as a set-top box (STB) or OpenCable-compliant TV set. Java-based OpenCable devices can have new information or applications ported to them because of their two-way capabilities, with eTV being an early forerunner in applications for legacy STBs.
Tritt said the feedback CableLabs has received to date has indicated that electronic program guides (EPGs) will be among the first OpenCable applications to launch. OpenCable STBs are currently in customers’ homes, Mechler said, and the recent rollouts will also, at a minimum, support video-on-demand (VOD) and digital video recorders (DVRs), as well as EPGs.
“The rollouts are accelerating,” Mechler said. “We’re getting things into the field, and they’re working.”
Sprint packs up, leaves SpectrumCo
Sprint Nextel has opted out of its spectrum-bidding joint venture (JV) — dubbed SpectrumCo — with cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable (TWC), Cox Communications and Bright House Networks (Advance/Newhouse). Each JV partner has the right to exit the JV under certain conditions, according to the 10Q TWC filed with the SEC on Aug. 1.
TWC’s CEO Glenn Britt, during the company’s earnings call, stressed that the pullout will not affect Pivot – the integrated wireline and wireless service provided by Sprint and offered by the cable partners that is currently being rolled out. The Pivot brand is now available in more than a dozen markets, and the service is expected to reach 40 metropolitan areas this year.
Sprint was a non-voting, minority shareholder and owned about 5 percent of SpectrumCo – the winning bidder for 137 wireless spectrum licenses in the FCC’s wireless auction last fall – spending $2.37 billion. Other contributions to the JV were Comcast with $1.29 billion, TWC with $632.2 million and Cox with $248.3 million.
Verizon petitions FCC, keeps rolling out FiOS
In a July petition of the FCC, Verizon indicated that it may transition to all-digital TV transmission within a year, in advance of the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline the FCC has set for the entire television industry.
Verizon, one of the very few recipients of a waiver on separable-security set-top boxes (STBs), also requested further concessions from the FCC on the same issue.
Current rules on the digital transition say that a company making the switch to all-digital must inform its customers of the fact a full year in advance. Verizon has asked for the wording of that rule to be changed to a “reasonable notice.”
The request could be interpreted in one of two ways: 1) either Verizon plans to go all-digital within the next 12 months, or 2) Verizon wants to be able to provide such short public notice that local competitors will not have time to immediately respond.
As for the STB situation, Verizon is apparently worried that the downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) technology being developed isn’t going to be ready within the year. Verizon has a one-year waiver but is requesting one that extends for three years, or until it can come up with an interim solution to the integration ban.
If that has the ring of familiarity, perhaps it’s because that is the same argument the cable industry made about the CableCARD solution – an argument the FCC rejected.
As for Verizon’s health, its FiOS TV service has passed the half-million mark. The company now has 515,000 FiOS TV subscribers and 1.3 million total video customers. And Verizon now counts 7.7 million broadband connections, of which 1.1 million are FiOS Internet customers. As of the end of the second quarter, the company had passed nearly 7.6 million premises with FiOS, on track with its year-end target of 9 million.
Cablevision upgrades residential voice service offering
Cablevision Systems Corp. is now giving its residential customers the option of having up to four Optimum Voice digital phone lines.
Subscribers with one Optimum Voice line can add up to three additional lines for $14.95 per month, per line. Cablevision already offers business customers up to eight lines of Optimum Voice.
Optimum Voice is available exclusively to Optimum Online high-speed Internet customers. The service is carried over Cablevision’s broadband network.
Sprint, Clearwire partner on nationwide WiMAX network
Sprint Nextel and Clearwire – both of which were already building out WiMAX-based networks – have signed a letter of intent to work together on nationwide WiMAX coverage through metropolitan networks. The network will be separately owned, though the service provided through those networks will be co-branded.
In order for the plan to succeed, the companies said they need to exchange selected 2.5 GHz spectrum to optimize the build-out, development and operation of the network. Sprint and Clearwire also expect to enable roaming between their respective territories.
Under the network build-out plan, Sprint will focus on geographic areas covering approximately 185 million people, including 75 percent of the people located in the 50 largest markets, while Clearwire will focus on areas covering approximately 115 million people. Initially, the two companies expect to cover approximately 100 million people by the end of 2008.
The WiMAX service will feature a portal from Google. Sprint’s network bandwidth, location detection and presence capabilities will be matched with Google’s communications suite, which includes Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Talk services.
Infinera building Cox’s network
Cox plans to create a national transport network that stretches from coast to coast, and it has entrusted Infinera with the responsibility of building it.
The 12,000-mile network will lead to voice, video, data and wireless being converged on a single network for both residential and business customers.
The network will be based on the Infinera Digital Optical Networks architecture.
Dan Estes, Cox’s director of transport and access engineering, said that the Infinera Digital Optical Network will help Cox accommodate increasing network traffic, which has been doubling every 12 to 18 months.
In August, TiVo Inc. released a new HD DVR, priced at only $299.99, which allows users to record two HD channels simultaneously while watching a third previously recorded program. The set-top stores 20 hours of HD content, or up to 180 hours of SD content.
TiVo’s HD DVR
The new TiVo HD DVR is a digital-cable-ready set-top that is compatible with any U.S. cable provider. A built-in Ethernet jack and two CableCARD slots and USB ports allow for advanced connectivity and networking. Also, features such as movie and TV downloads from Amazon.com, home movie sharing and universal swivel search are available with the DVR.
A call to arms needed for telco threat
According to an analyst group, cable operators need to issue a call to arms in order to combat the growing threat from telcos deploying fiber-to-the-home (FTTH).
El Segundo, Calf.-based iSuppli Corp. said in a new report that FTTH providers such as Verizon and Japan’s NTT will be able to deliver more HDTV programs to customers than cable operators will.
“FTTH poses a real threat to the MSOs, potentially rendering today’s cable television infrastructure obsolete,” said Steve Rago, principal analyst for networking and optical communications at iSuppli. “This is the same infrastructure that cable operators in the United States just finished upgrading at a cost that iSuppli estimates at $60 billion.”
The report predicts that FTTH providers will have 413 million broadband customers in 2010, eclipsing the total number of cable broadband customers for the first time.
The report also cited fiber-to-the curb (FTTC) and VDSL as threats to cable. Service providers such as AT&T can save up to 50 or 60 percent by not replacing their copper over the last mile.
“MSOs need to start planning now if they hope to counter the threat of telcos starting in 2009,” Rago said. “If MSOs do not upgrade their capabilities, they may see the war for the triple/quadruple play swing in favor of the telcos.”
But while the report predicts dire consequences for the cable industry, cable operators continue to expand their bandwidth through node splits, wideband and DOCSIS 3.0, once the latter is deployed.
SSI Guard Dog tackles ops’ non-responders
Secure Signals International (SSI), a risk management firm for the cable TV industry, and Genesys Solutions Inc., a system integration and software development company, have teamed up for a digital set-top box (STB) non-responder management solution for cable operators.
The solution, SSI Guard Dog, manages the work flow generated by non-responding digital set-tops and helps to identify fraudulent consumer activity, such as attached filters or devices that render digital STBs unresponsive to headend billing systems. If a pay-per-view (PPV) request comes in, for example, and the request does not reach the billing system, a non-responder report is created.
“There’s not a cable operator out there that knows exactly what’s going on with their non-responders,” said Stan McGinnis, founder and CEO of SSI.
And if non-responders account for more than six percent of an operator’s customer base, it’s a problem, McGinnis said.
SSI creates a VPN within the cable company and dumps non-responder reports and other data as frequently as the operator desires. When the data is dumped, it is then offline, and therefore not affecting anything online.
“Fraud is possible, and often prevalent, across all network technologies,” said Ganesh Hegde, founder and CEO of Genesys. “With telecommunications fraud having tripled over the past six years, emerging service providers and relatively new technologies are particularly vulnerable.”
SSI Guard Dog is currently being beta tested on several U.S. cable systems.