Motorola, S-A set-tops to populate SBC's 'U-verse'

Wed, 08/17/2005 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, CED

SBC Communications has made a key decision for its ambitious IPTV effort, naming Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta as its primary suppliers for set-top boxes.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The contracts, awarded by SBC Services Inc., run through the end of 2008.

SBC has not said if one vendor will get the lion's share of the set-top business for "U-verse," the telco's forthcoming IPTV service, but noted it will give "equal market opportunity" to both suppliers. SBC plans to move on a controlled market launch of U-verse in late 2005 or early 2006.

S-A and Motorola will get equal access, at least technically, to SBC's IPTV markets in part because SBC will employ the Microsoft TV digital rights management platform, allowing the telco to deploy Motorola and S-A boxes in the same system.

Today, cable operators don't usually have the same flexibility since each system is usually based on Motorola's MediaCipher or S-A's PowerKEY conditional access platform. S-A, however, does offer an "overlay" CA system that allows for its boxes to operate alongside Motorola set-tops on cable systems originally outfitted with MediaCipher. The cable industry is also pursuing a more open CA system based in software and a secure loading chip.

SBC said it will offer a range of boxes from S-A and Motorola, but did not disclose the mix of models it will deploy. Motorola and S-A each have five different IPTV models, ranging from lower end single stream boxes to advanced, multi-room, multi-stream boxes with on-board high-definition and digital video recording capabilities. The boxes will also use advanced compression - either MPEG-4 or VC-1. SBC said it expects to deploy boxes from Motorola initially when it scales the service, and follow with S-A set-tops.

But S-A was first in the door in supporting SBC's IPTV plans. In March, it won a deal to provide the telco with a raft of IP video network gear that acquires, processes, encodes and distributes content to subscribers. SBC is presently testing that system as part of a technical trial.


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