Light Reading
Nick Thexton sees more pay-TV providers deploying thinner IP client devices in homes as the IP video transition picks up steam.

Cisco Exec: Thinner Pay-TV STBs Coming

Mari Silbey
1/14/2014
50%
50%

Unlike some of his colleagues, Nick Thexton doesn't see the traditional pay-TV set-top box going away. But he does see it getting thinner.

In a conversation with Light Reading at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Thexton, CTO for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s Service Provider Video Infrastructure group, declined to declare the death of the tried-and-tested set-top. He did, however, observe that pay-TV providers are starting to shift away from deploying set-tops with thick, embedded middleware stacks. While these boxes are still a significant part of the service equation, he noted, operators are also considering thinner STBs, or clients, now for video delivery.

"I think people's faith in the network is increasing," said Thexton. But, he added, "I think the client is important still."

As more video processing functions move into the network, some industry pundits have predicted that set-tops will go away altogether. But, at least in the near term, more providers are focused on installing high-powered media gateways in customer homes and linking them to thin-client IP set-tops.

There's also a set-top renaissance taking place in the retail market, thanks to the early success of over-the-top media streamers from Roku Inc. and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and the Chromecast HDMI streaming stick from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). Although these devices aren't built to support traditional cable services, cable operators are exploring how they can be used in conjunction with IP video delivery and cloud-based services. (See 5 TV Tech Trends Heading for CES and Alticast Primps for Vegas Spotlight.)

A fan of HDMI adapters, Thexton said he is starting to see customers get interested too. He noted that streaming sticks are capable of fully rendering an HTML5 user interface, and that the price point has improved since they were first introduced several years ago. As client hardware slims down, however, the main question that Thexton has is: Who should buy these devices? Should subscribers buy their own hardware or should operators continue to own the equipment and lease it to customers?

If nothing else, Thexton said he sees hardware as a token for service providers. Even if it has very little functionally, it would still extend the cable operator's brand into subscribers' homes, providing a badge of belonging and a way for consumers to promote that they're "part of the club."

In a similar vein, Thexton touched on the tension between service providers and smart TV manufacturers. He described the relationship between the two as "not formalized yet," saying that both sides need each other but their interests don't completely align. He noted that each party still wants to own the user experience.

Given all of the market variables, the choices ahead for operators are numerous. Service providers can move nearly everything into the cloud; they can invest in media gateways combined with multiple IP clients; and they can employ a mixture of over-the-top and managed video services.

Only one thing is certain: There won't be a single set-top form factor going forward. But there will likely be more thin clients from service providers in the days ahead.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
1/17/2014 | 6:15:08 PM
Re: STBs survive
OK, Greg. Thanks. Let me ask you another question too. What do you think the deployment split will be between thin client boxes and thick client boxes in, say, five years?   
GregW333
50%
50%
GregW333,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/16/2014 | 7:11:53 PM
Re: STBs survive
depends how "thin".  Less than $50 is my guess.  
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
1/16/2014 | 5:43:56 PM
Re: STBs survive
More love and less hate, eh? Or rather, less to love and hate. How low do you think the price for thin clients could go?  
GregW333
50%
50%
GregW333,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/15/2014 | 1:51:27 PM
Re: STBs survive
It would appear to me that the STB "functionality" is required some where.  The L-H relationship won't go away but with a $50ish thin STB it will be lessened :-)
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
1/15/2014 | 11:53:35 AM
Re: STBs survive
Sounds like you think STBs aren't going away either, Greg. So will that love-hate relationship ever change?
GregW333
50%
50%
GregW333,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/15/2014 | 8:58:49 AM
Re: STBs survive
Thin STBs make sense since as we all know there's a love-hate relationship with SPs and the CAPEX intensive STBs.  STBs have always been an unrealized trojan horse to control the home.  Thick or thin this is still true.

I've never liked embedding STB functionality in to the TV for the simple reason that the upgrade cycle for TVs is 2-3x that of a STB.  

For Cisco, this makes a lot more sense than their previous "high-end" only STB strategy.   See why...    http://greywhalemanagement.blogspot.com/2013/02/high-end-only-stb-vendor-is-this.html
albreznick
50%
50%
albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
1/14/2014 | 4:17:31 PM
STBs survive
So Thexton sees a future where traditional STBs continue in some homes while others get uber media gateway boxes combined with thin, little IP set-tops. And he also sees a future for media streaming sticks. To me, the big question is what the mix will look like. Will it be mostly sticks or thin clients or the traditional STBs? Any thoughts out there on that?      
Flash Poll
From The Founder
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Documentaries
Paul Bunyan's Giant Gigabit Plans

12|22|14   |   03:26   |   (0) comments


Gary Johnson, the CEO and GM of Minnesota rural operator Paul Bunyan Communications, discusses the company's 5,000-square-mile gigabit network rollout.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: Building the Case for NFV

12|19|14   |   02:14   |   (0) comments


At the 2020 Vision Executive Summit, James Feger, VP, Network Strategy & Development at CenturyLink, talks about how the US operator is approaching virtual network functions from an operational and business case perspective.
LRTV Interviews
Liberty Global Sees Business Goldmine

12|18|14   |     |   (0) comments


Steen Sorensen, VP of business services for Liberty Global, explains where the giant international MSO sees growth potential.
LRTV Documentaries
EE: The Road to 5G

12|16|14   |   16:02   |   (1) comment


Andy Sutton, the principal network architect at UK mobile operator EE, explains how his company is using Wembley stadium as a wireless test bed and how that's helping EE to plan the evolution to 5G.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Highlights of Huawei's NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014

12|16|14   |     |   (0) comments


Huawei hosted its inaugural NFV Open Cloud Forum during the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The Forum brought together technology thought leaders, senior executives and telecom professionals from global carriers, industry associations, as well as other partner companies in the ecosystem, to exchange views on and collectively explore how ...
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing Operators' Digital Vision

12|16|14   |   5:23   |   (0) comments


Leveraging technology is fundamental to digital transformation but understanding customers and serving them really well is at the heart of digital businesses. TM Forum lists the following as the strategic pillars of the digital business: business agility and rapid innovation, operational agility and effectiveness, IT and data centricity, plus customer centricity. ...
LRTV Documentaries
US Cellular Injects Analytics Into LTE

12|16|14   |   2:57   |   (1) comment


US Cellular's Mario Vela explains how the operator uses analytics for network planning and what comes next as the carrier looks to eke more value out of its metrics.
LRTV Interviews
How Cox Biz Plans to Keep Growing

12|15|14   |     |   (2) comments


Steve Rowley, SVP of Cox Business, details how the third-biggest US MSO intends to boost its revenues to $2 billion and beyond over the rest of the decade
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Bill Zhang, Director of SoftCOM Product Management, Huawei

12|15|14   |   2:50   |   (0) comments


Bill Zhang elaborated on Huawei's open philosophy in NFV solution development and network architecture design at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Event Highlights: Huawei at SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014

12|15|14   |   3:43   |   (0) comments


Huawei joined the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow Congress as one of the key sponsors and contributors. At the event, Huawei reinforced the openness and flexibility of its network infrastructure strategies, and provided updates on its SDN and NVF innovations. Through participations at the exhibitions, forums and speeches, Huawei encouraged the industry to "think bigger and ...
LRTV Interviews
How Cable Biz Services Hit $10B Mark

12|12|14   |     |   (1) comment


Cable operators reached $10 billion in annual business services revenues by delving deeper into their vertical markets and expanding beyond the smallest firms.
LRTV Documentaries
Mediacom Aims to Test Connected Tractors

12|11|14   |   05:07   |   (3) comments


Cable business service provider is taking its services to the 'agribusiness' sector in partnership with farm equipment specialist John Deere and is getting involved in Gigabit Cities developments.
Upcoming Live Events
February 10, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Hot Topics
T-Mobile, BlackBerry Flirt With Reuniting
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 12/17/2014
1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You
Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, 12/17/2014
Comcast Launches 4K Streaming Service
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 12/18/2014
US Carriers, You're Going to Cuba!
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 12/18/2014
Google Steering Android Towards Cars – Report
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 12/19/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive