The CableCARD is a removable security module that many U.S. cable operators use today to conform to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) integrated set-top security ban, which took effect July 1, 2007, and was designed to spark a retail model for interactive digital set-tops and cable-ready digital televisions. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)
The ban prevents MSOs from purchasing and deploying digital set-tops with integrated security. However, several operators have been successful in obtaining waivers from the FCC that allow the continued deployment of integrated security set-tops. Those waivers have historically been awarded to MSOs that can demonstrate financial hardship or pledge to use the integrated security boxes to fuel all-digital migrations.
The CableCARD module and interface, used to authorize digital cable services, is also a key component of tru2way, cable's uniform headend and set-top middleware platform. CableLabs has qualified CableCARDs from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), sometimes referred to as the U.S. cable "duopoly," as well as a module from NDS Ltd. All of those CableCARDs are "multi-stream," meaning they can process and decrypt more than one channel at a time.
Evolution Broadband LLC is also developing a CableCARD for a digital video system it has tailored for small- and mid-sized MSOs. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) has created a CableCARD-like module for IPTV services called the VueKey. (See ATIS OKs CableCARD for IPTV.)
Cable has also shown interest in developing a downloadable conditional access system that would also adhere to the FCC ban and eventually succeed the CableCARD. However, CableCARDs are expected to dominate the U.S. cable set-top security landscape for the foreseeable future.
According to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) data filed in late June 2009, the top 10 "incumbent" U.S. cable MSOs had deployed more than 14.08 million operator-supplied set-tops with CableCARDs since the FCC ban took effect two years ago. By comparison, those same MSOs have deployed just over 437,800 CableCARD modules for use in retail devices.