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Will Intel Go Inside Cable Multimedia Gateways?

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) appears to be targeting a new breed of cable multimedia gateway devices with the Atom CE4100, a new media processor that's aimed at digital TVs, DVD players, and "advanced set-top boxes."

Intel says the new chip -- the first 45nm SoC (system on a chip) based on the chipmaker's architecture, formerly codenamed "Sodaville" -- is designed to support both Internet and broadcast applications. It will also gain some over-the-top, Web TV flair as Intel ports Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE)'s Flash Player 10 to the chipset in the first half of next year, optimizing it for H.264 video and the playback of high-end graphics. (See Intel Unveils Internet TV Chip.)

The Atom CE4100, due out in 2011, is backward-compatible with the CE3100, a processor that the chipmaker has been using to operate some recent tru2way set-top/gateway demos.

Among very recent examples, Intel showed off at its developer conference in San Francisco this week a tru2way-based server/home-gateway design with three tuners capable of turning incoming cable video content into streams that can be shuttled to, and read by, IPTV set-tops and other IP-based clients hanging off a high-speed home network. In that scenario, only the primary gateway box, and not every device feeding off it, would require a CableCARD to authorize digital video services, removing some big costs out of the equation.

Using a tru2way middleware stack from Vividlogic , the gateway demo was running Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s "Buckeye" interactive program guide (IPG) on one TV, while another set-top grabbing content from that same gateway was using the Moxi guide from Digeo Inc. . (See Digeo Gives Arris Multimedia Gateway Potential and Arris Digs Digeo .)

"Comcast is certainly looking at this kind of gateway architecture," the Intel cable marketing director noted in the video demo, but stressed that "others are also looking at this."

Comcast has shown some eagerness to introduce Flash to the set-top environment. And it has shown some love for Intel. In June 2007, the MSO said it was "committed to bring one or more Intel SOC-based digital set-top boxes to market in the next two years." (See Comcast Offers Glimpse of Flash Strategy and Intel Goes Inside Cable... Again.)

As for Intel's tru2way gateway work, the company official told Engadget that Intel expects to see field trials and tests to get underway next year, with deployments not expected until 2011. Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) also mentioned this timeframe yesterday when it discussed its plans for the Digeo acquisition and the eventual introduction of multimedia cable gateways that would support a blend of IP video, voice, and data services.

Intel was not immediately available for comment about whether it intends to use the CE4100 in any future tru2way-based gateway designs, but a cable engineering executive with a top-five U.S. MSO told Cable Digital News that the new processor "could be a lower-cost, better alternative than the 3100 to support that kind of product."

Intel won't be making the final cable gateway products, but it will be marketing its design to cable set-top makers, a move that could loosen Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)'s hold on that market.

But who's going to step up and develop do-it-all cable gateways that also put Intel inside? The Intel release announcing the CE4100 identified Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) among the companies working with Intel "to advance content, services and infrastructure for connected CE devices." But Cisco wasn't ready to spill all the beans on its cable product strategies.

"Intel and Cisco share a common vision for the future of video, and the announcement of the CE4100 Atom processor is a big step in that direction of bringing a unified video experience consistent with our medianet strategy," said Murali Nemani, Cisco's service provider solutions marketing director, in a statement to Cable Digital News. "Cisco cannot comment on the specifics on our portfolio at this stage."

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), meanwhile, confirmed that the current version of a QAM-IP "transport gateway" it showed off at the recent IBC show in Amsterdam is not using Intel or Broadcom silicon, but instead powering it with chips from Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry’s premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.

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