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BBT Inches Toward DCAS Solution

The Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) is one step closer to developing a "downloadable" conditional access system and a relatively inexpensive digital set-top platform to run it, according to one of the group's backers.

BBT is targeting the market for independent security devices that emerged following last July's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ban on integrated set-top security. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven' and BBT Exits Alpha .)

At present, separable security is being enabled with removable CableCARD security modules that slot into specially designed set-tops. The FCC, however, has held that a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) would satisfy the ban, and operators have voiced support for the DCAS approach, believing it to be more elegant and less expensive than the CableCARD approach.

Now Bill Bauer, president of BBT backer WinDBreak Cable and head of InterTECH Corp., tells Cable Digital News that BBT has released the code for the requisite DCAS security silicon, with expectations that it is now about six weeks away from obtaining its first ceramic chips.

Initially BBT will have access to about 30 chips from its first silicon partner, STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM).

BBT -- backed by three cable operators, WinDBreak Cable , Buford Media Group, and Tele-Media Broadband -- is one of several firms attempting to build a downloadable system that complies with the FCC mandate.

PolyCipher LLC , a joint venture formed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), has been conspicuous by its silence.

In addition, the two major U.S. cable set-top players –- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)/Scientific Atlanta and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) –- are also working on DCAS implementations based on their own encryption schemes.

Bauer admits that getting to this point has taken longer than anticipated, citing the extra work it has taken to develop a secure microchip that satisfies the requirements of the cable operators and consumer electronics companies.

The first set-top from BBT's development work, to be made by R.L. Drake, will sell for between $100 and $200, and support analog and digital video signals (including hi-def), and MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. Originally, BBT was shooting for price points of less than $100. (See Small Cablers Plan Sub-$100 Set-Tops.)

As conceived, the secure micro will allow operators to work with downloadable conditional access (CA) systems from whatever partner they choose, whether that's Cisco, Nagravision SA , Verimatrix Inc. , Widevine Technologies Inc. , or any other content protection system vendor.

By the same token, BBT hasn't done any direct work with the CA community, which Bauer calls a "small, tightly knit group."

He says there's been some interest, but interfacing between BBT and the CA suppliers largely has been through third parties.

Motorola and Cisco/SA officials say they don't really know a whole lot about BBT, but didn't appear completely resistant to the effort.

"Our knowledge of them is limited," says Dan Maloney, a Motorola EVP and president of the company's Home & Networks Mobility division. He was also wary that cable operators would be interested in overlaying a new type of conditional access system. "But we would love to have an engagement to learn more about it," Maloney says of the BBT project.

"Personally, I don't know if we've had any discussions with them," says Dave Clark, director of product strategy & management for Cisco/SA. "I would say in general we would welcome that discussion," he adds.

"We'll migrate to DCAS," Clark adds, noting that the CableCARD is just a temporary solution until better technology becomes available. "Ultimately, I think [DCAS] is the end-game."

Another potential hiccup for BBT is that major MSOs are starting to throw their weight behind digital TVs and set-tops based on tru2way, the new brand for the OpenCable Platform. (See Cable's 'tru2way' Play .)

CableLabs , the R&D consortium behind tru2way, also handles host licensing agreements for DCAS.

BBT's box, meanwhile, is in the prototype stage, with a unit that closely resembles the final product due to be ready within a few months, according to Bauer, who expects some trials as early as the first quarter of 2008.

Bauer, who attended this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) meetings with STMicroelectronics and other potential partners, hopes that BBT will ship set-tops in volumes "well over six figures" this year.

"I know the demand is there. The question is whether the manufacturers can work that fast," he says.

Currently, it appears that the smaller cable operators are generating the most interest in BBT's developments, particularly those that are having difficulty obtaining CableCARD-based boxes that comply with the FCC security ban, and those that don't have special dispensation for the earlier-generation boxes. Some have had to source used and repurposed set-tops. (See Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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