Cablevision May Take Security for a Spin(off)

Remember PolyCipher? The MSO has a similar downloadable system, but it's actually been deployed and could be poised to become an SCTE standard

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

December 13, 2010

5 Min Read
Cablevision May Take Security for a Spin(off)

Is the Son of PolyCipher LLC in the works?

It may not be entirely correct to say that a direct descendant of that cross-MSO downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) joint venture is in the hopper, but several industry sources say Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) is eager to push adoption of its soft security system for set-tops and has considered spinning that work into an independent entity that would handle important tasks such as technology licensing for MSOs and equipment manufacturers.

In the meantime, there's hard evidence that one technology behind Cablevision's downloadable security -- the NDS Ltd. Key Ladder (KLAD) -- is a candidate to become a Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) standard.

All of this activity is coming into play as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) installs a new set of CableCARD rules and pursues its more ambitious AllVid inquiry. On top of that, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is asking questions like: "Whatever happened to downloadable security?" (See All About the FCC's AllVid.)

Well, it's happening at Cablevision, which obtained a special, deadline-laden FCC waiver to continue using SmartCard-based security whilst it developed and deployed its downloadable platform. (See Cablevision Scores Set-Top Waiver Extension .)

Now, it's becoming known in industry circles that Cablevision is aggressively evangelizing its new security system (sometimes referred to as JCAS, for Java Conditional Access System), which is currently going into tru2way -based boxes made by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), with more suppliers soon to follow. (See Samsung Boxes Break In at Cablevision .)

The baseline for this is NDS's KLAD. Cablevision is using JCAS/KLAD alongside the NDS VideoGuard conditional access (CA) system, but the key ladder is designed to be open, in the sense that it can accommodate conditional access from other video security vendors. (See Samsung Boxes Break In at Cablevision .)

And as an important security component for cross-platform, TV Everywhere services, the key ladder might be useful beyond the set-top if it's supported in other consumer electronics devices, including smartphones and mobile video displays.

James Blackley, Cablevision's executive VP of corporate engineering and technology, alluded to such a goal in a declaration filed with the FCC on Dec. 5. Cablevision's intention, he said, is that all new set-top boxes deployed by the MSO by the end of 2010 "will incorporate downloadable security that commonly relies on an identical separated security element that commercially available consumer electronic devices may rely upon."

NDS has pledged to offer KLAD on an open basis, pointing out that it's already in video-decoder chips from manufacturers such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), and Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT). [Ed. note: Conexant's set-top system-on-chip product line is now with Trident Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: TRID), which obtained it via its acquisition of NXP Semiconductors N.V. (Nasdaq: NXPI)'s TV systems and set-top box business lines earlier this year.]

Still, it's become abundantly clear that Cablevision needs more MSOs to adopt the technology, in order to continue to reduce set-top unit costs and widen the field of cable products that use KLAD.

Gathering interest
Cablevision declined to comment on this story, but sources say the MSO wants to create an independent authority that would run the security operation, an idea that's said to have generated interest from Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cox Communications Inc. , Samsung, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) .

How soon Cablevision would like to see that happen isn't known. And it's not clear who would take the responsibility of running the security spinoff. It's questionable whether Cablevision would want to take on that headache. TWC, which has had some experience in this area, is considered a more likely candidate.

Been there, didn't do that
Time Warner Cable, along with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox, were the MSOs behind the PolyCipher joint venture for downloadable conditional access. In addition to giving cable a way to adhere to the FCC's ban on integrated set-top security, in a way more elegant than the cumbersome CableCARD, PolyCipher's goal was deploy a secure microprocessor in all devices that, in turn, could use CAs from a variety of players. With that security market open, PolyCipher's work could theoretically break the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco set-top security duopoly once and for all. (See PolyCipher Targets '08 Trials .)

That may sound similar to Cablevision's effort, but a key difference is that Cablevision's implementation has actually been deployed. PolyCipher, said to have gotten bogged down by complexity and politics, might never get out of cold storage. (See MSOs Closing PolyCipher Headquarters and Cisco, Moto Take Control of DCAS .)

Standardizing KLAD
A spinoff isn't the only way Cablevision could attract wider adoption of its security system. There's recent evidence that it could rise to become an SCTE standard.

The Spring 2010 issue of the SCTE Standards Bulletin revealed that the organization's Digital Video Subcommittee (DVS), chaired by Paul Hearty, had approved a new project called the Open Media Security (OMS) Key Ladder.

The SCTE isn't indicating when or if that work might become an industry standard, but it's believed that the document-drafting work could get underway later this month, if it hasn't already.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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