Cable Tech

Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) could soon have some company when it comes to top U.S. MSOs that might adopt an "open" downloadable video security system that doesn't rely on CableCARDs and could apply more pressure on the teetering Motorola Mobility LLC -Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) duopoly.

Two industry sources say Cox Communications Inc. intends to "endorse" Open Media Security (OMS), a software-based security approach Cablevision is already using via the coupling of the NDS Ltd. conditional access system with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) set-tops. OMS is also designed to work with other types of consumer electronic devices, so it's positioned to factor into service-provider TV Everywhere strategies. (See NDS Talks OMS.)

But Cox's exact commitment to OMS is hazy, since endorsing it doesn't necessarily mean it will be deploying it anytime soon. It could simply mean that it will sign the requisite licenses and be ready to roll it out later.

Cox says it's flirting with OMS, and won't say much more. "We find OMS … interesting and we are tracking developments in OMS technology," a Cox official said via email.

But some stars are already aligning that could make OMS a good fit for the MSO. For starters, OMS is capable, as Cablevision has shown, of coexisting with tru2way. Cox has been particularly aggressive with tru2way, going as far as building a video guide/navigation system -- called Trio -- based on the platform and using it as the centerpiece of a new premium video product. (See Cox Guides Tru2way Forward.)

An OMS strategy might also expand Cox's existing relationship with NDS. Already one of OMS's biggest proponents, NDS helped Cox develop the Trio guide and has served as the MSO's primary tru2way integrator. CableLabs , meanwhile, has made OMS an official option under the OpenCable/tru2way specs, providing a uniform way for how the technology is to be implemented. (See CableLabs OKs the Cablevision Way and Cox Puts NDS at Heart of Tru2way Plan .)

If Cox were to go with OMS, an approach that's much cheaper than the CableCARD, it could spell trouble for Moto and Cisco because it could open the door to Samsung and NDS, and possibly other set-top makers and security vendors.

Cox adoption would help Cablevision
Cablevision would also benefit because it needs more operators to jump on the OMS bandwagon if it's to have much success driving up box volumes and cultivating a larger OMS product ecosystem. Cablevision's gotten the ball rolling, but it will need help. Together, Cox and Cablevision represent more than 8 million video subs. TW Cable, the nation's second-largest MSO, has also given OMS a look. (See Cablevision Eyes $50 Set-Top.)

But there are some possible complications that could slow down a near-term OMS deployment push. Cablevision had to obtain special Federal Communications Commission (FCC) clearance to deploy downloadable security and the Commission has yet to act on a possible successor to the CableCARD called AllVid.

AllVid hasn't risen above the relatively benign "notice of inquiry" stage at the FCC, but one of the big goals is for it to apply not just to cable operators but to telco and satellite TV service providers as well, and help drive a more vibrant retail market for broadband-connected video devices. Cox may have to keep its OMS plans in a holding pattern until the FCC reveals how it will go forward on the issue. (See Cablevision Makes its Security Deadline, Cable: FCC's AllVid Goes Too Far and Google, TiVo & Best Buy Rally for AllVid.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:59:19 PM
re: Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

Seems like a number of MSOs are flirting with this idea, but I don't see anyone pulling the trigger until the FCC acts. No one wants to get too far down the path and then have the Commission hit them with some new mandate.  Cablevision's already got the waiver, so it's okay. JB

tigerkat 12/5/2012 | 4:59:16 PM
re: Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

Going back to proprietary CAS systems per operator is a major step backwards from interoperability. At least in the bad old days a STB manufacturer only had to license two systems, now they would have to license and interoperate test with and pay $$ to a third with OMS. Hopefully the FCC can see that this is a major obstacle towards its legal responsibility to enable an open market for CPE.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:59:14 PM
re: Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

Any CA can work with OMS, or at least that's the theory.  BUT I have yet to hear any instances where it's working with a CA other than NDS's in the initial wave of deployments by Cablevision and a few ops in S. Korea and China. But the folks at Beyond Broadband TEchnology, whch also has an open downloadable system for mulitple CAs, has been claiming in the FCC docket that the key ladder/OMS approach may not be great for tier 2 and smaller MSOs due to bandwidth and headend requirements. JB


tigerkat 12/5/2012 | 4:59:04 PM
re: Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

Jeff, just because it might be technically possible to support any CAS with OMS do you really think Cisco, Moto, Conax or anyone else would still indemnify the operator if they are using an NDS sponsored technology? We need something rational like DVB standards where the operator can easily swap CAS vendors and not get tied into proprietary islands they can't get off of.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:58:34 PM
re: Cox Eyes CableCARD-Free Option

True, I was speaking to the techincal feasibility of it, which may be what someone like the FCC would take a close look at. But the indemnification question is a great one , and I'd be very curious to know what the other CA providers think about that.

I've also been getting some questions about whether this is a true downloadable system since it requires the special micro, which actually makes it start to look a bit like the old Polycipher approach, and we all know how that turned out.

Wider adoption of OMS still may come to pass, but we're hearing chatter that we might see some others try to add some ammendments to address some specific qualms.  JB


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