Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game
Nagravision SA , the video security arm of Kudelski Group , is working on a CableCARD based on its own conditional access system and hardware modules made by corporate cousin SmarDTV. The company hopes to get its CableCARD qualified by CableLabs before the end of 2010, according to company VP of business development Robin Wilson.
If Nagravision gets that far, it will be the fifth company to achieve it. Cisco, Motorola, NDS Ltd. , and, most recently, Evolution Broadband LLC have all previously gotten the CableLabs blessing. Among them, Evolution's version uses Conax AS 's conditional access system. (See CableLabs Blesses Evolution's CableCARD .)
Nagravision's play at the US CableCARD market comes amid a wave of regulatory uncertainty. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering some new rules designed to preserve and improve the existing CableCARD market, but it's also inquiring about a new "AllVid" system that is being dressed up as the successor to the CableCARD. (See FCC Floats 'Simple' Gateway, CableCARD Rules .)
However, the AllVid concept is still in the Notice of Inquiry (NOI) phase, and there's still no telling if, or when, it might become a hard and fast rule. However, the FCC is recommending that standards-based AllVid gateways and adapters start to replace traditional set-top boxes on or before Dec. 31, 2012.
However that shapes up, Nagravision thinks there's still enough business to win to justify its CableCARD entry. "There might be a need for CableCARDs in certain high-end, two-way boxes and DVRs. Therefore, [we] are ensuring that all options are available regardless of future FCC actions," Wilson says. Nagravision is addressing the lower end of the box market with standard-def and hi-def Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices that use integrated security. It's already obtained an FCC waiver for the SD model that allows Nagravision to sidestep the FCC's July 2007 integrated set-top security ban. It's now shooting for a similar waiver for an HD-DTA. (See Nagra Seeks HD-DTA Hall Pass , FCC Chews on HD-DTA Exemption , and Nagravision Joins DTA Waiver Parade.)
Nagravision hasn't announced any US cable deals that would require a CableCARD that's paired with its conditional access system. However, EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), a historic Nagravision partner, is rumored to be in the running for CableOne 's next-gen box project. (See Cable ONE Sizes Up EchoStar, TiVo Set-Tops.)
And it wouldn't be terribly difficult for Nagra to get a CableCARD ready to go in the wake of some deals. SmarDTV, another Kudelski company, is one of the few firms that actually makes the removable conditional access modules (CAMs) -- some others include Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Neotion , and CoreCross Inc. Kudelski got into that business in 2006 when it bought the digital TV business of SCM Microsystems Inc. for $11 million.
SmarDTV has already developed modules for CI Plus, a security spec for interactive TVs tailored for the European market that closely mirrors the features of the US CableCARD. But instead of using the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) middleware piece of tru2way, CI Plus-capable TVs use the lighter-weight MHEG (Multimedia and Hypermedia Experts Group) platform for interactive apps such as program guides and video on demand (VoD). And instead of using a cable-focused group like CableLabs, CI Plus uses a more industry-agnostic certification and verification body to address the region's cable, satellite, terrestrial, and telco-TV service providers.
Conor Ryan, VP of marketing at SmarDTV, estimates that about 50 million TVs that support CI Plus are heading into the European market each year. Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), Ziggo B.V. , and Kabel Deutschland GmbH are among some of the larger European operators that are supporting CI Plus.
Although Nagravision and SmarDTV are both tied to Kudelski, SmarDTV has also matched its modules with the conditional access systems of several other suppliers, including Conax AS , Irdeto Access B.V. , Viaccess S.A. , and NDS, for deployments outside the US.
Its work with Nagravision in the US would mark SmarDTV's first crack at developing a multi-stream CableCARD for that market. "We believe there's an opportunity in the US," Ryan says.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable