Cable Tech

Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game

The much-maligned CableCARD era may be headed toward an inevitable end, but there are apparently enough business opportunities still left for yet another company to enter the market with a security module that's tailored for the US market and competes with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

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

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:27:57 PM
re: Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game

Why is it that CI Plus seems to be running laps around the CableCARD and tru2way when it comes to retail?  As the modules go, the technology isn't all that different, yet retail adoption between the US and portions of Europe are night and day different.  Is it simply because CI Plus is more industy agnostic with respect to licensing and certificaiton and verfication, while CableCARD and tru2way are all operated under the cable industry's thumb?  JB

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:27:52 PM
re: Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game

The navigation example has been a nervy one in the US, since it seems the operators are reluctant to give up complete control of the interface.  That's been one of the complaints TiVo's presented, though the cable industry has tried to compromise by enabling tru2way to toggle between the operator's resident guide with the TiVo guide, so both are preserved.  TiVo doesn't seem too wild about that, either, since it's more of a kluge approach.

But doesn't TiVo, Arris -- via its Moxi box --  (and presumably others) still get to retain their own UI using  one-way CableCARD hosts, so the navigation and security remain relatively separate? TiVo's complaints in this area are much different... in that scenario, they are upset about how they have to handle SDV with a separate tuning adapter. JB


conortr 12/5/2012 | 4:27:52 PM
re: Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game


I think the main difference between CableCARD and CI Plus is that CableCARD attempts to solve two complex and distinct problems (security and nagivation) at the same time while the major objective of CI Plus is simply to resolve the security issue for retail market CE devices. CI Plus does contain a CI Plus Browser but none of the operators currently deploying modules are using it and they are all simply using the module for security purposes with user interface provided by CE vendors. This may evolve in the future but at least there is a ramp up where CE vendors can provide PayTV with relatively little effort (the vast numbers of iDTVs and STBs being provided with CI Plus within 2 years of specification publication is testimony to this). Operators can leverage the CE devices to gain new subscribers with little capex while in parallel upselling to their own solutions incl enhanced UI and other interactivity.


In the end it boils down to understanding what problem is to be solved and focussing on it. But the comparision is valid as the technologies are essentially the same and in Europe the retail CE market is flourishing...


conortr 12/5/2012 | 4:27:51 PM
re: Nagravision Deals Itself Into CableCARD Game


I agree that its definately preferable for an operator to maintain his own UI - this is clearly the downside of not imposing an sophisticated interactive format but on the positive side it also leaves room for operators to differentiate their own evices w.r.t CE devices. CI Plus browser can also be used by interested operators to provide certain UI features. However the important thing is to give interested operators the means to provide their sevices on CE retail devices using a system that is not over complex for CE manufacturers to implement / certify. The system needs to be "light" enough to be in all devices in order to be used by operators that decide they want to use it. CR

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