Cable Tech

Set-Tops, Modems Join in Royal Wedding

As the cable industry continues to determine ways to embrace Internet video, multiple system operators (MSOs) are taking increased interest in new devices that can handle both traditional television and broadband data. A single box includes a cable modem and TV tuners, along with home networking capability and other bells and whistles.

These new superboxes are being called many things, including digital media centers, whole home solutions, multimedia gateways and hybrid gateways -- the last of which seems most appropriate, since the current devices are combining video and data technologies into a single platform.

But what really is a hybrid gateway? Is it a souped-up set-top box (STB) that provides whole-home DVR and IP capability? Or is it a Docsis 3.0 modem that also supports QAM video and provides home networking? During a Light Reading Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies conference in April 2011, the definition of a gateway was described as "murky."

At The Cable Show in June 2011, the picture for hybrid gateways became much clearer, as reported in the new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, The Superbox Arrives: Hybrid Gateways to Unify TV & IP.

Major STB and cable modem suppliers are jumping into the hybrid field, the report says. At the Cable Show, they showcased what these new devices can do.

The key technologies include a Docsis 3.0 modem, QAM video tuners, a large DVR hard drive, transcoding technology and home networking capability to spread media to thin client boxes and broadband-connected devices. Consumers will likely get a new user interface for media navigation, while cable providers will have new software tools to remotely manage the devices and services.

Hybrid gateways are to cable devices as SUVs are to cars. Where SUVs combined the familiar features of a car with the muscle of a pickup truck, hybrid gateways provide the familiarity of television with the power of broadband. The result will be a user experience that is currently unimagined.

The report explores the prospects for hybrid gateways, including the market drivers, key technologies, MSO roadmaps, benefits and challenges. It profiles six suppliers that showed hybrid gateways at the 2011 Cable Show.

Set-top suppliers and makers of cable modems will come together on the new battlefield of hybrid gateways, the report says. Hybrid gateways were displayed at the Cable Show by Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Pace plc , Samsung Corp. and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH). Other device suppliers vying for cable's attention at the show included EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), Hitron Technologies Inc. , Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), all of which offer souped-up boxes that could morph into hybrid gateways. Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) and NDS Ltd. are touting gateway software solutions aimed at shuttling content around the home.

Interest in these new devices has increased as cable seeks to add more IP video to its service mix and eventually migrate to all-IP delivery. MSOs need to switch out existing cable modems for Docsis 3.0 models and replace legacy digital STBs. Fully featured hybrid gateways, which could cost up to $300 to $400 each, are arriving as MSOs are curtailing capital expenditures. But, the report says, putting one primary box into the home instead of two or more could make more economic sense.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider

This report, "The Superbox Arrives: Hybrid Gateways to Unify TV & IP," is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

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