Video services

Cisco, Moto Take Control of DCAS

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and NDS Ltd. have taken over the architecture work and some degree of the implementation of a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) project initially helmed by PolyCipher LLC , a joint venture of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).

The changes in that structure, plus changes expected to occur at the chip level, will delay deployments of DCAS until sometime in 2009, multiple industry sources confirmed with Cable Digital News. Originally, DCAS trials were expected to get underway this year, followed by some early deployments. (See PolyCipher Targets '08 Trials .)

Ideally, PolyCipher and the MSOs backing it wanted to develop a truly "open" downloadable conditional access (CA) system, and give operators a much cheaper and elegant solution than the CableCARD.

Instead, they will get DCAS off the ground using technology from the existing duopoly of Cisco and Motorola. NDS, meanwhile, has a CA deal with Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC).

Colorado-based PolyCipher, though down to a handful of staffers from its previous 10 full-timers, is still in place to police the action and ensure that DCAS does evolve to become "vendor neutral."

In January 2007, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that a downloadable CA system would satisfy the separable security mandate that went into effect last July. That mandate is being fulfilled predominantly by set-top boxes fitted with CableCARD interfaces and modules. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

"They [PolyCipher's partners] were trying to build an open system. But on the flip side, you want to get things done," says an executive familiar with the project. "We need a system that will work with each of [the MSOs'] installed bases."

The decision to get Motorola and Cisco more involved in the project started about nine months ago as it became clear the DCAS project had great ambitions, but had run into an increasingly complex architecture. In addition, having the dominant CA vendors officially on board should help to clear up some indemnification issues (such as identifying which parties are financially responsible should DCAS security be compromised) that dogged the original project. "Reality sets in at some point," a cable exec says.

That reality will likely also involve a new secure microprocessor. PolyCipher had a design relationship with EmbedICs Inc. , which was acquired by Kudelski Group earlier this year, but that deal is in the process of being terminated. (See DCAS Update and Kudelski Embeds EmbedICs .)

Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) and STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM) were among the companies that actually developed a secure microchip for the Polycipher DCAS project.

But changes to that secure micro will also contribute to the delay of DCAS into next year. Sources say Motorola, which did not comment for this story, wanted to add some functions that will alter the chip design.

Where does that leave Widevine et al?
If Cisco, Motorola and NDS are all tied to DCAS, does that leave other conditional access vendors, such as Widevine Technologies Inc. , out in the cold, at least until DCAS truly becomes open?

Not at all, says Widevine CEO Brian Baker. "We kind of see the traditional CA systems to set-top boxes being a passé market focus," he says, noting that cable operators must figure out how to support the proliferation of IP-connected CE devices, including PCs and portable video players.

The traditional CA players "don't get them there… they're all hardware-specific," Baker claims. "All the MSOs have a desire to provide a broadband video experience that rivals the likes of Hulu LLC . We are working with a number of cable operators with technologies that enable them to effectively compete in that domain."

But that doesn't mean Widevine is ignoring the more traditional cable market. According to Baker the company has a DCAS project in the works targeted at smaller cable operators, a sector that's also being targeted by Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) . (See BBT Inches Toward DCAS Solution and BBT's Set-Top Box .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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