Huawei Takes On US Set-Top Market

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is taking a stab at the U.S. cable set-top market, starting off with two entry-level devices that are similar in nature to the Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) boxes Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is using to help fuel its all-digital "Project Cavalry" effort. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan and Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes.)

That much is evident after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a notice today that seeks comment on Huawei's attempt to obtain special waivers for two "limited capability" set-top boxes -- the DC-730 and the DC-732. Huawei was not immediately available for comment on those devices, but they presumably use a form of integrated security, something the FCC has banned (short of a special waiver) since July 2007. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven' and Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

Huawei, which submitted those products under its North American subsidiary, FutureWei , holds that those two, proposed models are no more advanced than two DTAs Evolution Broadband LLC won three-year waivers for back in early June. (See FCC Believes in Evolution-ary DTAs.)

Since then, four Comcast DTA suppliers -- Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), and Pace Micro Technology -- have obtained three-year waivers for their respective box models. Industry sources have told Cable Digital News that Huawei has signed the required license for "Privacy Mode," a content protection scheme that's present, but not yet active, in all of Comcast's DTAs. (See FCC Approves DTAs From Moto, Cisco, Thomson & Pace, Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional , Cable Circles the DTA Wagons , and DTA Waiver Mania.)

Comcast has not identified Huawei as one of its DTA suppliers. The MSO has previously indicated that it will need on the order of 25 million DTA devices to complete its digital transition. It expects to have about one third of that process complete by year's end. (See Comcast Speeds Up '09 Wideband Goal .)

Comments on Huawei's waiver request are due Oct. 8, 2009.

Huawei officials were not immediately available for comment on the waiver request, but it's known that the China-based giant is eager to enter the set-top box sector as part of its larger North American cable strategy. Late last year, sources told Cable Digital News that DTAs would likely serve as Huawei's point of entry into the U.S. set-top box business, but noted that the Chinese giant may also try to win deals for more advanced HD-DVR devices, a move that could put significant price pressure on the longstanding Motorola-Cisco domestic duopoly. (See Huawei Sniffing at Set-Top Strategy.)

Huawei has already made some significant strides in the U.S. cable market, notching deals with Suddenlink Communications (for optical gear) and Cox Communications Inc. , for the MSO's ambitious 3G/4G buildout. Huawei is also believed to have won a piece of Comcast's IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) business, but nothing's been announced. (See Cox, Huawei Make Wireless Connection and Huawei, Ericsson Get a Piece of Comcast's IMS Action .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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