Will VueKey Trump Tru2way?

A budding separable security platform that allows for IPTV flows in digital set-tops isn't expected to disrupt cable's big tru2way initiative, but there are questions about whether consumer electronics giants will incorporate VueKey into retail televisions and set-tops.

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) recently validated VueKey, a security and conditional access platform that uses the same form-factor as the removable CableCARD module and the CAbleCARD "host" interface. CableCARD appears in most newly deployed cable digital set-tops and in some digital television models. (See ATIS OKs CableCARD for IPTV.)

VueKey looks to conform with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ban on integrated set-top security that went into effect last summer, while taking advantage of a hardware platform that's already widely adopted. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

ATIS has not set a public timetable for VueKey module or device availability, but the organization plans to send the specs to its IPTV Interoperability Forum by year's end. ATIS also sees VueKey eventually becoming an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard.

"Our goal is not to go out and [create] an interface that would require consumer electronics companies to develop something brand new," says Mike Nawrocki, the chairman of the ATIS IP-Based Separable Security Incubator (ISSI). Nawrocki, who is also director of wireline standards for Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s technology division, notes that VueKey should be viewed as an "incremental" spec that incorporates support for IPTV.

CableLabs , which officially joined ATIS as an affiliate member in June, declined to comment about VueKey and its implications on tru2way. (See CableLabs Joins ATIS.)

Verizon's vue
VueKey is expected to be particularly attracive to Verizon, which insists that FiOS TV is incompatible with tru2way. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has challenged that claim. (See Verizon: No Way on tru2way , NCTA Counters Verizon's Tru2way Claims , and Verizon Stokes a Tru2way Stalemate .)

With VueKey, Verizon could avoid using a security system largely controlled by its cable-industry competition. Plus, VueKey adopters can tap into the CableCARD ecosystem without being "encumbered," as one industry watcher puts it, by the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), the middleware component of tru2way.

"They [ATIS and Verizon] have come up with a scheme where there's an alternative key. It's really a simple attempt by Verizon to get access to the CableCARD form and function, but use a different copy protection initialization vector," says an industry observer who is close to conditional access activities. "Everything works the same, except that the key isn't owned by U.S. cable or CableLabs."

Although it appears that Verizon is trying to distance itself from the cable industry on this issue, it likely won't remove itself entirely from the process. Verizon has requested that CableLabs reserve for the telco's use some "message identifiers" in the multi-stream CableCARD specifications, according to people familiar with the situation. That would let Verizon use some additional commands and messages that pass between the host device and the security module.

Verizon still has an active FCC waiver for low-end digital set-tops. For the high end, Verizon's waiver expired in July, and it's been deploying Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s CableCARD-equipped QIP models ever since. (See Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

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