HOUSTON – Comcast Cable has introduced DOCSIS Set-top Gateway (DSG) technology in 10 systems and will spend 2007 implementing it across its entire footprint, according to Richard Rioboli, Comcast’s VP of product platform engineering.
Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, will also begin a nationwide rollout of DSG, said Howard Pfeffer, the MSO’s group vice president, broadband engineering and technology.
Rioboli and Pfeffer were among the speakers and presenters featured here Wednesday at the SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies.
Rioboli said Comcast will also lab test OCAP this quarter, and engage in a market test in Q2, with plans to have a few deployments before the end of the year. Comcast has been saying for a year that it had plans to pursue switched digital video technology, and Rioboli confirmed Comcast is conducting trials of SDV in two markets, with an expanded rollout slated for the balance of 2007.
Cablevision Systems Corp. earlier this week announced a switched broadcast deployment that will support a new slate of “in-language” programming services. Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is considered an early champion of SDV. Following an initial launch in Austin, Texas, in mid-2005, Time Warner has introduced the technology in eight of its 27 divisions, a spokesperson confirmed.
Comcast and TWC are huge and far from monolithic; each has numerous systems that are variously configured. Just like every other provider, they want to introduce new services and applications, but in order for a company to do that on a national basis, it will first have to standardize its configurations, according to Rioboli.
“It may not be sexy, but it’s important,” he said. Having so many different configurations makes it difficult to do even seemingly simple things, he explained. “You want to introduce a new program guide? First you have to figure out how many configurations you have.”
DSG is a signaling platform that uses standard DOCSIS technologies – rather than legacy proprietary signaling methods – to communicate with set-top boxes. Although a DOCSIS connection could conceivably be used for unicasting video, its initial uses are very likely to be as a means for extracting data from set-tops and downloading data to them – program guides, for example. It is also viewed as an enabler for a forthcoming downloadable conditional access system (DCAS).
But Comcast will still need as many different versions of an application as it has set-top boxes. That’s where the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) comes in. OCAP essentially severs the direct connection between an application and the operating system resident on a set-top box. That would allow an operator to write a single version of an application (a program guide, for example) and be assured it will run on all STBs outfitted with the CableLabs-specified OCAP middleware.
Another potential advantage of DSG is that it can be used to perform an end-around the set-top’s conditional access (CA) system. Motorola and Scientific Atlanta incorporate their own CA technologies that are not only proprietary but closed. That means if an operator wants to run an application, it cannot always be sure it’ll be able to without first consulting the CA provider.
With a DSG tunnel to the STB, operators could simply avoid the legacy CA system.
Rioboli said that Comcast will spend most of ’07 concentrating on rolling out DSG. Comcast previously said it plans to test OCAP in Philadelphia, Denver, and Union, N.J. Comcast has not revealed which of its systems now have DSG, nor which two cities are hosting the SDV tests.
“We’re going to take a similar approach – just get DSG out there,” Pfeffer said. It’s vitally important for cable companies to be able to differentiate themselves, Pfeffer added, “so we have to have a uniform presence across all our platforms.”
“Even if you had a killer app, it’s hard to deploy,” Rioboli said. “And there’s no silver bullet for solving that.”