Who's Building the Next FiOS Set-Tops?

Verizon may soon be ushering in a new set-top supplier or two.

There’s a hint of this tucked away in a document filed by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions with the Federal Communications Commission, describing a development project kicked off by Verizon to extend CableCard for IP-based video and services.

The ATIS CableCard-IP project is intended to let Verizon comply with the FCC’s so-called integrated set-top ban by next July. Verizon, remember, uses cable TV technology but it can’t currently use off-the-shelf CableCards because FiOS TV uses a hybrid QAM/IP set-top — developed by Motorola.

So, who’s working with Verizon on the IP-enabled CableCard project?

Not Motorola, apparently.

Along with Verizon, the 12 other companies listed as participating in the ATIS working group include a handful of set-top makers — including Moto rival Scientific Atlanta. (Actually, it says: "Scientific Atlanta, a CISCO Company.") Other set-top vendors are LG Electronics and Samsung; conditional-access vendors with their hands on this project include NDS Group, Nagravision, Verimatrix and Widevine Technologies.

Meanwhile, as reported by Cable Digital News, a rumor surfaced in July that Verizon had issued a mammoth RFP for an unbelievable 26.5 million set-top units. The number seems suspect, given that the FiOS network isn’t expected to even pass18 million homes by 2010, while Verizon projects having between 3 million and 4 million TV subs by then. Whatever. It still would be a potentially juicy contract.

Now, just because Motorola isn’t part of the aforementioned ATIS technical working group doesn’t necessarily mean the vendor is being shown the door. But it’s not an auspicious sign.

When I asked Verizon vice president of federal regulatory affairs David Young whether the telco was working with SA on the new CableCard-IP set-tops with separable security — noting that Motorola was absent from the working group – he paused and then responded: "Motorola is our current supplier of integrated set-top boxes."

Semper FiOS?