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BBT: Simulcrypt Key to Downloadable Security

If the U.S. cable industry is to have any hope of migrating to a downloadable security system that can successfully supplant the CableCard, it must push legacy vendors and regulators to encourage the use of simulcrypt, a system that allows for more than one conditional access system to operate on the same video program stream.

That’s the view of Beyond Broadband Technology (BBT), a joint venture founded in 2005 and backed by Tele-Media Broadband, Buford Media Group and WinDBreak Cable. BBT has developed what it calls the BBTSolution, a downloadable security system that relies on a secure microprocessor made by STMicroelectronics that presently runs on boxes developed by the consortium.

ON FRONT BURNER

Downloadable security is a hot potato again after the Federal Communications Commission awarded Charter Communications a waiver in April that clears the MSO to use dual- mode security boxes as it prepares to deploy its new downloadable security platform. Charter’s plan, which is being challenged by TiVo and the Consumer Electronics Association, closely follows one already put into place by Cablevision Systems.

BBT, which is focused on the second-tier cable world, claims to be making progress with its system, which obtained the FCC’s blessing in 2007, when the agency released new rules that required U.S. MSOs to use set-tops with separable security.

Twenty-one cable systems are in the process of deploying BBT’s platform, with a handful in the beta stage, Steve Effros, a BBT partner and the group’s director of strategic development and communications, said. Effros, former head of an industry lobbying group once known as the Cable Telecommunications Association (CATA), added that BBT has delivered about 1,000 boxes for the current phase of deployment and testing.

BBT, which has a demo of its platform running at the CableLabs headquarters in Louisville, Colo., said its system can be implemented by cable, IPTV and satellite TV operators, and can operate on two-way or one-way networks.

While BBT hopes big MSOs will adopt its approach, the company said it recognizes that it faces a significant migration hurdle.

Some small cable operators can get away with swapping out their legacy systems, but forklift upgrades are not a realistic option for operators that serve tens of thousands of subscribers, let alone hundreds of thousands, or millions.

The key to it all, Effros said, is simulcrypt, a system born out of the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard that is popular in Europe. “We want simulcrypt to be allowed for everybody,” Effros said. “If the Commission encourages simulcrypt, then downloadable security can get into legacy systems.”

STATUS QUO DISRUPTER

Legacy vendors such as Cisco Systems and Motorola (now part of Arris) have historically been resistant to simulcrypt in the U.S., because it threatens to loosen their grip on the set-top market. Cablevision’s deployment and Charter’s coming installation will use simulcrypt.

And some signs suggest attitudes are changing among the old guard as subscription video services break away from the set-top and reach tablets, smartphones, PCs and other devices that don’t use CableCards.

“We’re big fans of downloadable conditional access,” Conrad Clemson, vice president of strategy for Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group said, soon after the FCC awarded the waiver to Charter. He predicted the industry will soon see “dramatic moves” by other operators to adopt downloadable security, noting that Cisco already ships boxes with the “merchant silicon” capable of supporting the Key Ladder (KLAD) that Cablevision uses now, and Charter is expected to employ.