Charter, Sony Separate Conditional Access

Charter Communications Inc. and Sony Corp. are working on a new headend platform that would separate conditional access from traditional digital-network-controller functions.

That, in turn, would let Charter slash conditional-access costs in the removable security systems found in “digital-cable-ready” devices and future digital set-top boxes.

The new initiative from the two companies is an outgrowth of the deal Charter signed for Sony’s “Passage” CA system three years ago. It also jibes with cable’s evolution toward an all-digital network and such industry initiatives as next-generation network architecture, two-way CableCARD point-of-deployment modules and downloadable security, Charter chief technology officer Wayne Davis said.

Charter and Sony spent several months using off-the-shelf hardware to build a headend controller that would sit alongside the MSO’s existing controllers.

The prototype, built in Sony’s San Diego labs, is a Linux-based open-architecture system that deliberately separates conditional access. This will allow Charter to open CA up to bid to such companies as NDS Group plc, Nagravision, Irdeto Access, Widevine Technologies Inc. and even the traditional controller vendors.

On the flip side, that new headend setup would allow Charter to stop relying on traditional suppliers of set-top conditional-access cards and put that function out to bid for other vendors.

Charter and Sony have begun lab trials of the new controller, which must interface with a number of other headend systems, such as billing applications and video-on-demand servers. The two companies are also working toward an updated agreement to codify their relationship, Davis said.

Charter has begun to brief other MSOs about its plans, which should especially help smaller operators, he added.

The company envisions selling the new Sony-Charter controller to other systems looking to dramatically lower set-top costs and alter the current modus operandi of conditional access.

For more on the Sony-Charter controller, please see Matt Stump’s story on page three of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.