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It Slices, It Dices,It Juliennes Fries

this column has mentioned that term
33 times, across a gamut of uses.
In the beginning, gateways ganged
around home-networking conversations,
and how to accommodate the
range of wired and wireless options
that were then nascent.

Since then, gateways invaded
the lexicon of voice-over-Internet
protocol (“signaling gateways,”
“media gateways”), cable modems (“DOCSIS signaling
gateways”), and digital video (“residential
gateways,” “home media gateways”).

Lately, gateways are grabbing the spotlight again.
This month, at IBC2011 in Amsterdam, Liberty
Global detailed its aggressive “Horizon” gateway
plans; over on this side of the ocean, Canada’s Shaw
Communications, BendBroadband and Comcast are
all active with gateway tests and deployments.

What’s it all about? In this 2011 chapter, gateways
are about extending the reach of your video
subscription to all the screens you’ve bought (or
will buy) that take a broadband connection.

In engineering lingo, these things we’re buying
that play video and want broadband connectivity go
by “unmanaged devices,” or, in Comcast’s case,
“customer owned and managed” devices (COAM).

By contrast, “managed devices” are those
things designed, installed and maintained by the
service provider — set-tops, cable modems, digital
terminal adapters (DTAs), and for voice, EMTAs
(embedded multimedia terminal adapters).

Gateways help to make those unmanaged devices
more manageable.

Here’s a sample bill of materials for a gateway:
Six QAM tuners (for “traditional” digital video), four
DOCSIS tuners (for broadband stuff), dual-band
Wi-Fi, Ethernet, a big hard drive (for DVR). MoCA
and DLNA, for multiroom DVR and unmanaged
device recognition. Chips that convert MPEG-2-
compressed streams to MPEG-4, or vice versa.

The idea is this: Lots more glass is going into
people’s homes, from big-screen HDTVs to laptops
to tablets. Instead of putting a $300-ish dual-tuner
HD-DVR on all the big screens, put in one $350-
ish gateway, connected to as many $50 “slave” or
“client” devices on the other TVs. And, be able to
better service the other connected devices, fed by

The logic makes sense, except for the other big
trend: Virtualization, and the making of everything
into software, set-tops included.

Are gateways an interim step to a world where
everything’s invisible, constructed of malleable
lines of code? If so, the vendor community carries
a cheery view of what “interim” means. Gateways
started showing up at trade shows in 2009; we’re
watching for another gateway glut at the SCTE
Cable Tec-Expo in November, and through next
year. The players: Arris, Cisco, Motorola, Pace,
Samsung, and Technicolor (formerly Thomson).

Expect a mish-mash of inclusions, exclusions,
and jargon around this one. Or, as this column noted
in January of 2001: “Note that there’s serious
lexicon confusion around this device.’ ” Still.

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