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Tru2way Heats Up

Set-top software vendors are winning fresh business as cable operators start to speed up their deployment of Tru2way, the Cable- Labs-developed software specification that allows programmers and operators to deliver standardized interactive applications to a range of digital cable devices.

Major cable operators pledged to consumer electronics manufacturers back in May 2008 that they would support Tru2way, which can eliminate the need for a set-top box, across their footprints by July 2009. But they missed that deadline, and set-makers have focused on marketing new features like broadband capabilities and 3D over Tru2way.

Nonetheless, operators, led by Time Warner, have been slowly deploying leased set-tops that support Tru2way. And vendors say that a meaningful number of Tru2way boxes should hit the market in 2010 and 2011.

U.K.-based NDS, which has supplied middleware to more than 140 million set-tops worldwide but is still a relatively new player in the U.S. cable market, has just won a major deal from Comcast to help the cable giant deploy Tru2way technology. NDS, which has built up a professional services business that initially handled Tru2way integration work for Cox Communications, has been tapped by Comcast to serve as its “prime integrator” for deploying the CableLabs Tru2way Reference Implementation (RI).

According to Jesper Knutsson, VP and general manager of sales for NDS Americas, NDS’ task is to take the RI software “stack,” which was originally designed to perform simulations in a PC environment, and optimize it for a variety of set-tops. (Comcast is reportedly going to deploy Tru2way on new Pace set-tops.) The company will lead set-top-box testing, code development and success validation for the integration of new Tru2way applications and devices.

Mass deployments in 2011
Another middleware player riding Tru2way’s growth is Korean firm Alticast, which fi rst deployed Tru2way in Korea back in 2005; the company has since rolled out its Tru2way middleware in the U.S. on some 2 million set-tops used by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Last year, the company hired Vidiom Systems and Charter Communications veteran David Housman to run its U.S. unit. It has created an “applications solutions” business that has developed a Twitter app for Tru2way set-tops; the app has drawn interest from major programmers.

Alticast, which also supplies software that enables BD-Live broadband capability on Bluray Disc players, has just won a deal to supply middleware for Cisco’s new Tru2way boxes for unnamed North America operators. It will also supply its Tru2way middleware to Canadian operator Videotron for use on Samsung boxes and will provide application services, including support of a new Tru2way program guide.

Housman estimates that there are only 4 million Tru2way set-tops deployed in the U.S., and expects that number to grow to 7 or 8 million by year-end. He predicts the industry will deploy 10 million new Tru2way set-tops next year, with Alticast getting a sizable chunk of that business: “We see exponential growth in the cable set-top market in the U.S.”