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Cable’s `gateway’ to home networking

May 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

What’s the difference between a set-top box and a “residential gateway”? At this point, manufacturers are telling their cable customers the difference is the inclusion of a certified digital pipeline that lets subscribers interact with their cable systems.
“The definition of `gateway’ is anything that enables interactive applications,” said David Novak, director of marketing for Pace Micro Technology Americas. “Pace stopped making set-top boxes when we stopped making analog.”
“The fundamental difference is the addition of a DOCSIS tuner,” explained Ken Klaer, vice president and general manager of subscriber networks for Scientific-Atlanta.
DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. It defines interface standards for cable modems and supporting equipment. Manufacturers boast that DOCSIS provides for a much bigger and faster pipe.
Today’s gateways offer video on demand, interactive TV, high-speed Internet access and, often, personal video recorders, in addition to a multitude of channels.
Not long ago the term “gateway” implied a portal that could receive communication signals from sources such as cable headends and wireless devices and deliver them to specific peripherals-everything from TVs, PCs, stereos and cameras to garage door openers, power supply monitors and refrigerators.
At that time this scenario seemed safely futuristic. Manufacturers now foresee an integrated solution available in about three years or so, depending on market acceptance.
“The technology is possible now, but there are a lot of questions being asked by network operators to reassure them that the incremental revenue streams are there to support it,” explained Andy Trott, CEO of Pace’s Networks & Connected Devices Division.
Technology now available in this new space is being referred to as a “home networking solution,” “home gateway” or “home media server.” Despite the technology’s homey description, the buzz indicates that most cable operators have shied away; only Comcast and Time Warner, and possibly AT&T Broadband, are even looking at it. None indicated they were ready to deploy.
“It’s early on, but we do not think it’s premature to begin exploration to discover the level of capability needed or cost that it would imply,” said Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Luftman. “We’re buying a number of Scientific-Atlanta 8000s to test in the field.”
Earlier this month at the annual Society of Cable Technology Engineers conference, the company unveiled its Explorer 4100, a less expensive “home gateway” model designed to support wired and wireless connectivity to link TVs, PCs, PDAs, phones and other Internet appliances.
Pace’s presentation at the SCTE show included the 710 home gateway recently picked up by Comcast Cable Communications (300,000 units over three years). Pace’s DigiCipher and Digital Home Gateway with XTV add time-shifting capabilities. Mr. Trott also noted that the company is delivering 750,000 of its 510 models to Time Warner.
“The 510 has the ability to connect to some devices, though there is no wireless connectivity unless they use a Gateway Expander,” he said.
During the first phase of the initiative to turn gateways into network hubs, Pace is promoting interim devices such as the Gateway Expander and pcConnect as well as integrated display devices such as Shopping Mate. Through third-party links with retailers, Shopping Mate will enable users to build shopping lists and buy online without interrupting a TV show.
“It is not possible to do all of this simultaneously [on one screen],” noted a white paper by Mr. Trott and Dr. Paul Entwistle, the company’s head of technology. “If the full benefits of interactive services are to be realized, they must be networked around the home.”