Although it seems like a natural progression for cable set-tops to start integrating Internet-based content, there have been few indicators of actual activity in that area until recently. Now, several signs seem to point the way toward cable set-top convergence. First, Jeff Baumgartner reported in two articles over the last few weeks about Comcast plans to deliver IP-based video to subscriber homes. CTO Tony Werner confirmed that Comcast Residential Network Gateway set-tops (RNG boxes sourced from several vendors including Motorola) are designed to support IP video, and could be activated for IP delivery with software and firmware upgrades. This announcement comes on the heels of new updates on Comcast’s famed “Excalibur” initiative, which has reportedly kicked into high gear, and is being led out of a new division called Comcast Converged Products. Excalibur is the code name for a Comcast IPTV project that is aiming to deliver personalized, unicast video services.
Beyond Comcast, In-Stat researcher Mike Paxton is reporting accelerated growth in cable set-tops with embedded DOCSIS modems. Motorola has quietly offered embedded modems in its higher-end set-tops for years now, but In-Stat is projecting that these types of boxes will double in cable households between 2009 and 2014. All the better to combine QAM and IP video.
And finally, there’s the significance of the cable gateway movement, which has the potential to join IP and QAM video streams right at the entry point to the subscriber home. No set-top upgrade required.
There’s little way to know just how cable operators might add on Internet video services to their existing offerings, but it certainly seems like there’s activity underway to counter the over-the-top options available. And from any rational viewpoint, how could it be otherwise?