The old model of cable television, in which each cable system is an
island of proprietary technology, is changing rapidly due to competition from
Direct Broadcast from Satellite (DBS), recent government regulation, digital
television, silicon integration, and the Internet. The Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) regulations now provide for retail availability of the set-top
(or navigation device) with the goal of reducing the
cost to the customer by facilitating free-market competition. In a digital
world, effective standards are required to provide compatibility between the
cable system and consumer electronic devices. Silicon integration continues
to produce cost-performance breakthroughs, particularly in set-top components,
such as microprocessors and memory. Finally, the Internet is an interactive
model that has shown explosive growth, and much of the same networking technology
can be applied to enhance television services.
OpenCable is an initiative led by Cable Television Laboratories (CableLabs) on behalf
of the cable operators. OpenCable seeks to set a common set of requirements
for set-top equipment so that new suppliers from the consumer electronics
and computer industries can start to build equipment for connection to cable
The genesis of OpenCable is due to a number of factors:
A sense that the advanced technology being developed by the
consumer electronics and computer industries is not being made available by
traditional cable suppliers
The rapid growth of DBS competitors that have used digital
technology to leapfrog the cable industry
The observation that while other industries have thrived through
interoperable standards, the cable industry has stayed relatively closed and
proprietary in its approach to new technologies
These factors led to the standards-based approach of OpenCable. OpenCable
specifies an architecture based on standards where they are already in place.
Where no applicable standards exist, OpenCable will develop such standards
that are necessary and pass them into the appropriate industry-approved standards
organizations for adoption. (An example is the specification for a point-of-deployment
module interface, initially proposed by OpenCable as document OCI-C2 and subsequently
developed and adopted as the DVS 131 standard by the SCTE Digital Video Subcommittee.
DVS 131 is discussed in detail in Chapter 18, “OCI-C2:
The Security Interface.”)
In addition, OpenCable defines functional requirements for equipment
that connects to the cable system (see Chapter 14, “OpenCable
Device Functional Requirements”).
OpenCable was first conceived as a way to encourage
new suppliers from the consumer electronics and computer industries to build
products for the cable industry. However, the goals were soon expanded as
a result of the FCC's Report and Order (R&O) in the proceeding implementing
Section 304 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 304 called upon
the FCC to adopt rules to ensure the commercial availability of navigation
devices, while not jeopardizing the signal security of the cable operator.
The following summarizes the expanded goals of OpenCable:
Encourage entry of new suppliers into the cable industry,
particularly for set-tops.
Support the introduction of new services, particularly those
based on the convergence of the computing and entertainment industries.
Support retail availability of set-tops.
The entry of new suppliers, particularly for
digital set-tops is intended to promote competition and to provide enhanced
features at lower cost. Previous efforts by individual cable operators to
broaden the supplier base failed, mainly because the cable marketplace is
small and highly segmented. To address this, OpenCable started to work on
a set of purchase requirements for an OpenCable set-top that were consistent
across the cable industry (made possible by digital standards and the natural
discontinuity due to introduction of new technology). The consistent purchase
requirements are intended to make the entire North American cable industry
a single, unified market with sufficient volume to generate interest from
large consumer electronics and computer equipment vendors.
The cable industry experiences considerable difficulty in bringing new
services to market, particularly those services that rely on Internet and
computer technology. This has caused considerable frustration with those traditional
cable suppliers that have been slow to adopt any technologies they did not
The OpenCable initiative was already addressing many
of the issues of separable security to enable the entry of new suppliers and
services, and it was natural to use the OpenCable approach to propose a solution
that could be used to satisfy the FCC's Report and Order in the proceeding
addressing the retail availability of navigation devices.