Platform operators have started to think more seriously about what television functionality would be better placed in the cloud rather than the home. The bandwidth capacity and latency constraints associated with the cloud, like for network PVR for example, can be solved and you can make a Capex case for taking some core functionality out of set-top box devices, starting with hard drives. But none of this is going to stop major platform operators from deploying powerful home media gateways over the next few years. And while secondary set-top boxes may eventually be replaced in the home with thin CE clients being served by home gateways, even that is a long-term change.
This is the picture that ARRIS painted at ANGA COM when the company made its first big European outing since the acquisition of the Motorola home business. ARRIS already offered customer premise equipment (CPE) in the form of cable modems, eMTA (embedded multimedia terminal adapters) and the Moxi media gateway family but now the company has a much bigger portfolio of CPE. Given its collection of broadband and video access products, headend, on-demand and multi-screen TV solutions, it is well placed to manage any transition from home to cloud and a big theme for the company moving ahead, and a big challenge for the industry as a whole, is where the lines should be drawn.
It is clear that this is going to vary operator by operator and ARRIS thinks it has the solutions and the expertise to suit the hybrid home-cloud era and any necessary migration of functions. Bruce McClelland, Senior VP, Network and Cloud division at ARRIS, says: â€œIn the last 12 months there has definitely been a shift in emphasis and there is now a stronger interest in moving things to the cloud and relying less on heavy client architecture in the home. This could be for storage or things like the User Interface.
â€œFor the next three years or so there will be pretty powerful devices in the home doing storage and streaming and transcoding but I think we will see a shift over time towards more cloud-based control and architectures so our strategy is to invest in both approaches, with a whole range of smart, capable devices that go into homes but also the software layer and control plane for working in the cloud. We will see all the different architectures used out there.â€
Steve McCaffery, General Manager and VP for EMEA Business at ARRIS, points out that operators are still writing down their investments in set-top boxes so will continue to â€˜sweatâ€™ those assets. As operators upgrade their User Interfaces with new gateway products, one of the keys to maintaining the value of those legacy set-tops is to give them a UI upgrade too, even though they will lack the processing power of high-end, new generation devices. This is where the cloud UI comes in, or UI virtualization technology as ARRIS calls it.
The company is harnessing the CloudTV H5 platform from ActiveVideo Networks, which enables the development of HTML5 User Interfaces that can then be rendered in the cloud and turned into MPEG-2 or H.264 video streams that are then delivered to the STB and decoded like any other video channel. That means you only need a decoder in the STB to present advanced programme guides, graphics and other navigation features.
Traditionally, the ARRIS DreamGallery video navigation software needed set-top boxes capable of running an HTML5 browser. Now a new UI, created with DreamGallery, can be implemented on low-cost, entry level STBs as well.
McCaffery points to the value of HTML5 generally. â€œWhere people changed their UI every two years they can now make changes on a six-weekly basis, which means they can introduce a VOD campaign for the holiday period.â€
This illustrates one of the benefits attributed to cloud technology generally: the chance to innovate faster. As Bruce McClelland points out: â€œThe cloud is not just about cost savings. It offers simplicity and it is faster to upgrade a service offering from the network rather than upgrading the software on devices. You can innovate faster and add new services quickly.â€
This flexible approach to the UI illustrates what we are likely to see across other functions; vendors will need solutions that harness the home and the cloud to cope with a wide variety of operator implementation scenarios.
At ANGA COM, ARRIS emphasized the benefits of the deal to incorporate the Motorola Home business. For ARRIS it means more international reach and greater reach into telco markets. It creates a company that can provide a large swathe of the products and solutions needed by service providers (including SecureMedia DRM and the Medios multi-screen service suite). The company has already unified its sales teams and has a clear plan on how to bring its product lines together and create a common technology roadmap moving forwards, it added.