CableLabs® Issues OpenCable™ Software RFP
Next Step Toward Retail Availability and Digital Set-top Box Interoperability
Louisville, Colorado, September 14, 1999—Cable Television Laboratories, Inc. (CableLabs®) has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for OpenCable™ software that will allow for national portability of advanced digital devices that will deliver interactive services. With this announcement, CableLabs and the nation's leading cable companies take the next major step toward ensuring retail availability of the next generation of digital set-top boxes from a wide range of manufacturers, which will allow consumers to own a box that will operate on any cable system.
The RFP seeks solutions on how participating cable companies should craft the middleware software segment of OpenCable retail devices. This layer of OpenCable software will work with multiple software operating systems. It also will allow individual cable operators to deploy their custom services and applications, such as electronic program guides, on OpenCable-compliant host devices connected to the cable operator's network.
OpenCable is the CableLabs project that seeks to facilitate multiple suppliers creating advanced digital devices and services that will communicate with one another, or interoperate. Deadline for responses on the RFP is October 14; a bidders' conference to field questions is set for September 29 in Denver.
CableLabs Chairman Brian L. Roberts, President of Comcast Corporation, said, "This is a great step forward toward getting cable boxes into retail stores across America. This process will make available to our industry a common middleware element for OpenCable. This means consumers will enjoy more innovative cable services more rapidly. Through the current phase of OpenCable, we intend to foster the creation of many applications that can run on numerous cable systems nationwide, rather than applications being tied to one proprietary format. That should increase consumer choice and reduce cost."
Additionally, by making a common set of middleware available in OpenCable, "The cable industry is really enabling portability of future generations of OpenCable retail devices and functions throughout the U.S. and Canada," said Joseph Collins, vice chairman of the CableLabs Board of Directors and chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable. "It also reinforces our industry's commitment to support retail availability of OpenCable devices," Collins added.
"This open software environment will offer many opportunities for innovation and involvement by consumer electronics companies and software companies," said Leo J. Hindery, Jr., President and CEO of AT&T Broadband & Internet Services. "The middleware selection process will include a competitive, open solicitation, as established in other parts of the OpenCable process," added Hindery, a member of the CableLabs Executive Committee of the Board of Directors.
Time Warner Cable Chief Technical Officer, Jim Chiddix, and a key executive working with CableLabs on the OpenCable project, said, "The software RFP is being released as CableLabs culminates two years of specification writing on hardware elements of OpenCable. But creating hardware specifications is only part of the project's goal." CableLabs is also working to manage the development of a digital POD (removable security) module by the July 1, 2000, deadline established by the FCC. CableLabs recently hosted an interoperability event with about a dozen suppliers working together at CableLabs to evaluate early prototypes of the digital POD module.
Comcast Corporation Vice President of Strategic Planning Mark Coblitz, who heads the OpenCable Business Committee, said, "The OpenCable middleware approach allows service developers to write applications that run on numerous hardware platforms and that are independent of any operating system (OS) or processor residing in a particular device. This approach is consistent with the original goals articulated by the CableLabs Executive Committee at the outset of the project when it chose not to specify a processor or OS."
The RFP will result in a single applications programming interface (API) that will comprise a common set of instructions to applications or service providers on how to develop applications or services to run on this platform. While the API first will be a cable industry specification open to any service developer and manufacturer to build OpenCable devices, the API ultimately will migrate into full status as a standard in due-process standards bodies.
Any middleware provider may offer an implementation of the middleware API, providing an opportunity for competitive suppliers of middleware from the start. The selected API initially will be associated with a single middleware implementation, but CableLabs will maintain rights to license the middleware implementation to ensure that licensing is timely and is non-discriminatory.
About CableLabs: Cable Television Laboratories (www.cablelabs.com) was founded in 1988 by members of the cable television industry. A non-profit research and development consortium, CableLabs delivers innovations that enable cable operators to be the providers of choice in their markets. Cable operators from around the world are members. CableLabs maintains additional web sites at www.cablenet.org and www.ebif.tv.
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