EchoStar Signs CableLabs' tru2way Host Device License Agreement

--Company's European Arm Begins Major Push for the EMEA Region

EchoStar Technologies, a subsidiary of EchoStar Corporation (note: EchoStar Corp. was spun off earlier this year from satellite-TV company, DISH Network--formerly called EchoStar--and retains the latter's hardware business and certain of its infrastructure assets), has signed CableLabs' tru2way Host Device License Agreement. The agreement gives EchoStar the rights to implement OCAP middleware and the CableCARD interface on devices using tru2way technology. According to EchoStar, its signing of the agreement signals its "commitment to providing innovative products and technologies to the cable industry": earlier this year, it also announced that it was targeting the US cable industry with a CableLabs-certified DOCSIS 2.0 product dubbed the SlingModem (see [itvt] Issue 7.87 Part 2b). The US's major cable operators have committed to supporting tru2way--a national software standard that is designed to enable two-way interactive TV services to be written once for delivery over multiple different receiving devices and cable networks--on systems covering over 90 million US homes by the end of 2008. The tru2way Host Device License Agreement is billed by CableLabs as consolidating, clarifying and providing an alternative to the organization's existing CableCard Host Interface License Agreement (CHILA) and OpenCable Application Platform Implementer Agreement. The organization says that it is available to any consumer electronics manufacturer on a non-discriminatory basis. Among other things, the license covered by the agreement allows for self-certification and paper certification of retail devices, formal rights of participation by CE manufacturers in CableLabs processes, approval of new digital outputs via a four-studio approach, and a tru2way trademark license. "We are firmly committed to becoming a vendor of choice in the cable industry, leveraging decades of systems and manufacturing excellence and today's announcement asserts our commitment," EchoStar president, Mark Jackson, said in a prepared statement.

In other EchoStar news: The company's European arm announced a major push for the EMEA market at the IBC show in Amsterdam earlier this month. EchoStar Europe, which currently supplies digital set-top boxes to a number of European operators, says that it will shortly launch a range of advanced set-tops, DVR's and other devices for cable, IPTV, satellite and terrestrial operators throughout the EMEA region. It also says that it has strengthened its marketing team: the team, which is headed up by Rick Smith, VP of sales and marketing, also now includes sales and marketing director for advanced home devices, Karl Tempest-Mitchell; director of business development for IPTV and broadband, Ian Walker; and director of marketing and communications, Mark Goodburn. "EchoStar Europe provides EMEA's digital television operators with advanced set-top solutions that are optimized to increase ARPU, reduce op-ex and enable operators to launch better and more advanced entertainment services," Smith said in a prepared statement. "We are in a unique position to be able to do this. We have a talented engineering team which has been working closely with one of the world's largest and most advanced digital, pay-TV operators to reduce opex and optimize the consumer proposition. We intend to leverage this experience to enable us to deliver equally invaluable benefits to operators throughout the EMEA market. In addition to a number of exciting advantages in set-top box monitoring--solutions to reduce engineer visits and customer contact with the operator's call-center--we have exclusive access to EchoStar Corporation's many assets derived from over 25 years operating in the television space, such as Sling Media, the world’s leading place-shifting technology."

As part of its push, EchoStar Europe used the IBC show to unveil some of the advanced functionality that will be offered by its new range of set-top boxes (which it says it will begin releasing in the second quarter of next year):

  1. A diagnostic system, called Set-Top Box Health, which the company says will allow operators to proactively monitor the performance of customer premises equipment, with the goal of reducing customer complaints and customer care costs. The system was developed for DISH Network and has been thoroughly field-tested on the latter's subscribers, EchoStar says. According to the company, the system supports remote control of the set-top so that customer service representatives can control the receiver via an IP connection, navigating the user interface and changing receiver settings; this, the company says, makes it easier to solve complex customer inquiries. EchoStar also says that the system can monitor the temperature of a DVR's hard drive and predict a failure, and then send an alert through the network so that customer care departments can respond with on-screen messages or telephone calls.
  2. A customer tracking solution, which the company developed in partnership with DISH Network, and which it says tells the operator and its broadcast and advertising partners what subscribers are watching and when. According to the company, the solution's behavioral monitoring is aggregated and anonymous, but provides demographic profiles of viewers so that advertisers know how to reach their target audience at any given time. EchoStar says that the solution can be used in cable, IPTV, satellite and terrestrial deployments, and provides such detailed information on set-top box behavior as which channels the boxes are tuned to and for how long.
  3. The TV "place-shifting" functionality that is enabled by EchoStar-subsidiary, Sling Media. The functionality will be integrated into set-top boxes for cable, satellite and IPTV, EchoStar Europe says, and, in addition to enabling end-users to watch their home TV service from remote locations, can be used to enable multi-room, multi-screen TV service within the home.

In addition, as part of its push for the European market, EchoStar Europe has signed a deal with Alticast, a Korean company that specializes in MHP and OCAP technology, to integrate the latter's DVB-MHP/GEM middleware into its set-top boxes. "It is imperative that EchoStar Europe secures the licenses necessary to meet market and technology requirements so that we may fulfil our business development plans," EchoStar Europe's Smith said in a prepared statement. "MHP and GEM are flavours of middleware that we must be able to offer our customers moving forward; therefore we selected Alticast as an independent provider, renowned for their high quality, stable and evolutionary software." Added Alticast managing director, Anthony Smith-Chaigneau: "EchoStar Europe has the background and experience to grow its market position outside the United States and, given their technical experience and abilities, will be in a great position to provide market-leading set-top boxes to the broadcast and IPTV industries. We are proud to be able to offer them first-class MHP and GEM middleware to complement those products."