Gateway and cloud not an either/or proposition, says TelcoTV panel

Telco video service providers trying to decide whether to install pricey home gateways that receive, store and distribute data content throughout the home or wait for cloud storage and connectivity to mature have an easy choice: Put in gateways and migrate to the cloud as it matures, a panel of vendors said Thursday at TelcoTV 2012 in Las Vegas.

The home gateway is actually a step in the direction of an all-IP network because it takes whatever data stream the provider is using and turns it into IP for in-home devices, said Mark Evensen, founder and CTO of Entone.

"I think there's always going to be a gateway; it just depends what's in that gateway," he said.

A gateway, at least according to these vendors, can be configured to handle myriad responsibilities as demanded by the service provider. A bare bones device should be something that offers a "sustainably reliable way to distribute content in the whole home while you wait for the cloud," said panel moderator Steven Hawley, principal analyst and consultant for tvstrategies.

Gateways come in multiple flavors on top of that base configuration, including as a one-stop-location for all content coming to the residence, effectively eliminating the need for multiple operator-provided set tops and other devices, said Craig Herro, senior product manager for Motorola Mobility's Telco CPE business.

Not everyone, of course, wants something that complex.

"We have customers who think one gateway is a single point of failure and they worry about that," said Herro.

Others look at the price of the device and need to be convinced it's worth it--and it is, if it means removing set-tops from the mix, said Evensen, who added that gateway vendors are "trying to lower the cost of doing business" for operators.

While operators might suffer "sticker shock" when they see the price of a fully loaded gateway, they have the "blessing" of not having to buy CPE equipment, he said. But even that blessing is mixed because the operator then loses control of what types of CPE are running in the home and must configure the gateway to handle multiple scenarios.

The other justifiable fear among operators is that the gateway, as a piece of hardware, can be outdated while the cloud, as software, is instantly and frequently upgradable.

"The fact the cloud's there doesn't mean you don't need the gateway," said Shiva Patibanda, general manager of SeaChange International's (Nasdaq: SEAC)  in-home business unit and the only non-hardware provider on the panel.

Patibanda advocated Internet-facing software in a gateway that would provide "the ability to go to the cloud and download" necessary changes to the unit.

"SeaChange's strength is to move more into the cloud" and then feed it down to the gateway, Patibanda said. "We believe software is what makes the difference."

In addition to supporting gateways, each vendor also weighed in on a general gateway lifetime of at least five years during which a configurable gateway with integrated functionality will be upgraded many times.

"One thing is for sure; it will morph into something else," said Patibanda. "It is not going to be frozen."

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