Is OCAP cable's telco-killer?

The Wall Street Journal has an excitable piece on the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP), which the columnist claims might be the ticket cable MSOs' need to conquer online video and imminent threats from the telcos. OCAP is software that runs on digital set-top boxes (STBs) and acts like an operating system. Functionally, it's a great equalizer for the fractured STB market, which requires specifically tailored software for each STB model and piece of networking gear. What's more, television set designers have already designed OCAP-ready TVs that will eliminate the need for STBs, which will be commercially ready sometime this year. Widespread adoption fo the OCAP standard is also likely to spurn a new era of third party devices that end users can buy at consumer electronics stores instead of having to lease their operators' STBs, according to the report.

While the WSJ writer gets a bit carried away with OCAP's potential, its barriers to market should not be so easily glossed over. The vast majority of the tens of millions of STBs in the market today don't have the processing power to run OCAP--so its uptake is dependent on upgrades and new subscribers. That's a slow evolution. If the cable MSOs can't come up with a way to enable OCAP for their existing subscriber base, then it's not the telco-killing strategy that the WSJ implies it is. Sounds like an OCAP rollout would require just as much change for the end user as a new service from a hungry telco.

For more on OCAP:
- see this report in the WSJ (sub. req.)