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Intel’s Alan Crouch sees operators becoming experience providers

Alan Crouch

I recently talked with Alan Crouch, Vice President of the Intel Architecture group, about how he saw the evolution of the digital home and how Intel product lines would reflect these changes. Since the dissolution of the Digital Home Group in October 2011, Intel has focused on helping operators move toward connected and hybrid services. The company has combined the Atom based STB processor with the cable modem technology to create a new Puma product line aimed at cable companies.  Using this new chipset the company is enjoying quiet successes at major operators such as Comcast and UPC.As consumers move toward a WiFi-enabled connected home, Intel has been tracking the transition with Puma-based gateways that are built to handle emerging hybrid entertainment tasks. The Puma line of processors places the Intel developed Atom processor at the center of a hybrid chipset that includes DOCSIS 3.0 technology acquired from Texas Instruments in August 2011 and video processing technology .  Designed for cable operators, the chipset can be used either in a headed gateway (made to be connected to television set) or headless gateway (made to be hidden away in closet.)Core to Intel’s work in this area is the idea that IP distribution in the home is central to how consumers will interact with video and other services in the future. Alan sees the gateway as the device that brings together the traditional worlds of QAM broadcast television with the flexibility of IP delivered services. This hybrid nature of operator services is at the core of the Puma chipset, he says.Operators are already acutely aware of the hybrid nature of their business. This is the reason they launched the TV Everywhere effort in 2010. Alan sees TV-Everywhere services as a disruptive force pushing operators to think about experiences rather than just services. The integration of service delivery across and between IP and QAM is a major challenge and a critical transition in the industry. Uniting these two delivery networks into great experiences represents a great new opportunity. Alan mentioned Comcast’s X1 service as an example of how Intel is helping operators step up to the plate with the help of Intel puma based set-top boxes.

With all of this functionality transitioning from relatively secure dedicated networks (like phone wires and coax cable) to the open approach of IP, security suddenly becomes very important. This is perhaps why Intel saw the need to buy McAfee. Although nothing is announced yet, it certainly seems to make a lot of sense to leverage this expertise directly in the gateway. Intel’s competitors seem to have reached the same conclusion, as evidenced by the deal between Broadcom and Norton.

What else does Alan see the future bringing? He’d love to see the Puma chipset as a single SoC. (Although he gave no hint when that might happen it’s a good bet that he has a project in place to make that happen.) Meanwhile, he expects operators to increasingly take over the management of the network in the digital home with the gateway acting as the major control point. With 28% of US adult broadband users (according to TDG’s connected consumer report) saying their operator provided their home router, this seems already to be happening.

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