Charter Customer GuaranteeCharter Communications is working on some important new set-top box technology, Charter Communications President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Rutledge revealed at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York today.

The goal is to use IP communications to the set-top box, which will act as a thin client that can be updated from the head-end to support new capabilities, including security system functionality. Charter  is working on technology that would enable any set-top box the company has deployed to act as a thin client that the company can easily upgrade through an IP connection. The company hopes to have the technology deployed throughout its network by next year.

“From an investment perspective and a capital intensity perspective it [makes things] a lot easier,” said Rutledge of the new approach.

The thin client approach also will enable Charter to “leverage the interactivity of our network,” said Rutledge, adding “that’s what differentiates us from satellite.”

Using a thin client “enables you to stay state-of-the-art and it’s also customizable,” Rutledge noted.

“Whatever interfaces you think are attractive might not be what somebody else thinks is attractive and you have all the different demographics,” he said. “I could see a world where everybody could make up their own user interface.”

According to MoffettNathanson Comcast has seen lower churn rates among customers that have the company’s X-1 set-top box, which has a range of interactive capabilities and also can be easily updated.

The ability to download security system functionality also would appear to be attractive, considering how widely the cablecos have been entering that market.

Charter Set-Top Box Technology
As Rutledge explained, Charter’s current set-top box decodes MPEG, decodes IP and has a built-in DOCSIS modem —  but older set-top boxes only use MPEG2.

This means that “If you want an IP interface, you have to convert the IP to MPEG – we’ve been doing that and we think we found a way to do it efficiently so all the issues of using a cloud-based interface . . . are taken out of the equation.”

Charter has done internal tests of the technology and now plans to deploy it to about 50,000 customers in Fort Worth.

“If it works the way we think it will work and scales the way we think it will scale, then we can take a state-of-the-art user interface and deploy it on every set-top box that’s ever been placed in the Charter system,” Rutledge said.

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