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Scientific-Atlanta touts set-top box deal

Seven cable companies will be rolling out services based on Scientific-Atlanta's digital set-top box design.

Following closely on the heels of other deals to deploy next-generation set-top computers, Scientific-Atlanta (SFA) today announced that seven cable companies will be rolling out services based on its digital set-top box design.

The seven cable companies

Explorer 2000
Explorer 2000
include Cox Communications, Adelphia Communications, MediaOne, and three of the largest Canadian cable companies. With the Explorer set-tops, cable companies will offer the ability to send and receive email, browse the Internet, and later still, offer video on demand.

In December, General Instrument sealed a $4.5 billion deal to provide at least 15 million next-generation cable set-top boxes to Tele-Communications Incorporated (TCI) and eight other cable operators.

General Instrument (formerly called NextLevel Systems) and Scientific-Atlanta are the two largest suppliers of equipment to the cable industry.

According to the company, less than 1 million devices have been ordered for 1998, but officials emphasize the number will grow over time. The seven cable companies today announcing orders from Scientific-Atlanta offer service in 27 cities to around 20 million customers.

Officials noted that digital set-top boxes from GI won't be ready until 1999.

Scientific-Atlanta says its set-top boxes will be compatible with the OpenCable design for interoperable set-top computers that CableLabs, a cable industry consortium, is proposing. The Explorer 2000 uses a low-cost MicroSparc II processor from Sun and an operating system from PowerTV.

The boxes that TCI has ordered from General instrument will use Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, and some will incorporate Sun's PersonalJava software for running Java programs. Eventually, TCI and other cable companies are hoping that the introduction of interoperable set-top boxes will allow for the devices to be sold through retail stores.

"The concept of picking up a digital set-top box a retailer and plugging it in is much further off than people realize," said Jim McDonald, president and CEO of Scientific-Atlanta in a teleconference. To create a retail market, McDonald says the cable companies have to have network equipment that can support two-way services. A market that can support retail distribution of digital set-top boxes is still three to four years away, he said.