While the headlines may have been about the development of its mobile phone business or the success of its smart TVs, Samsung has quietly been building its presence in the cable TV market.
Both Virgin Media and new master Liberty Global have selected the Korean company for their TiVo and Horizon units. They are also supplying units to other leading Operators such as Ziggo, KDG in Europe and Time Warner, Cablevision in the US to name but a few.
UK-based business development director Kuldip Johal says the company is very different from the one he joined from Pace 11 years ago. “Samsung consistently invested in new technologies, design, market awareness, and all of a sudden, if not quite overnight, they became a very successful player in the TV space and the mobile space.”
Johal puts it down to the company ethos, getting things done and talking about it all after the event.
The set-top box division sits in the same division as TV and shares a president., where innovation continues, among one being the incorporation of IPTV services into the TV itself.
Once the smart TV is connected to the internet it recognises the IPTV provider that the customer is using. The IPTV interface will then automatically appear and the settings will be configured without intervention by the customer.
The first mover was TeliaSonera, which plans to introduce the concept to Elion subscribers in Estonia, with the next being Belgacom.
“It’s not all black and it’s not all white. When we look at LGI they have CI Plus modules for STB less solutions, and they have set-top boxes for providing more advanced solutions, then they have the all-singing all dancing solutions such as Horizon. When you look at all the companies in the world Sony can do the TV space, my old company Pace can do the set-top box space, there’s only one company that has a complete width and breath of products which is Samsung.”
Johal insists that Samsung has no plans to get out of the set-top business, the IPTV solution being more about exploring ‘additional’ solutions required by the operator.
One major development is the growth of the server-type box, typified by the Liberty Global/UPC Horizon receiver. Johal remembers that the work began some eight years back, making regular trips to update senior staff such as Eric Lennon, Jan Lindgren on the company’s various projects and activities.
“We developed a demo unit called HMS, Home Media Server. It was never going to be a commercialised product, but it used readily available components, to show what a home media server was about,” says Johal, recalling an early demo at CES, some six years ago. “There was a meeting of minds maybe four years ago where basically what we were demonstrating was in line with their vision.
“It was never going to be easy commercializing such an advanced product and it wasn’t, because of the delays and everything, but we had begun to understand the technologies and the challenges about putting Wi-Fi and R4CE in boxes in a effetive way. I’d like to think that we were the best partner in terms of bringing that product to market. Of course there were other partners involved who were outside of our control. A box is not just hardware.”
Johal admits to issues, but says there were always things to do, in what was a team effort. “Blaming isn’t going to achieve anything. It was a case of trying to work together, support each other and see what assistance you can provide, and let’s face it there were a lot of new things being done at the same time.”
Having been involved on the Pace DITV1000 – the first cable set-top with an integrated modem at Telewest – complete with the first STB integration of a Cisco modem stack, Liberate middleware and Nagra CA (on cable). “You get to a point when sitting back and saying it’s not my fault is not going to get you over the line. It was the same with Horizon, yes we had issues, some of which we had no control over and we just had to sit back and get them addressed.
When we look at the market data on the amount of Horizon boxes that have been deployed compared to the amount of noise about problems what it says to me is that Horizon has a been a success.”