The Little USB That Could

The Little USB That Could
Pay-TV providers are looking for new, flexible and cost-effective ways to provide services in multiple geographies, and they’re looking to USB flash drives to improve their customers’ TV user experience. You may be wondering why USBs? USBs offer two main advantages that are making them omnipresent across multiple markets:
  1. Universality. Many consumer electronics (CE) devices already come with a USB port. This is especially true for set-top boxes (STBs), where even the rudimentary “zapper boxes” typically have a USB port, so it’s easy to use USB to add new TV applications/services in the connected home.
  2. Removability. The fact that one can easily insert and remove a USB means a more flexible business model. For example, a service provider can offer the USB only to subscribers that are paying for the extra services. In addition, there is no need for an expensive truck-roll for installation, the USB can just be shipped to the customer. New services are enabled just by plugging in the USB.

As TV service providers around the world enhance their service offerings, a few of the new applications that leverage the USB form factor for the connected home are:

  1. Lite DVR – While DVR boxes are common in high TV ARPU regions such as North America, they are far less common in low ARPU markets. The main reason is that DVR STBs are expensive, which makes them price-prohibitive for these markets. However, as mentioned before, even “zapper boxes”, commonly used in low ARPU regions, have a USB port. Connecting a USB to these boxes can turn them into Lite DVR boxes. They don’t offer hundreds of hours of recording, but they can still record a number of hours. Subscribers that never had access to DVR functionality can now have access to this key feature at a price they can afford, while operators increase both revenues and customer satisfaction.
  2. Push Video on Demand (VOD) – With Netflix® crossing the 100M subscribers mark it might feel like VOD is everywhere. But if you ever get a chance to fulfil your dream vacation on a deserted tropical island, there is a good chance Netflix will not follow you there. While Internet speeds are accelerating in highly populated areas, they are slow to non-existent in rural areas. Satellite TV, or Direct to Home (DTH), on the other hand, is literally all over the world. DTH providers can leverage USB storage to bring VOD to the rural masses. Using data carousels, they can even bring 4K movies all the way to your favorite deserted island!
  3. Local advertising – Cable MSOs have been serving local advertisements for over a decade now. Their network topology allows them to leverage ad-insertion equipment and splice the live video to serve different ads to different regions. However, DTH providers typically cannot offer this capability. USBs can help change that. Ads can be pre-downloaded to the STBs and replace live ads, or play during VOD or DVR viewing.
  4. Pause Live TV (PLTV) – I covered PLTV in length in a past blog. High endurance USB allows pay-TV providers to offer this feature across legacy STBs, or as part of a cloud DVR deployment. The removability property of a USB offers flexibility that plays well when it comes to the business case for providers: USBs can be sent only to customers subscribing to the PLTV service, enabling a pay-as-you-go business model.

These are exciting new applications enabled by USB drives, but not any USB can withstand the intense load of video and power the scenarios above. Western Digital offers a portfolio of high endurance USB drives that provide a unique set of features and capabilities:

  1. Endurance – To power the scenarios above, the NAND memory should be able to endure hundreds and sometime thousands of program-erase cycles. Western Digital’s high endurance USBs are built and tested to endure.
  2. Health Status – Using the Health Status feature, TV operators can monitor what percentage of the “life” of the USB was used. If, for example, a customer returns a USB, and the USB is still “healthy”, the operator can refurbish it and return it back to the field.
  3. Security – There is another side to removability. What if a USB is removed from the box for other uses?  Host Lock is a feature we developed to ensure the USB only works with the pay-TV provider’s STBs. If a subscriber attempts to connect the USB to another device it will simply not work. This capability is also important in regions where theft is a concern.

The USB form factor is enabling new and improved TV experiences for the connected home. Learn more about our solutions for the Connected Home or email


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