Light Reading

Small Cablecos Weigh Digital Options

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The Independent Show -- The top 10 U.S. MSOs might make up the bulk of the customer base, but there are still plenty of Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators scattered about, and many of them are still trying to develop digital video transition strategies that don't break the bank.

Many of these operators don't have much bandwidth to play with. A good portion of them are still operating plant with just 550 MHz of capacity, meaning there's not much headroom left for high-definition television and more advanced Docsis 3.0 cable modem services -- items that could help them compete with the video offerings of satellite TV service operators and incumbent telcos.

Instead of taking on expensive upgrades, many smaller operators are considering strategies to reclaim analog spectrum so they can multiplex and squeeze additional services into the more efficient digitized environment.

Naturally, several suppliers have tailored services for the cause. Based on discussions here at the conference and recent announcements, here's a brief update on some of that activity:

  • Leading the pack is HITS Quantum SD, a service from the Comcast Media Center (CMC) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) that allows operators in smaller markets to do digital-domain simulcasts of the channels in their analog lineups. MSOs can then gradually strip away some of those analog channels as digital set-tops get more fully deployed to customers. That leaves more spectrum for services like hi-def and perhaps even video-on-demand (VoD).

    At last check, more than 260 cable systems are taking this route with Moto and the CMC. Uptake on that service started slowly but has accelerated through this year, "which is something we're pretty proud of, given the state of the economy," says CMC chief operating officer Gary Traver, noting that most customers are approaching this with gradual digital migrations rather than hard cutovers. (See MSOs Tap Comcast Unit for Analog Reclaim.)

    The CMC is getting ready to complement the offering with a Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA), the one-way digital-to-analog channel zapper Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is using to fuel its own all-digital strategy. "We're not into the [DTA] trials yet, but we will be there shortly," Traver says. Moto-made DTAs will play a role, but the CMC intends to work with multiple suppliers, he adds. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan .)

    The CMC is also giving Tier 2 and 3 MSOs the option to add VoD via a partnership with Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) (the combined offer is branded as "VoD in a Box"), and interactive applications via a centralized offering called HITS AxIS. The latter is starting off with Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), an interactive platform that can address cable's entire universe of digital boxes. More advanced tru2way applications will come later. (See Comcast Media Center Buffs Up for EBIF , Comcast, itaas Engage on EBIF , and More MSOs Test 'HITS AxIS'.)

    Traver acknowledges that VoD in a Box is "making small progress," primarily due to the bad economy and the lack of access to capital markets for some operators. "But it's a compelling business case to put VoD in," he says. (See Phonoscope Picks VOD In a Box.)

  • Evolution Broadband LLC also says it's making progress using a digital video system powered in part by by DTAs outfitted with the Conax AS conditional access system.

    Brent Smith, president of Evolution's digital division, says the company is discussing deployment options with as many as 15 operators as they prepare their budgets for next year. Some deployment deals could pop this fall, but "a lot will land in 2010," Smith predicts.

    Evolution, which recently obtained a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waiver for its standard-definition DTAs, has developed an MPEG-4-capable hi-def version that, according to Smith, is six weeks away from production. Evolution has drafted a waiver request for the HD-DTA, which is expected to cost less than $100 per unit, even with the encryption element baked in. (See FCC Believes in Evolution-ary DTAs and Evolution Guns for HD Box Waiver .)

    "The HD/MPEG-4 box is really phase 2 of our whole D-to-A strategy," he says.

    Cable ONE Inc. has already obtained a condition-filled waiver to use HD-DTAs in one small system in Tennesee. Evolution's the obvious candidate for that business, but Smith would only say that his firm is in discussions with the operator. (See Cable ONE Snares HD Set-Top Waiver .)

  • R.L. Drake LLC , meanwhile, is aiding digital migrations with a system called "Digital Freedom" that uses a downloadable conditional access system from the Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) cable consortium that adheres to the FCC's ban on integrated security set-top boxes. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

    A few operators have signed up for field trials involving a mainstream HD box that can decode MPEG-4. (See Drake Downloads Some Deals .)

    BBT and Drake say they expect to add a DVR box and a "low-cost, all-digital" set-top to the mix. Two new set-top suppliers (still unnamed) have joined the group to help get those products off the ground, according to Tony Swain, the chief operating officer of BBT, and president and CEO of Tele-Media Broadband (which is one of the MSOs backing the BBT project).

    — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

    (0)  | 
    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
  • Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
    From The Founder
    Steve Saunders provides an overview of white box networking and introduces a new "slim line" version of the OSI 7-layer model.
    Flash Poll
    Live Streaming Video
    CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
    Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
    Between the CEOs
    Centec on Ethernet Switching

    11|26|15   |   09:58   |   (0) comments

    Centec CEO James Sun talks to Steve Saunders about Ethernet switching and the white box revolution.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Delivering Service Agility in the Virtualization Era

    11|25|15   |   5.41   |   (0) comments

    Interview with Massimo Fatato, WW OSS Business Lead, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
    Wagner’s Ring
    How Might Open Source Fail?

    11|24|15   |     |   (9) comments

    Open source, SDN, and NFV are looking inevitable – but performance, standards proliferation and regulatory capture could derail the movement.
    LRTV Custom TV
    NFV Lifecycle Orchestration – a Fresh Vision for Telco

    11|23|15   |   6.40   |   (0) comments

    Simon Osborne, CTO Comptel, and Heavy Reading's Caroline Chappell reveal the business impacts of new SDN and NFV, and what the term service orchestration actually means. Together they define Lifecycle Service Orchestration and how the virtualized future will look for telecoms operators.
    Between the CEOs
    Cisco's Virtual Role in Saudi

    11|20|15   |   12:15   |   (1) comment

    Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders talks with Zayan Sadek, Regional Manager at Cisco Systems, about the competitive communications services market and advance of virtualization in Saudi Arabia.
    LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
    Huawei Leads With Kubernetes for Cloud PaaS

    11|19|15   |   08:26   |   (0) comments

    Huawei is looking to Kubernetes as a key tool for building robust open source technologies for customers and partners, said Ying Xiong, chief architect of cloud platform at Huawei, in an interview with Light Reading West Coast Bureau Chief Mitch Wagner at the recent Kubecon conference.
    Women in Comms Introduction Videos
    WiC in London: The Highlight Reel

    11|19|15   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

    NetCracker's Mervat El Dabae headlines an inspiring morning in London with help from leading women from Vodafone, TalkTalk, Hyperoptics and Ciena.
    LRTV Documentaries
    Why Saudi's So Hot for New Tech

    11|19|15   |   05:07   |   (0) comments

    Light Reading's Steve Saunders reports from Saudi Arabia, a hyper-competitive market desperate to embrace the next generation of communications technologies and services.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Why Data Models Deliver More Value Than Information Models

    11|19|15   |   5.08   |   (0) comments

    Stefan Vallin argues that more automation is needed to manage end-to-end services and the hybrid networks they run on, and that data models are key to achieving this.
    Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
    SDN Management & Orchestration in the WAN

    11|17|15   |   7.20   |   (0) comments

    Carol Wilson and Packet Design CTO Cengiz Alaettinoglu discuss CSPs' SDN service delivery and assurance requirements. Learn about a modular approach to building automated control, orchestration and management functions for the WAN that are policy- and analytics-driven.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Flash Networks: Optimizing for Radio Spectral Efficiency

    11|17|15   |   3:34   |   (0) comments

    Today most optimization vendors only focus on optimizing voice or data. Ofer Gottfried, Flash Networks' CTO, shows how improving data throughput and maximizing spectral efficiency reduces capital and operating expenses while also providing a platform for user engagement.
    LRTV Custom TV
    Making Pay-TV User Experiences Millennial-Friendly

    11|16|15   |   6:42   |   (0) comments

    The unique challenge of reaching and engaging Millennials is driving pay-TV video experience transformation that can include higher quality UIs, viewing of multiple content streams at once and seamless transitions between handheld devices and the television.
    Allot MobileTrends Report H2/2015 reveals how daily online behavior can be used to discover smarter ways to profile customers and propose valuable, real-time offers to them.
    Hot Topics
    Samsung to Sell Wireless Networking Unit?
    Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/23/2015
    Sprint, Verizon Face Reorganization, Job Cuts
    Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/20/2015
    Sprint to Get $1.2B From New Leasing Venture
    Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/23/2015
    How Might Open Source Fail?
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 11/24/2015
    Networking Shines in HP's Gloomy Final Earnings
    Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 11/25/2015
    Like Us on Facebook
    Twitter Feed
    December 15, 2015
    Virtualizing Cable Services
    Webinar Archive
    BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
    Centec CEO James Sun talks to Steve Saunders about Ethernet switching and the white box revolution.
    Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders talks with Zayan Sadek, Regional Manager at Cisco Systems, about the competitive communications services market and advance of virtualization in Saudi Arabia.
    Cats with Phones
    Can't Find the Phone on Thanksgiving? Click Here
    Check under the cat! (hint: bottom right)
    Live Digital Audio

    Broadband speeds are ramping up across Europe as the continent, at its own pace, follows North America towards a gigabit society. But there are many steps to take on the road to gigabit broadband availability and a number of technology options that can meet the various requirements of Europe’s high-speed fixed broadband network operators. During this radio show we will look at some of the catalysts for broadband network investments and examine the menu of technology options on offer, including vectoring and for copper plant evolution and the various deployment possibilities for FTTH/B.