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Comcast Expands SDV Test Pool

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is putting switched digital video (SDV) to the test in at least two more markets -- Minneapolis and St. Paul -- Cable Digital News has learned.

According to people familiar with the trials, the MSO is giving Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s SDV system a go in St. Paul and using Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s platform in Minneapolis.

Comcast has already tapped Cisco for its SDV test in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Motorola for a trial in the Denver area. (See Comcast Puts SDV Vendors to the Test and Comcast Reveals SDV Test Beds.)

As for other SDV-related vendor activity, the MSO has already selected edge QAMs from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT). Comcast has also added BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) to its list of approved SDV suppliers, but has not picked a market for vetting that vendor's technology. (See Comcast Taps Arris for Edge QAM Initiative and Who Makes What: Switched Digital Video .)

Asked about SDV trials in Minnesota, Comcast wouldn't comment. (Considering the Twin Cities are also the site of the operator's first commercial deployment of Docsis 3.0, we'll have to assume engineers there don't have much time to spare these days). But a spokeswoman noted that the MSO plans to expand beyond the first two SDV test beds, where the trials have been "going well."

Industry sources say Comcast wants to make sure SDV performs well before making any significant leaps forward with the technology, which is designed to use existing bandwidth more efficiently by multicasting channels in "switched" tiers only when customers in a given service group select them for viewing. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) are among MSOs that have deployed SDV the most broadly. Just last week, Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI) of Canada announced it would launch Cisco's switching technology in Ontario. (See Rogers Turning on SDV .)

It also appears that Comcast, despite the addition of two SDV test locations, has scaled back some of its original plans for the technology -- unless it's waiting to ramp things up in the third and fourth quarters. In February, execs said the operator had budget set aside to introduce SDV in about 15 percent of its service area by the end of 2008. (See Is SDV Fading?)

Since then, however, Comcast has given much more attention to an analog reclamation project that will be fueled in part by the deployment of millions of inexpensive, one-way Digital Terminal Adapters (DTAs). (See Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project and DTAs on Parade .)

Speaking at last week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, Comcast Corp. COO Steve Burke noted that the MSO's all-digital strategy will get "started in earnest this fall." When asked to weigh the bandwidth management options on the table, Burke said Comcast will "lean more heavily toward analog reclamation."

Comcast plans to deploy its "all-digital" strategy in about 20 percent of its footprint this year. But the term is a bit of a misnomer, because in those markets, Comcast will continue to offer about 30 channels from its B1 basic programming tier in analog form. The move, however, will allow the operator to get back about 40 analog channels and apply that capacity toward Docsis 3.0, video-on-demand (VOD), and high-definition television services.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies: Meeting the Satellite & Telco TV Challenge, which will take a comprehensive look at the cable industry's attempts to fend off its leading rivals and generate fresh revenues by deploying next-generation video technologies. To be staged in Los Angeles, July 24, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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