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Comcast Plots Multi-Room DVR

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
11/15/2007
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AUSTIN, Texas -- MoCA Technology Conference -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) plans to begin "seeding" its systems for multi-room digital video recording (DVR) applications in 2008, with the capability set to be offered in "select" markets by the third quarter of the year.

So says Comcast Chief Technology Officer Tony Werner, the opening keynoter here at the first ever Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) technology conference.

But despite being a founding member of MoCA, Comcast hasn't committed to using the technology developed by the alliance, which recently ratified a version of its home networking platform designed for throughput of up to 175 Mbit/s. (See MoCA Upgraded .)

That lack of commitment to MoCA so far suggests that Comcast is still negotiating pricing and evaluating other schemes such as HomePNA and Ultrawideband.

The MSO is also still undecided about the eventual scale of its rollout. Werner said Comcast is still vetting the business case for a wide rollout of a home networking technology, a move that would include the cost of incorporating MoCA, or another home networking platform, into the set-top layer.

Werner wondered if, instead of investing in a technology such as MoCA, it would make more sense for Comcast to deploy "Start Over," a popular application championed in the U.S. by Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) that allows customers to restart some shows (those with copyright clearance) already in progress.

While Comcast is still hedging its bets, others here aren't so undecided.

Cox Communications Inc. , another MoCA founder, expects to restart trials in 2008 and possibly deploy MoCA in support of multi-room DVR applications. The MSO was "sidetracked" from its initial trials this year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's ban on integrated security set-tops, according to Vince Groff, the operator's director of video product development. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

EchoStar Satellite LLC , meanwhile, has offered multi-room DVR applications using an analog, UHF-over-coax approach for about five years. The current setup allows customers to share recordings with another TV, but high-definition signals must be converted to standard definition.

Will Beals, director of hardware systems architecture for EchoStar Technologies, the subject of a possible spin-off, said distributing HD video to a second set in customers' homes is driving his company's MoCA strategy, but EchoStar has yet to announce how the home networking technology will fit into its product roadmap.

While some service providers are still ramping up their MoCA plans, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has made it a technical centerpiece for its FiOS TV service strategy. In fact, homes that take the FiOS TV services are blanketed with it.

The telco has MoCA silicon deployed at the optical network terminal (ONT), integrated into special home routers, and inside each set-top. The "purpose-built" home router, supplied to each customer, has two MoCA components –- one on the LAN side to talk to set-tops over a sub-net, and another that communicates directly with the ONT.

In addition to using MoCA for the multi-room DVR capability that sells for $7 extra per month, Verizon also hopes to reduce operating expenses by using the platform to handle remote configuration and management of set-tops and other consumer-side devices hanging off the telco's fiber-fed network.

"Anytime we can avoid a dispatch, that's a saving for the business," said Brian Whitton, Verizon's executive director of access network design and integration.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News


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