& cplSiteName &

Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
2/22/2008
50%
50%

Forget about an “all-digital” strategy driven by low-end, low-cost $50 set-tops. The nation’s largest cable operator is on the hunt for an even lower-end digital-to-analog converter device with a targeted price point of about $35 per unit.

Multiple cable industry sources have confirmed that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) issued a request for proposal (RFP) late last year for a relatively simple DTA (Digital Terminal Adapter) capable of taking in digital video and converting it into analog form. Although no such product has been produced, it’s believed that it will end up looking like a small dongle rather than a more traditional entry-level all-digital set-top such as the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) DCT700.

Rumors of the DTA project began to percolate last week when Comcast Corp. COO Steve Burke discussed on the company’s fourth quarter conference call the idea of migrating 20 percent of the MSO’s footprint to all-digital during the “back half” of 2008.

In those scenarios, it’s expected that Comcast will continue to deliver a small basic analog lineup of roughly 30 channels, but move its expanded basic analog tier to the digital domain. In doing so, it looks to reclaim upwards of 40 channels and reapply them toward expanded high-definition services or for fresh spectrum for Docsis 3.0. (See Comcast Spreads the Love and Comcast Closes In on 100 Mbit/s.)

Burke did not get into how Comcast expected to support that transition in customer homes, but it appears that the DTA project could factor heavily into the operator’s strategy.

A Comcast spokeswoman did not address the DTA project specifically, but said the MSO “looks at a number of different concepts and ideas with a number of different people. We’re very focused on the digital transition and we’re committed to helping our customers get through that transition.”

It’s believed that Comcast is looking to order about 25 million DTAs to help power an all-digital strategy cost-effectively for existing analog customers and to support existing digital customers who still have some TVs not connected to set-tops that receive analog programming. The volumes Comcast is considering are similar to what Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is seeking in a set-top RFP the telco issued last summer. (See Verizon Set-Top RFP Could Be Worth Billions .)

As for the DTA’s simplicity, it’s almost easier to detail which elements likely won’t make it into the device because they are either unnecessary or cost-prohibitive enough to put the $35 target in jeopardy.

As a bare-bones, digital-to-analog converter, the DTA likely won’t house an upstream transmitter, an on-board electronic program guide, or support for the tru2way platform. (See Cable's 'tru2way' Play .)

“It [the project] keeps twisting and changing, so who knows?” says an industry source who has seen the RFP.

Likewise, there’s still some confusion about whether the DTA will support a traditional conditional access system. Because of the costs involved, there’s little chance it will contain a CableCARD interface. Sources familiar with the project suggest that Comcast may opt for a DVB-based encryption format or use even more limited protection because programming offered today on the analog basic and expanded basic tiers is already delivered “in the clear.” A downloadable CA system is another possibility, but considered a stretch at this point.

If a customer wants to use a particular cable outlet to view a premium channel, access video-on-demand content, or other more advanced digital services, they’ll require one of the more traditional (and powerful) CableCARD-based digital boxes.

The CA question
Although requirements for the DTA haven’t been finalized, the project brings up a tricky point involving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the ban on integrated security set-tops that went into effect last July. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

The FCC has repeatedly denied Comcast’s waiver request for entry-level models with baked-in security, such as the Motorola DCT700, Scientific Atlanta Explorer 940, and the Pace Micro Technology “Chicago” DC501p. Comcast is appealing the FCC’s decision, arguing that the denials are hurting its ability to migrate to digital due to the elevated costs for lower-end set-tops with CableCARD interfaces. Comcast has claimed that the lowest-end CableCARD box from Motorola costs roughly double that of the DCT700. (See Comcast Takes CableCARD Battle to Court .)

It’s still unclear whether the DTAs would qualify for the mandate or if Comcast would require the blessing of the FCC to deploy the devices. Historically, the FCC has been more willing to grant special set-top waivers if operators were likewise willing to migrate to all-digital by the February 2009 digital TV transition. (See Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

Short of going all-digital, U.S. cable operators are on the hook to deliver “must carry” TV stations in analog and digital format for three years after the switchover. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.) As envisioned, Comcast’s DTA would ensure that the analog TV it’s connected to would be able to display a picture after February 17, 2009.

To Page 2

(10)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
OldPOTS
50%
50%
OldPOTS,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:13 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
"Comcast will continue to deliver a small basic analog lineup of roughly 30 channels, but move its expanded basic analog tier to the digital domain. In doing so, it looks to reclaim upwards of 40 channels and reapply them toward expanded high-definition services or for fresh spectrum for Docsis 3.0."

It wasn't clear whether this box converted a single selectable digital channel (simple set top) or a box that converted 'expanded basic' digital channels to analog.

I assume the latter which makes it very interesting way to spend my coupons.

OP
Jeff Baumgartner
50%
50%
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:10 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
my understanding is that the box, as designed, would be able to convert an expanded basic tier sent out in digital back to analog at the customer end.

Tom-Andrew
50%
50%
Tom-Andrew,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:09 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
"It wasn't clear whether this box converted a single selectable digital channel (simple set top) or a box that converted 'expanded basic' digital channels to analog.

I assume the latter which makes it very interesting way to spend my coupons."

The coupon program is only to support the "off-air" DTV programming. I don't think the federal government will extend it to offset the cost of a CATV dongle offered by an MSO.

My interpretation is Comcast would provide the dongle (like a digital block convertor, only Digital to Analog) to analog customers to support the FCC's analog TV requirements. Comcast gets to free-up bandwidth in their network for money making services and no need for expensive STBs for every TV (if Comcast were to go all digital).

Maybe I am stating the obvious.

Will be interesting to follow over the coming months/years.



Luke M
50%
50%
Luke M,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:08 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
A bare-bones STB, one-way with no conditional access, should be even cheaper than $35 in mass quantities. It would be significantly simpler than an ATSC coupon box - no need to decode HD, for one thing. Cable companies can hand them out like candy (one for every TV in the house, with no rental charge).

Cable companies might not be too happy with having to provide digital (SD only, however) channels unencrypted, but what choice do they have? I love it!
Tom-Andrew
50%
50%
Tom-Andrew,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:06 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
Gary:

"Will those Digital Dongles really be free??"

This is anyone's guess. My guess, based on my own Comcast analog experience, is you will end up paying with fewer channels. I have noticed quite a few analog channels being moved to digital tiers. I have not seen the corresponding reduction in my cable bill.... only increases.

Progress...

Jeff Baumgartner
50%
50%
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:06 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle

That's a good point, and might eliminate some confusion here. The coupon program is for a different breed of d-to-a converters that receive over-the-air programming. there's no Comcast DTA available yet, but I'd agree that it's highly unlikely that the coupons could be applied to it once they do become available. Comcast will hand these out for the bandwidth efficiency gains.
OldPOTS
50%
50%
OldPOTS,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:47:06 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
I was just joshing about the coupons. But I got me some. My next TV will have all those fancy tuners and cable card so when my older TV breaks. My old TV now has a great picture thanks to HD cameras,

This brought back bad memories of a couple of years ago when Comcast employees spent hours trying to convince me that I had to switch my extended basic to digital and then had to pay more for it. Of course I had seen the discussions of how they then had hoped to gain more BW and channels thanks to LR.

Will those Digital Dongles really be free??

Gary E
pacedev
50%
50%
pacedev,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:46:57 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
I've been trying to figure out who the CA vendor for this project would be if they're going to use encryption. Irdeto is the logical choice and this is what I hear from some industry colleagues as well, because Nagra and NDS are being used by Comcast's biggest satellite competitors, NDS is too expensive for a project like this anyway and is in serious potential legal trouble with the Echostar lawsuit, and Nagra is hopelessly hacked. Irdeto is the third player in the market so this makes sense.
Jeff Baumgartner
50%
50%
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:46:55 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
Free dongles? Probably too early to say since we don't know if any vendors have stepped up to say they can hit the price point. Given the bandwidth Comcast will reclaim, it'll probably worth it to them to get them out en masse. I'm curious about how easy these things will be to install. The hope is that consumers will only have to connect them to the outlet without too much fuss...and avoid those pricey truck rolls.
Jeff Baumgartner
50%
50%
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:46:52 PM
re: Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle
Interesting that you bring Irdeto up. They just came on my radar again...something about a revived N. American cable play. Coincidence? Anyway, I'll be interested to hear what they have to say.
Light Readingís Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
LIVE NOW!
Friday, December 2, 1:00PM EST
The SDN Approach to IP & Optical Integration
Sterling Perrin, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading
UPCOMING COURSE SCHEDULE
Friday, December 2, 1:00PM EST
The SDN Approach to IP & Optical Integration
Sterling Perrin, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Korn Ferry Consultant: How to Find, Cultivate & Be the Best Talent

11|30|16   |   4:10   |   (1) comment


Erin Callaghan, a managing consultant for Korn Ferry Futurestep, shares strategies for companies to improve how they recruit and for women to ensure they don't get lost in the pipeline.
LRTV Custom TV
We Can Make the World More Sustainable

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


GeSI is a global e-Sustainability Initiative organization bringing together 40 big multinational companies around the world. According to GeSI's report, information and communication technology can make the world more sustainable. Luis Neves, chairman of GeSI, shared with us his opinion at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
Finding a New Way to Engage Customers & Drive Revenue

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


Mobile revenues are declining. Digicel, a player in the Caribbean telecommunications/entertainment space, has found a new way to engage customers and drive revenue. John Quinn, CTO of Digicel, shared with us its story at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016)
LRTV Custom TV
Do You Really Need Gigabit Infrastructure?

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


Altibox is the biggest fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) player and the largest provider of video and TV in Norway. They started out with zero customers in 2002. Now they have close to half a million households and companies attached to their FTTH business. Nils Arne, CEO of Altibox shared with us their story and insight on 5G at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
BTís Openreach Strategy & Its Updates in 2016

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


A lot of developments at Openreach this year in terms of strategy and planned investments. Peter Bell, CIO of Openreach BT, shared with us the updates of Openreach at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
ITU: The Broadband Is Our Future

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


At Ultra-broadband Forum, Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU, discussed how important it is for countries, companies and everybody to be working together to help to build the broadband and digital economies (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
Tackling 5G in Dallas

11|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


Here are our highlights of the 5G North America show in Dallas, Texas with Light Reading's Dan Jones.
LRTV Interviews
Cox Prepping for Virtualization Trials

11|14|16   |     |   (0) comments


In this video interview, Cox's Jeff Finkelstein discusses MSO's plans to test managed business services in early 2017 and tackle Distributed Access Architectures.
LRTV Custom TV
Drivers & Potential of NGP

11|11|16   |     |   (0) comments


ETSI has created an Industry Specification Group to work on Next Generation Protocols (NGP ISG), looking at evolving communications and networking protocols to provide the scale, security, mobility and ease of deployment required for the connected society of the 21st century. The NGP ISG will identify the requirements for next generation protocols and network ...
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei IP 2020 for Future Networks

11|11|16   |     |   (0) comments


Future Networks should satisfy many requirements such as high throughput, extremely low latency, flexible mobility, intrinsic security, networking automation, and so forth. The Chief Architect of Huawei Future Networks addresses a holistic solution, i.e., IP 2020, to achieve these requirements for various future life scenarios (e.g., autonomous driving, tactile ...
LRTV Custom TV
Digital Object Architecture

11|11|16   |     |   (0) comments


Digital Object Architecture provides a basic information infrastructure that can facilitate interoperability between or among different systems, processes, and other information resources, including different identity management systems. Digital objects are networked objects that are named by digital object identifiers and instantiated by an infrastructure service ...
LRTV Custom TV
BT's Openreach Has High Hopes for Long-Reach VDSL

11|11|16   |   06:04   |   (0) comments


Peter Bell, Network Portfolio CIO at BT's access business Openreach, talks about the operator's trial of a new broadband access technology called Long Reach VDSL.
Upcoming Live Events
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Hot Topics
AT&T Debuts DirecTV Now on New Video Platform
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 11/28/2016
Apple Seeds 5G? Seeks 'Multi-Gigabit' Chip Designer
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/30/2016
Altice Plans FTTH for Entire US Footprint
Iain Morris, News Editor, 11/30/2016
Altice FTTH Bill Could Hit Almost $9.6B in US
Iain Morris, News Editor, 12/1/2016
Samsung Bows to Investors, Considers Revamp
Iain Morris, News Editor, 11/29/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox Technologies, speaks to Steve Saunders, CEO of Light Reading, for an exclusive interview about the 100 GB cable challenge, cybersecurity and much more.
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
Live Digital Audio

Even when there's a strong pipeline of female talent in the comms industry, it tends to leak all the way to the top. McKinsey & Company says women experience pipeline leakage at three primary points: being unable to enter, being stuck in the middle or being locked out of the top. Each pipeline pain point presents its own challenges, but also opportunities to stop the leak. Wireless operator Sprint is making a conscious effort to improve its own pipeline from new recruits to the C-suite, and it wants the rest of the industry to do the same. In this Women in Comms radio show, WiC Board Member and Sprint Vice President of Enterprise Sales Nelly Pitocco will give us her take on the industry's pipeline challenges. Pitocco, who joined Sprint in May and has spent 20 years in the comms industry, will also offer solutions, share how Sprint is tackling the challenge within its own organization and take your questions live on air.