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CMC, Moto Offer Digital Path for MSOs

Comcast Media Center (CMC) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) are developing a new national digital platform designed to help small cable operators reclaim valuable analog spectrum for use in rolling out services such as video-on-demand (VOD) and high-definition television (HDTV).

The platform is aimed at existing Headend In The Sky (HITS) Quantum cable affiliates, a universe that presently is comprised of more than 400 cable operators serving roughly 3,000 systems. (See Moto, CMC Team on All-Digital.)

According to Motorola and the CMC, the new HITS Quantum platform will apply to systems with 330 MHz or greater of plant capacity. By way of example, a typical built-out system provides bandwidth of 750 MHz or greater.

Smaller operators with limited spectrum face a dilemma as they compete with satellite TV providers and local telephone companies. To remain competitive on the video front, they must decide whether to embark on an expensive spectrum upgrade or to free up bandwidth by moving more analog services to the digital domain. Given the cost benefits and the coming February 2009 broadcast TV digital transition, operators are starting to opt for all-digital migration strategies.

Under the new multi-year deal between the CMC and Motorola, the next-gen version of HITS Quantum is designed to allow for that migration, while delivering more than 200 linear hi-def and standard-def channels and upwards of 2,000 VOD titles. That content expansion is based in part on a new deal between the CMC and SES Americom that eventually will move all distribution of linear and non-linear content via three C-band satellites (AMC-1, AMC-4, and AMC-18) in SES’s “HD-Prime neighborhood.” (See CMC, SES Americom Re-up.)

The CMC and Motorola have also pledged to make an undisclosed “substantial investment” in the centralized National Authorization Service (NAS) to support applications designed for tru2way, the new brand for what used to be called the OpenCable Platform. (See Cable's 'tru2way' Play and CableLabs Seeks tru2way Apps.) The new iteration will also be made to support switched digital video (SDV). The initial version of NAS was launched in 1996.

A CMC spokesman noted via e-mail that NAS has already been configured to support HDTV, VOD, and removable CableCARDs, elements central to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ban on integrated security set-tops that went into effect on July 1, 2007. (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.) The CMC and Motorola are still building in tru2way support and expect testing to begin sometime in the "next few months."

Motorola and the CMC unveiled the initiative in concert with the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) ’s Winter Education Conference, which is taking place this week in Phoenix. And they aren't alone in their efforts to help small operators.

Transparent Video Systems Inc. (TVS) is also aiding smaller cable operators with the transition to digital. While TVS’s platform can receive content from HITS, it is not relying on Motorola’s set-tops and conditional access system. Instead, it is using DVB-based set-tops from Homecast Co. Ltd. coupled with the Conax AS CA system. (See TVS Makes All-Digital Pitch .)

TVS has set a goal to reach 300 system deployments in fewer than three years. So far, it has announced deals with only two: Coaxial Cable TV of Edinboro, Pa.; and Paul Communications of Kahnawake, Quebec. Each of those systems serves about 4,000 subscribers. (See Paul Comm. Picks TVS.)

Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) is also developing a digital platform for smaller operators based on a downloadable conditional access system, but its iteration has yet to reach the deployment stage. (See BBT Inches Toward DCAS Solution.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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