Comcast 'Cavalry' Rides Into Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is apparently next in line to get the "all-digital" treatment as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) prepares to reclaim gobs of analog spectrum there to create more capacity for linear high-definition television and video-on-demand (VoD) services, and perhaps even more channels for Docsis 3.0. (See Pittsburgh Gets Wideband .)

Comcast was not immediately available for comment Wednesday morning, but a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the digital migration is expected to start there "in the next few months," and to be wrapped up in all of the MSO's western Pennsylvania systems by the end of next year. About 80 percent of Comcast's subs in Pittsburgh reportedly already subscribe to digital cable. Comcast's initiative, internally called "Project Cavalry," calls for the MSO to migrate about 40 channels from the advanced basic tier from analog to digital (the basic tier remains in analog). To help with the transition, Comcast is giving advanced basic subs one interactive digital box (capable of handling apps such as VoD and the interactive program guide) and two one-way Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices for free as long as they remain Comcast customers. (See Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes.) The operator is also using DTAs in apartment buildings and other multiple-dwelling units (MDUs), but is expected to deploy a new digital-to-analog gateway device developed by Vecima Networks Inc. (Toronto: VCM) to help reduce conversion costs in those environments. (See Vecima Ready to Ride With Comcast's 'Cavalry'?) Comcast now has Project Cavalry actively underway in at least a dozen markets, including Seattle; San Francisco/Bay Area; Atlanta; the Philadelphia region; and Chattanooga, Tenn. Portland, Ore., was the first Comcast market to complete the process. UPDATE: Comcast confirmed that Project Cavalry is underway in Pittsburgh, as well as in its systems serving Boston, Connecticut, Michigan, parts of Maryland, and Augusta, Ga. Comcast plans to have about 33 percent of the transition complete by the end. The MSO has said the entire process will cost about $1 billion and require more than 20 million DTAs (and presumably a sizable number of those Vecima thingies). (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan , Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes, Comcast 'Cavalry' Rides Into NoCal , and Comcast Speeds Up '09 Wideband Goal .) Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Pace Micro Technology , and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) have been identified as DTA suppliers to Comcast. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. may also be in the running for future DTA business at Comcast, as sources have indicated that the Chinese giant has signed a license to use "Privacy Mode," a content-protection scheme that's burned into all Comcast's DTAs, but requires a firmware upgrade for activation. (See Huawei Takes On US Set-Top Market and Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional .) Although Comcast has clearly picked analog reclamation as the tool it will use initially use to clear up room for more advanced services, the MSO has indicated recently that it still has interest in deploying switched digital video (SDV), another bandwidth saving technique it has tried out in a limited number of markets. (See Burke Gives SDV Some Hope .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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