Comcast Gives Thomson Nod for DTAs

Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453) has become the first vendor to officially announce a deal to supply Digital Terminal Adapters (DTAs) to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which plans to use the simple, one-way devices to power an "all-digital" strategy that will help the MSO to reclaim about 40 analog channels. (See Thomson Confirms Comcast DTA Order.)

As designed, DTAs will be simple, digital-to-analog converter boxes that will be "one-way," meaning they won't be able to handle video on demand or any other two-way digital cable services. They also won't support an interactive program guide.

Thomson did not disclose the value of the "purchase agreement" with Comcast, but the MSO has said it plans to use its analog reclamation strategy in about 20 percent of its markets toward the back half of 2008. Comcast plans to use DTAs to support existing analog-only customers or as an inexpensive way to feed digital broadcast channels to less frequently used cable outlets, such as a third outlet in a customer's kitchen. People familiar with the project say Comcast plans to deploy millions of DTAs and has sought unit pricing in the neighborhood of $35. (See Comcast Pursuing $35 Digital Dongle.)

Although Comcast will use the one-way, conditional access system-free DTAs to move more programming to the digital domain and apply freed up analog spectrum toward hi-def, Docsis 3.0, and video-on-demand services, the operator still plans to offer about 30 channels from its "B1" basic lineup in analog format. (See Comcast Spreads the Love and Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project.) As for other bandwidth management techniques, the MSO is also testing switched digital video (SDV) in at least four markets. (See Comcast Expands SDV Test Pool.)

Comcast has not identified which markets it will use the "all-digital" in strategy first, but it has already shifted the bulk of its analog lineup to digital in Chicago. (See Going 'Mostly' Digital .) The MSO is also expected to use DTAs initially in markets based on Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s digital video platform. Comcast was not available for further comment Monday morning.

The DTA deal solidifies Thomson's footing at Comcast. Thomson, thanks to a deal announced last July, is also supplying voice modems, or embedded multimedia terminal adapters (E-MTAs), to the MSO. Comcast also buys stand-alone cable modems from Thomson. (See Thomson Wins eMTA Deal.)

Thomson introduced its DTA, the DCI1011, at The Cable Show in May, showing a working model at its booth. At the time, company officials said Thomson had received a "good verbal commitment" for the product, and anticipated that the DCI1011 would reach mass production by September. (See DTAs on Parade .)

Working DTA

Thomson, however, won't be Comcast's sole supplier of DTAs. Pace Micro Technology disclosed on May 29 that it had signed a three-year deal to supply "low cost digital to analogue converter" boxes with an undisclosed U.S. operator believes to be Comcast. (See Picking Up the Pace (DTA).) Motorola, meanwhile, told Cable Digital News previously that it anticipated being selected by Comcast for a piece of the DTA project. Pace and Motorola were not immediately available to update their DTA position at Comcast.

Among other major cable suppliers, Cisco has also thrown its hat into the ring with a device called the DTA 50. Cisco has not announced any purchase deals for the device, but the company has said it would take four to six months to reach volume production once it receives a firm MSO order. (See Cisco Doubles Up for Cable.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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