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Security Platforms/Tools

Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional

Although Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) intends to deploy a new breed of digital terminal adapters (DTAs) initially sans security, those devices, which will help to fuel the MSO's "all-digital" strategy, will have the ability to add content protection later on, Cable Digital News has learned.

According to people familiar with the project, the Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) chipsets that will grace these DTAs will be capable of activating content protection via a firmware download. Those chips, at least for this phase of the project, are being hardwired or "burned in" with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s "privacy mode" -- a content protection system that's already used with video-on-demand fare.

An industry exec familiar with privacy mode likens it to "a very simple CA [conditional access] system… that uses a long-term, fixed key structure." By comparison, the keys for a full-blown CA system are changed out frequently. For the foreseeable future, however, the privacy mode element in Comcast's DTAs will remain inert.

"We have no plans to activate that capability, but if we were to do that in the future it would be done in a way that would be in compliance with FCC rules, including obtaining any necessary waivers," a Comcast spokeswoman says.

Broadcom formally introduced its DTA system-on-a-chip, dubbed the BCM3545, last month. (See Broadcom Adapts Chipset for DTAs.) So far, Comcast has selected DTAs from three suppliers: Motorola, Pace Micro Technology , and Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453). (See DTAs on Parade , Comcast Gives Thomson Nod for DTAs , and Pace Pix .)

Although Comcast's initial DTA activity will center on cable systems based on Motorola's digital platform, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) also has a DTA on its roadmap. However, Cisco has not announced a purchase deal with Comcast or any other cable MSO, nor has it disclosed what kind of security or content protection those DTAs might support. (See Cisco Doubles Up for Cable.)

In the meantime, Comcast is moving ahead with a plan to go "all-digital" in 20 percent of its footprint this year. Using DTAs as the in-home centerpiece, the strategy will allow the operator to reclaim about 40 analog channels and use newly freed-up spectrum for broader high-definition television tiers, Docsis 3.0, and other advanced digital services. (See Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project and Comcast Enters the Wideband Era .)

People familiar with the plan say Comcast intends to purchase 6 million DTA units this year and another 12 million DTAs in 2009. DTA unit costs are expected to be in the neighborhood of $35.

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Juniorbarns 12/5/2012 | 4:04:33 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional

Yes.


As long as Comcast allows the digital B2 to be delivered in clear QAM, A TV with a digital tuner will be able to display all B2 programs.


Should Comcast elect to encrypt (scramble) these channels in the future as discussed in this article, you will then need a STB or TV with built in Cable Card.


 

Juniorbarns 12/5/2012 | 4:04:29 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional

While a very old technology, filters or "traps" were the first means to scramble analog channels beginning when HBO was firsts introduced.


Even today, all MSO's continue to use filters. the 2 most popular applications are those who subscribe to the "limited basic" or "lifeline" service. Those subscribers have a filter installed to block out the upper portion of analog. A typical example is a system that has analog from channels 2 through 78 where 2 through 23 is the limited basic and 24 through 78 is the "expanded basic". The second application is for those who subscribe to cable modem service only which include Internet service and phone. Since these folks are not receiving any video service, a filter is installed to block all analog channels leaving the modem frequencies intact.


Once analog channels 24 through 78 are converted to unencrypted digtal, the system can still protect these using the same filter. They may elect to change the filter to remove just the digital B2, but either way, programmers need not to worry as they will be protected.


Jeff, Outstanding articles.

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 4:04:28 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional

Inlightening Post


But I have some question as to your statement;


"...and 24 through 78 is the "expanded basic". The second application is for those who subscribe to cable modem service only which include Internet service and phone."


In the competitive Dallas metroplex, with choices,  analog channels ~24 through 78, the "expanded basic", includes TV programming such as cable news, sports (ESPNs), movies (TNT,TBS ,USA) and other more expensive programing than on the lower channels. In my case Comcast sold this to TWC who uses the filters to distinquish services. To make these higher channels digital will push subs, like myself to look at those compeitive alternatives as this makes it a 'me too' market.


 


OP


OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:33:14 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional Jeff,
Clarification-
Will Digital TVs with built-in QAM cable TV tuner be able to receive unscrambled programs without a set-top box or DTA on Comcast?

OP
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:33:14 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional I'm glad you asked that. In my earlier discussions about the DTA -- before the content protection question came up, anyway -- I was told that DTVs with built in QAM tuners will be able to receive those signals coming down in the clear. So that may be yet another point Comcast has in its favor...they can argue that all they're doing is mimicking that function. I've also heard the argument that the base function of the DTA will be very similar to those government-subisidized digital-to-analog converters for over-the-air signals...so how can the FCC have a problem with that, especially if it helps an MSO the size of Comcast go all-digital (eventually)? Of course, the cable industry (and Comcast, in particular) has argued in vain the to Commission before when it seemingly had a well-heeled position...
nodak 12/5/2012 | 3:33:12 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional Is Comcast going to give away these DTAs or sell them to people? If they give them away, would the FCC rules still apply? My understanding of the FCC rule is to allow a consumer to purchase a set top box that is usable on any network (and I would guess avoid rental fees).

I was young when my parents first got cable back in the mid 70s. I remember having a set top box to have HBO and a few other pay channels, but by the mid 80s, when they bought a newer TV, nothing was needed (which appears to be the direction we are headed now). Were there similar issues like this back then?
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:33:11 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional Comcast hasn't indicated what model they will use to distribute the DTAs. I've put the question to them to see what they can say before they start actually deploying them, but I'd surmise that it will be a lease/rental model as well as some giveaways (for a certain number of DTAs) to entice people to hook them up. As far as the FCC rules, they're there in part to spur a retail market for set-tops, but the separable security element is one of the key components. I don't think simply making the DTAs available for purchase is the make or break on adhering to the fed mandate.
opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 3:33:10 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional I'm still going through a learning process on this.

A modification of what I've posted before:
Over the Air (OTA) transition to digital:
1. OTA-> NTSC analog signal->analog television
After transition:
2. OTA->ATSC digital signal->converter box->NTSC analog signal-> analog television
or
3. OTA->ATSC signal->digital television

For Cable:
1. Cable coax->NTSC analog signal->analog television
After transition:
2. Cable coax->Cable QAM digital signal->DTV converter box->analog television
or
3. Cable coax->cable QAM digital signal->digital television

(this doesn't include the payservices that would require a set-top box or CableCard or upcoming tru2way).

1, 2, 3 are effectively the same for over-the-air and for cable. The government is forcing over the air to be all digital and is paying for everyone who needs a converter box. Yet for cable they are doing the opposite: requiring then to continue sending analog.

If cable companies could come up with a $40 DTV box, maybe they could convince the FCC to allow the $40 certificates be used for these box too, then they could go all digital, and the cable/OTA situation would be identical.

Or the cable companies can get all greedy and try to go all digital, force the customers to rent the DTV box, and try to force the FCC to allow all this.

Or the FCC could get all irrational-bureaucratic and continue forcing cable companies to send analog signals even if they offer DTV boxes to their customers for free.

Sounds like one of the second two options is what we'll end up with.


OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:33:09 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional I asked my question because I have multiple analog TVs scattered about my house. I had an elaborate distribution system built into a new retirement house many years ago.

While I intend to replace the TVs with QAM capability when they break, some are of little viewing value to just replace for reception or even spend ~$35 more on adapting old sets. But it does make me look for other options that would allow them to work.

I do have a switching system that can be used to replicate the signal as analog from a DTA to these locations throughout the house. But if the DTA acts as a Set-top box (one channel output and slow channel switches) I loose my multiple viewing capabilities. I have a very diverse viewing family.

OP

PS - I do have a converter box for antenna as a backup. Wouldn't want to miss the game.
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:33:07 PM
re: Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional What might be interesting to see is whether Comcast (and others) would be allowed to honor those $40 OTA converter box certificates toward DTAs. I expect we'll learn much more about how cable ops might take advantage of these new subscriber "opportunities" ahead of the '09 transition...and entice them to sign up for some basic packages. I'm looking around for more examples, but Mediacom, as we've mentioned before, will honor converter coupons under certain circumstances as part of fall campaign. Here's the link if I didn't include it before: http://www.lightreading.com/do...

Jeff
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