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Vecima Box Lets MDU Residents Keep Old TVs

Jeff Baumgartner
10/24/2008

Cable's digital conversion is about to go big time.

Some vendors are selling a new class of digital conversion devices for apartment buildings and other multiple dwelling units (MDUs), allowing larger and larger pockets of cable customers to view video signals on analog sets without the need for a digital set-top.

Canada's Vecima Networks Inc. (Toronto: VCM) has a digital-to-analog gateway for cable operators, powered by BroadLogic Network Technologies Inc. chips, that could gain serious adoption as cable operators look to reuse that reclaimed spectrum for Docsis 3.0, high-definition television (HDTV), video on demand (VOD), and other advanced services.

Vecima's "Terrace" QAM-to-analog MDU gateway is a bulk decoder that takes in digital video signals and outputs them in analog. This ensures that all the cable outlets in the apartment building can still deliver signals that are viewable by analog TV sets. Each Terrace unit is capable of demodulating 16 QAM channels and outputting 80 analog video channels. It also sports three auxiliary inputs for local MDU security cameras or local information channels.

Vecima says it has also scored a multi-year engineering, supply, and maintenance contract with a "leading" U.S. cable operator to support the MSO's analog reclamation strategy. Vecima values the engineering portion of the contract at $2 million to $3 million. (See Vecima Gets Contract.)

"We're close to a trial... on the product. Deployment should hit by this quarter," says Vecima vice president of corporate strategy Sumit Kumar. "But the bulk [of those deployments] will start in 2009."

Vecima isn't naming the MSO that's already on board with Terrace, but Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) are among the most likely candidates. Both MSOs are investors in BroadLogic, and both have moved ahead with analog reclamation strategies to varying degrees. (See BroadLogic Collects More Cable Cred.)

Of the two, Comcast is being more aggressive, aiming to go "all-digital" in 20 percent of its footprint during the back half of 2008. But much of that strategy is being driven by small digital terminal adapters (DTAs) to handle digital-to-analog conversions on individual cable outlets. Comcast has indicated it will need roughly 25 million DTAs to complete its digital migration over the next 12 to 18 months. However, the MSO might also look to a device like the Terrace to handle bulk conversions in apartment buildings rather than having to use DTAs on every individual cable outlet. (See Comcast Doctoring Digital in Detroit , Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project, DTAs on Parade , and Pace Pix .)

"Every MSO has been knocking on our door to get a hold of this product," Kumar claims, noting that the top seven in the U.S. have expressed interest in finding out when Terrace will become available. "We think there's a large appetite out there for analog-reclamation products."

Vecima is the third vendor so far to reveal that it is powering gateways with BroadLogic's "TeraPix" chipset. (See BroadLogic Trims D-to-A Costs.) Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has also developed a version for apartment buildings' settings called the DSAM MDU, and Funai Electric Co. Ltd. (OTC: FUAIY) has built a model that looks to be better suited for single-dwelling units or smaller residential buildings. (See Cisco Doubles Up for Cable.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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