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TWC preps for first all-digital conversion pilot in Maine

Thu, 09/08/2011 - 8:45am
Mike Robuck

Time Warner Cable is starting to seed digital terminal adapters (DTAs) out to customers who need them ahead of its first all-digital conversion pilot in Augusta, Maine.

The Augusta pilot includes about 105 communities that the system serves. The preparations for Time Warner Cable's first all-digital conversion have been underway for about a month, while the cutover to all-digital is slated for Oct. 19.

Time Warner Cable was an early proponent of reclaiming bandwidth through switched digital video (SDV), which it first implemented in 2004 with BigBand Networks in Austin, Texas, but the company has always maintained that it would eventually include all-digital conversions into its toolbox.

"As I've said for some time, our long-term plan is to supplement switched digital video by gradually going all-digital," Time Warner Cable Chairman and CEO Glenn Britt said on the company's second-quarter earnings call. "Consistent with that plan, we have embarked on an all-digital transition in Augusta, Maine, extending our existing all-digital footprint beyond New York City and parts of Los Angeles. Augusta is our first deployment of digital terminal adapters, or so-called DTAs. Our plan is to migrate our remained systems to all-digital over the next five years or so."

The DTAs will be free to Time Warner Cable customers in Augusta through 2013, after which they'll cost 99 cents a month. Time Warner Cable spokesman Justin Venech said Technicolor is providing the DTAs for the Augusta pilot, but the company will probably use multiple vendors as it converts to all-digital across the rest of its footprint.

"This is our pilot rollout of this," Venech said this morning. "We don't have any timing yet to announce on further rollouts beyond this. Once the Augusta system is completely transitioned, then we'll analyze our processes and performance and then announce timing for future plans."

Cable operators can reclaim between 250 MHz and 300 MHz in each system that goes all-digital. If a typical cable system has 79 analog channels and the operator decides to move 59 of those channels to digital, while perhaps leaving 20 or so as a lifeline analog service for some select markets, it would reclaim 354 MHz.

Given 354 MHz of reclaimed spectrum in the example above – and the fact that, on average, 10 standard-definition MPEG-2 digital programs can be inserted into one 6 MHz slot – this yields enough bandwidth for nearly 590 channels.

Mediacom has started to ramp up its analog-to-digital conversion project this year.

Comcast has relied on DTAs during its Project Cavalry analog-to-digital initiative, which should be mostly complete by year's end. Cable operators are able to offer more HD choices and additional services with the bandwidth they reclaim from the conversion.

Comcast has said it will be trialing HD DTAs this year and may have them in customers' homes before the year is over.

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