DirecTV and its longtime consigliere, er, supplier, Thomson have jointly developed a platform that will help the satellite provider overcome the ever-pesky problem of delivering the full DirecTV experience to multi-dwelling units and master plan communities.

Somewhat mysteriously called MFH3 (OK, not so mysteriously since it stands for Multi-Family Housing, version 3), the new system uses an IP distribution platform to put DirecTV services on the delivery network as high-speed data and telephony delivered throughout MDUs or planned communities. The technology comes on stage just as DirecTV is preparing its launch of 70 high definition channels this fall with 100 on tap early next year.

Think that lineup, delivered without a dish, won’t turn some heads in those hoity-toity gated communities with the multiple big screen HDTVs? And think that’s not a desirable demographic?

"The key to the MFH3 platform, given that it’s IP, is that it will allow us to do a lot more in the future," said Darren Benzi, vice president of sales development and strategy at DirecTV. "There’s a huge base of customers that live in multifamily and master plan communities that in the past we haven’t had technology that would enable the full DirecTV experience." Ditching the dishes That, of course, led to all those apartment buildings with unsightly – at least to those outside the satellite industry – dishes on lawns and balconies. Now there can be a dish or a dish farm at a central location linked into a Thomson headend, distributed over fiber or coax or whatever’s already there to end points within the complex, generally switch closets. From there, the IP signal is picked up and pushed, preferably by CAT-5 cable, to Thomson set-top boxes in the residences.

"As we go into the HD era, we want to make sure we have an efficient mechanism to get all of our HD services to these customers. That was the driving force behind MFH3, trying to minimize rewiring these properties and also provide a platform that drives the bundle as well," said Benzi, beating the HD drum like a member of the national company of Stomp.

The MFH3 solves a "problem on a very large scale," said Richard Tatem, a DirecTV engineering director. "The equipment is meant to address hundreds and hundreds of customers."

It is, in a way, yet another volley from DirecTV and Thomson in the direction of cable operators. In another way, it’s almost like DirecTV and its partners are building one little cable TV system at a time from headend to home – without the need to get a franchise. While the cable industry no doubt won’t lose sleep over some apartment dwellers peeling off to the satellite, those greenfield planned communities have to be causing temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) for some tooth grinding execs.

"MFH3 allows us to get into markets that have been a challenge: MDU properties, high-rise and garden style; commercial properties, hospitality and the master plan communities which are a fast-growing market where you have a private community of hundreds, if not thousands of homes and the property developers are trying to develop infrastructure," Benzi said. Do I hear 1,000? A single MFH3 headend can support up to 500 devices and, since the platform is more compact than preceding product versions, putting in a second unit is no big deal, the DirecTV execs said.

When you think about it, there are probably some less than polite guys out there who figure MF stands for something other than Multi-Family. But this is a multi-family newsletter, so we’ll let you make up your own definition. – Jim Barthold

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