One of the components of migrating to all-digital deals with the customer premises, namely attempting to leave as few TVs behind when the transition is made.
As Comcast prepared to launch Project Cavalry, its most recent analog reclamation effort, the company determined it needed to create a low-cost digital-to-analog device that would accommodate approximately 20 million “additional outlets.” The goal was to have subscribers install these digital transport adapters (DTAs) themselves with a 70 percent or greater success rate.
Steve Reynolds, SVP, CPE and home networking, Comcast, expected the device design to be the hardest part of the CPE phase, but preparing a plan for self-installation turned out to be harder.
“That is probably the (portion) that takes the longest and involves the most work (and) ends up touching the most systems,” Reynolds told attendees at Thursday’s technical workshop “Operationalize Going All-Digital.” Work had to be done on enterprise services and billing services layers to allow automation from Web sites or IVR systems.
As for the DTAs themselves, Comcast worked with four vendors: Pace, Thomson, Motorola and Cisco. In an effort to make them as simple as possible while replicating analog cable, the DTAs input MPEG-2 broadcast digital signals and output NTSC analog signals. They can handle a level of content security, but there is no multi-stream cable card.
In addition, the DTAs were designed to have better digital sensitivity than set-top boxes so that they would work for any signal. “A lot of the outlets the boxes (were) going onto were not qualified outlets. No one was ever out there to check the levels to make sure the in-premises wiring was suitable for digital devices,” Reynolds said.
Self-install kits look the same regardless of the manufacturer of the DTA. “We spent a lot of time making it as easy as possible and the kit complete as possible,” Reynolds said. “The placement of the elements inside the kit is exactly the same, and the self-installation guides are the same.” This avoids confusion with customer service reps, among other things.
When all the required upgrades to the network are completed in a given market, Comcast begins what Reynolds terms a marination stage. “We put DTAs in all trucks. Every time a technician was inside someone’s house, (they) put the DTAs in there.”
About 60 days prior to the switch, cards are sent to customers in effected areas asking how many DTAs they need. A reminder card is mailed 30 days later, and a final “last chance” push is made about a week ahead of the transition. Analog channels are cut in two stages, giving customers another chance to respond and the company the opportunity to work out bugs.
“(We) turn off a section of analog, and it is replaced with a character generator,” Reynolds said, providing a phone number for affected customers to call.
– Monta Monaco Hernon