Pace Talkin' DTAs With Comcast

Does Pace Micro Technology have the inside track on Comcast’s digital-to-analog converter project?

The U.K. set-top manufacturer has made headway as a third supplier against Motorola and SA (er, I mean Cisco SPVTG), particularly at Comcast.

Now, Pace has produced a small "DTA" that Comcast is currently playing with in its labs, according to an industry executive who has laid eyes on it.

"Pace has a little black device, as big as the palm of your hand, with a small LED to show the channel number," the exec said, who added that the small size of the adapter may give it an edge at Comcast.

Pace declined to comment, and Comcast won’t say anything beyond what Comcast COO Steve Burke said on the operator’s first-quarter call – that it is targeting 20% of the footprint for conversion to all-digital using DTAs.

The DTAs are supposed be half the cost of the cheapest digital cable set-tops. Comcast and others are looking to use the adapters to provide to their basic cable holdouts, who haven’t expressed interest in moving to a digital tier (see "Analog Zappers").

Other vendors still in the running at Comcast, apparently, include Motorola and Cisco (which says it’s planning to show a DTA prototype at the Cable Show).

Evolution Digital, Nagravision and Irdeto have also thrown their hats into the DTA ring. Conexant supposedly was taking a run at the Comcast RFP too — before it sold its set-top chips business unit to NXP last month.

Pace developed a DTA-type dongle a few years back, according to CDN’s Jeff Baumgartner. I’m told this new one is an updated version but has a similar form factor.

The exec who told me about Pace’s DTA device noted, "Comcast has been very cautious about their expenses for this." No doubt: Comcast wants to cut overall capex for the year, to 18% of revenue from 20% last year. 

There’s still some uncertainty, though, about whether the FCC would find the DTAs kosher under the integrated set-top ban, or whether operators would need to go through the waiver process to be able to use them.

Comcast on Friday lost its case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, an appeal of the FCC’s denial of its waiver for three low-end boxes. Yeah, the DTAs are undeniably "limited-function" devices. But as we’ve seen, lawyerly minds have creative ways of interpreting regulations.