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Charter, Cox Make All-Digital Progress

Charter Communications and Cox Communications have embarked on all-digital journeys that will reclaim analog spectrum to be used toward new services. But the paths they are blazing are markedly different.

While Charter has opted to go with a broader deployment of two-way boxes capable of supporting its full suite of services, including video-on-demand, out of the gate, Cox will fuel its efforts with digital terminal adapters (DTAs), inherently one-way devices that could become interactive if the operator selects models equipped with Internet-protocol connections.

Charter’s all-digital deployment is well underway. CEO Tom Rutledge said during the MSO’s second-quarter earnings call last Thursday (July 31) that the all-digital rollout has reached 60% of its current footprint and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Charter also plans to implement the strategy in systems it is poised to acquire from Comcast following Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

By eliminating analog technology, the upgrades are paving the way for Charter’s new suite of “Spectrum” services, which include more than 200 high-definition channels and minimum downstream Internet speeds of 60 Megabits per second (except in St. Louis, where Charter’s minimum downstream speed is now 100 Mbps).

Charter also has launched Spectrum in markets including Madison, Wis.; Reno, Nev.; some Michigan properties; and in its North Carolina and Alabama footprints.

Though not directly associated with the all-digital upgrade, Charter is also testing a new cloud-based user interface in Fort Worth, Texas, with other trials in several markets expected to get underway later this year. If the interface, which can run on IP-connected and older non-IP boxes, can scale, Rutledge said he expects Charter will roll it out commercially in all markets sometime next year.

Cox has kept its all-digital plans a bit closer to the vest, but two industry sources said the company has already selected Cisco Systems and Evolution Digital as initial DTA suppliers.

Cox and the two DTA vendors declined comment, but a Cox spokesman said the cable firm could start all-digital transitions in some markets later this year.

In April, Kevin Hart, Cox’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, told Multichannel News the all-digital transition will enable Cox to reclaim about 60 analog channels, providing room for new and expanded services, including broadband offerings that use the emerging DOCSIS 3.1 platform.

At the time, he said Cox had picked two DTA partners, and was intending to start trials by the fourth quarter of 2014, with plans to ramp up deployments in 2015 and 2016.

The analog spectrum that Cox reclaims will likely be used to support market-wide deployment of 1 Gigabitper- second broadband speeds by the end of 2016, likely to be delivered using a mix of fiber-to-the-home and DOCSIS-based technologies.

Before then, Cox has also committed to bring 1-Gig speeds initially to new residential construction projects and then to new and existing neighborhoods in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb., starting in the fourth quarter.