Comcast to Take Sony `Passage' to Trial

Sony Corp.'s "Passage" technology marked another way point Sunday with the
announcement that the nation's largest cable operator has signed on to the
multiple-conditional-access scheme and will start a system trial soon.

Comcast Corp. -- which has been testing the technology in its labs for
several months -- becomes the second U.S. operator to officially throw its
support behind Passage.

In January, Charter Communications Inc. licensed the technology and started
testing the platform in its labs. The Comcast deal takes that a step further,
setting up a field trial in an undisclosed system.

The Passage technology is aimed at breaking the conditional-access duopoly
now held by Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.

It would allow multiple conditional-access systems -- which control the
encryption and authentication for video flowing from the headend to digital
set-top boxes -- to operate side by side, therefore allowing operators to choose
from among a field of vendors rather than committing to just one system.

Announcing the Passage technology at the Broadband Plus cable show in
December was just the initial phase, said Greg Gurdorf, senior vice president of
Sony's digital-platform division of America. With the Comcast announcement, the
technology goes from test bench to real world, he added.

"We were really allowed to trial the Passage technology to the level where we
could bring it to Anaheim [Calif.] and able to bring it into a true cable plant
at [the National Show]," he said.

Sony also inked a new Passage licensing agreement with LG Electronics Inc.
and its American subsidiary, Zenith Electronics Corp. The licensing list already
includes vendors such as BigBand Networks Inc., Harmonic Inc., Conexant Systems
Inc., Broadcom Corp., NDS Group plc, Nagravision and Digeo Inc.

Getting other systems providers to join in the development of Passage is
important if the technology is to achieve wide acceptance in the cable industry,
Gurdorf said.

"When bringing technology like Passage to the market, a lot of the technology
belongs to Sony," he added. "But we are embracing as many people in the market
as we can."