Jeff Baumgartner has a nice write-up today on The Independent Show analyzing how smaller cable companies are transitioning to all-digital broadcasts. Amazingly, he reports that many of these providers are still operating on 550 MHz of plant capacity. Compared to the larger cable companies, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for HD content and advanced services. Cox may be able to delay its transition to all-digital until 2012, but that’s with a 1 GHz network in place and 1 GHz CPE on the way. And even though few (if any) other cable operators have made a complete upgrade to 1 GHz, the big ones usually run on at least 750 or 870 MHz.
With low levels of plant capacity, smaller operators are feeling some urgency to make the digital switch. According to Baumgartner, the most popular solution for transitioning to all-digital broadcasting among Tier 2 and 3 operators is the HITS Quantum SD service from Comcast Media Center and Motorola. HITS Quantum SD lets operators do digital simulcasts while slowly removing analog channels. It’s complementary to another HITS offering that got an upgrade recently, the Quick Take Plus platform.
At last check, more than 260 cable systems are taking this route [HITS Quantum SD] with Moto and the CMC. Uptake on that service started slowly but has accelerated through this year, “which is something we’re pretty proud of, given the state of the economy,” says CMC chief operating officer Gary Traver, noting that most customers are approaching this with gradual digital migrations rather than hard cutovers.