BBH Report Home Page
April 23, 2002 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Heard on the Net

CableLabs
Expanding Its Borders

Managing Media Chaos -
OpenGlobe

Broadband Home Labs -
Audiotron and AudioStation

Mexico
Broadband Heats Up

More on Broadband Plumbers
Interviews With SaVoyant, Intelligent Home and Homesync

Miscellany
What kids want and "Bandwidth Moms"

Your Voice -
Readers' Comments

Broadband Gurus


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Joseph Costello was elected chairman of the board at Catena Networks. He had been president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems for more than a decade.( www.catena.com )

James de Castro was named president of AOL Interactive Services. He was previously CEO of AMFM Radio Group. In other AOL moves, Barry Schuler will lead AOL Time Warner's new Digital Services Development Group. He was previously Chairman and CEO of AOL. Bob Pittman will take over operating responsibilities at AOL and also continue as COO-elect of parent AOL Time Warner. ( www.aol.com ) ( www.aoltimewarner.com )

Joe Franzetta has joined GoldPocket Interactive as senior VP of corporate development and strategic partnerships. He was previously at Mixed Signals Technologies, Inc. ( www.goldpocket.com )

Dan Massiello has joined Sonexis, Inc. as CEO and president. He was previously with 3Com, which had acquired his prior company, NBX. ( www.sonexis.com )

Scott Morrison has been named director of market strategy at Narad Networks' new European headquarters in Guildford, England. Bernd Overbeck was named director of Narad's central-eastern and southern European sales. ( www.naradnetworks.com )

Matthew R. Perry, Ph.D. has been named president and CEO of Transmeta Corporation. He was previously with Cirrus Logic. ( www.transmeta.com )

Erik Semmelhack has been appointed VP of Business Development at Gotham Broadband. He is charged with growing Gotham's relationships with cable, DSL, satellite, and media companies. He was previously at Red Sky Interactive. ( www.gothambroadband.com )

Philip Verges has been appointed CEO and chairman of IPVoice Communications. ( www.ipvoice.com )


Company News

--Acquisitions

Apple Computer has acquired Zayante (formerly known as FireFly), which makes IEEE 1394 (FireWire) chips and software. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. ( www.apple.com )

Broadcom Corp. agreed to purchase Mobilink Telecom, which creates chips for cell phones and PDAs, for stock worth about $258 million. ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.mobilinktel.com )

Texas Instruments Inc. is buying Ditech Communications' Telinnovation echo-cancellation software unit for $26.8 million. The unit will become part of TI's Broadband Communications Group. ( www.ti.com )

--Funding

Anark Corp., developers of an interactive multimedia platform for digital media applications, has closed an additional $2.3 million in its series B equity financing. ( www.anark.com )

China International Trust and Investment Corp. (CITIC) is investing $72.5 million in Great Wall Broadband Network Service Co Ltd., the Beijing-based network service company. CITIC, the state owned conglomerate, believes the investment will help promote the development of China's broadband network market. ( www.citic.com/english/index.asp )

Ellipsis Digital Systems has obtained $4.3 million in first round financing from private investors. ( www.ellipsisdigital.com )

IP Communications, a broadband data networking services provider, has gotten $20 million committed from investors for Series C financing, with an option for up to an additional $10 million. ( www.ip.net )

Kasenna, a startup that makes broadband infrastructure software for VOD and streaming video and audio, received an investment from Sun Microsystems. The amount was not disclosed. ( www.kasenna.com )

Lumentis AB has raised an additional $19m. ( www.lumentis.se )

Myrio Corporation, a provider of software technology enabling delivery of Digital TV over broadband networks, announced closing an additional $8 million in financing. ( www.myrio.com )

Redline Communications a broadband fixed wireless access equipment provider has raised $6.3 million. ( www.redlinecommunications.com )

Syndeo Corp. has raised $75 million in a third round of venture capital to advance their class 5 softswitch technology for telephone services over cable. The funding sources include venture arms of five of the eight largest North American cable operators. ( www.syndeocorp.com )

--Other News

BT seems to be getting more serious about trying to attract broadband customers. They have followed last month's price cut by saying they will offer wireless local access networks for consumers. They also announced that Microsoft is the launch customer for a new BT broadband teleworking service which uses DSL and creates a VPN to provide secure broadband access from for teleworkers to their office networks. The Wall Street Journal quoted their relatively new CEO, Mr. Verwaayen, as saying "broadband is the future for BT". ( www.bt.com )

ClearStar USA will bundle iVAST's platform in its set-top box, which it sells through cable operators that want to offer interactive broadband services. iVAST's platform contains its MPEG-4 product line, including a media player, an encoder and a server. iVAST and ClearStar are currently integrating and developing systems, with a beta deployment planned for May and a full deployment to begin in August 2002. Initial deployments will be in Mexico and Asia/Pacific. ( www.clearstar.tv ) ( www.ivast.com )

DivXNetworks, Inc. announced a partnership with e.Digital Corporation to jointly develop and market a range of consumer electronics devices that play back DivX video, including handhelds, DVD players, set-top boxes and digital cameras. DivX is based on MPEG-4-compatible compression technology. ( www.divxnetworks.com ) ( www.edig.com )

DirecTV Broadband Inc. will be offering customers their DirecTV DSL gateway, starting in the third quarter. It will use Texas Instruments' AR5V10 DSL gateway system to provide 2 digital voice lines, supply data routing and home-networking interfaces. ( www.directvdsl.com ) ( www.ti.com )

EchoStar Communications Corp. signed marketing agreements with both SBC Communications Inc. and EarthLink, thereby providing EchoStar's Dish Network a chance to offer bundled services in competition with cable. EchoStar is reportedly negotiating with several other companies about matching DSL service with Dish Network's satellite TV service. People who buy DSL service and satellite TV receive up to $5 off each service. ( www.dishnetwork.com ) ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.earthlink.net )

EdgeStream launched its Streaming Video Delivery Network (SVDN) which it claims is a totally new approach to streaming across the public Internet. It addresses the "middle mile" Internet congestion/latency issue. ( www.edgestream.com )

GoldPocket Interactive developed a new set of open interactive television standards based on a form of Extensible Markup Language (XML) which was released at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show. The standards are supported by many companies in the industry, including AOL Time Warner and Sony. ( www.goldpocket.com )

Lucent Technologies announced its new Stinger solution for delivering IP video over DSL. It adds a very high bit rate DSL (VDSL) line card, integrated IP multicast support and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. A SaskTel rep said his company plans on incorporating at least some of the bundled services, such as broadcast TV and VOD, now available with the Stinger. ( www.lucent.com ) ( www.sasktel.com )

Mediabolic, Inc. hosted an Interoperability Forum in Tokyo, promoting cooperation between leading consumer electronics, personal computer, and semiconductor companies to define desired levels of interoperability among products, pool marketing resources and quickly release compelling entertainment products. Forum attendees represented Pioneer Corporation, Compaq Computer, Denon, Ltd., and Cirrus Logic Inc. The Mediabolic ONE platform implements support for open standards such as UPnP, RTP / RTSP, HTTP, and TCP/IP. It enables stand-alone and connected devices to share media, use common interfaces, and interoperate. ( www.mediabolic.com )

Microsoft has jointly agreed with Mexico to develop digital community centers for rural Mexican towns, providing free public Internet access. The NY Times reports this is part of Mexico's "eMexico initiative" to bring the country online by 2006. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.precisa.gob.mx )

MovieLink, the video-on-demand service being developed by Sony, Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros. and Universal will use MPEG-4 technology when delivering movies over the Internet to consumer's PCs, according to Peter Marx, VP of emerging technologies with Vivendi Universal. Subsequent to his speech at NAB, Marx clarified that the service has not yet committed to only one format. ( www.movielink.com )

MVS Comunicaciones, a producer of TV and radio programming in Mexico and Latin America, selected NextNet Wireless, a developer of non line-of-sight (NLOS) broadband wireless access systems, to deliver high-speed Internet access to over 28 million potential subscribers in Mexico's three largest cities. MVS will deploy broadband wireless services in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey beginning this summer, and plans a 9-city nationwide rollout covering 50% of Mexico's population by the end of 2003. MVS holds the MMDS (2.5 - 2.686 GHz) spectrum covering 70% of Mexico's 97 million residents. ( www.mvs.com ) ( www.nextnetwireless.com )

--Public Policy/Regulatory News

Korea: The Financial Times reports that the Korean government will extend a total of 80 billion won in loans to broadband Internet service providers in order to help spread the service across the nation. The Korean Ministry of Information and Communication said it will provide 37.18 billion won in loans to No. 2 broadband carrier Hanaro Telecom Inc., 24.11 billion won to cable network operator Powercomm, 11.9 billion won to state-run telecom giant KT Corp. and 6.51 billion won to fixed-line carrier Dacom Corp. [Note $1 US=1306 won] Korea is widely regarded as a frontrunner in offering broadband services to households. The ministry projects that around 10 million households will be connected to broadband by year-end. That would translate to 70 percent of all Korean households having access to broadband networks, up from the current 55 percent. The ministry is also promoting a wireless information infrastructure to offer multimedia services to business people on the move. ( www.mic.go.kr/eng/jsp/main.jsp )

Singapore: About one in three or 950,000 Singapore residents is now on broadband. April 2002 has been designated Broadband Month, part of a program called e-Celebrations 2002 "to help every Singaporean start, supplement and sustain their e-Lifestyle". We recently heard from Janet Chiew of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), whom we met at a Broadband Home conference we ran last year. IDA is now rolling out an industry initiative called the Connected Homes Programme and she invites readers of this report to consider their company's participation. The program's objective is to encourage both local and foreign companies to propose innovative and integrated end-to-end solutions for the home. It creates a testbed for companies to collaborate, develop and pilot their solutions in real life homes in Singapore. More information is available at ( www.ida.gov.sg ) under Key Programmes> Connected Homes Programme. IDA is conducting an industry briefing in Singapore to provide details on the collaboration process on 25 Apr 2002; registration information is on the Web site.

UK: The UK is launching UK Online Interactive, a national pilot service that will provide public access to government services, using digital interactive TV. Making interactive services available by TV is seen as a step toward fulfilling the UK's objective to ensure universal access to the Internet by 2005. The Office of the e-Envoy announced that the service will first be accessible in almost six million UK homes through digital satellite TV via British Sky Broadcasting and ITV Active. Over the next few months the Financial Times says it will also be accessible via cable operators Telewest and NTL. The first central government service to use interactive digital TV nationally is ChildcareLink, part of the Department for Education and Skills' thrust to make childcare information more accessible. ( www.letsallgeton.gov.uk ) ( www.e-envoy.gov.uk ) ( www.childcarelink.gov.uk )

US: FCC Chairman Michael Powell released a "voluntary plan" that would commit content programmers, TV broadcasters, cable, DBS and TV manufacturers to reach specific targets for digital TV (DTV) transition. See ( www.fcc.gov/commissioners/powell/mkp_proposal_to_speed_dtv_transition.pdf )


CableLabs - Expanding Its Borders

When Dave first visited CableLabs in Boulder, Colorado nine years ago, it was a small technical organization, largely unknown except to its North American cable operator members. Founded in 1988, its mission was to "seize the technological initiative" for the cable industry. Its early research was largely addressed to improving the underlying cable infrastructure.

CableLabs has come a long way from its early days. Now based in Louisville just down the road from Boulder, most of its effort is addressed to digital applications running over cable: cable modems, IP telephony and advanced multimedia telecommuncations, digital television, interactive TV, and home networking. It has assumed the leading role in specifying and certifing the technologies for delivering advanced services over cable, and now plays an increasing role beyond the Americas and far beyond TV and entertainment services.

The ITU recently issued a press release on IPCablecom, describing it as a framework for a "new global communication system". Its goal is global end-to-end IP multimedia communications - integrating voice, video and data. IPCablecom is based on two longstanding CableLabs projects - PacketCable and DOCSIS. The specifications for CableHome - which extends PacketCable into the home network - have just been released.

We thought it was time to bring our readers up to date, so we visited CableLabs earlier this month and met with several people to discuss the status of key projects. We followed up with a telephone interview with Dick Green, CableLabs CEO.


Background

Cable Television Laboratories Inc. is a non-profit research and development consortium "dedicated to pursuing new cable telecommunications technologies and to helping its cable operator members integrate those technical advancements into their business objectives." CableLabs originally served only the North American (United States and Canada) cable industry, but now accepts members from around the world. CableLabs is funded by member and certification fees.

CableLabs organizes and manages projects requested by its member companies. Each project starts with research into emerging broadband technologies. If appropriate, CableLabs leads a multi-vendor effort to develop common specifications for interoperable products, and then performs certification testing of proposed products. Certified products receive a CableLabs Certified logo sticker.

Three of the CableLabs projects are closely related:

  • DOCSIS - cable modems
  • PacketCable - IP-based telephony and advanced multimedia services
  • CableHome - extending cable services to network devices within the home

DOCSIS and PacketCable have become global standards through the ITU, and it's reasonable to assume that CableHome will move in the same direction.

(We'll cover the OpenCable project, which is developing specifications for interoperable digital set-top boxes, in a later article.)

( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.opencable.com )


IPCablecom - Working Towards End-to-End IP

IPCablecom is a project in Study Group 9 of ITU-T - the Telecommunications Standardization Sector of the ITU. Study Group 9 is the lead study group on "integrated broadband cable and television networks". It's responsible for recommendations on the use of integrated broadband networks to carry voice, other time critical services, VOD and interactive services. IPCablecom is a special project on "time-critical interactive services over cable television network using IP-protocol, in particular Voice and Video over IP".

Dr. Richard R. Green, CableLabs President and CEO, is the Chairman of Study Group 9. We've known Dick for many years, and we called him to discuss the significance and status of IPCablecom.

"We'd like to see cable networks migrate to all-digital all-packet based networks" he told us. "The real importance is that this is the first end-to-end packet-based telecommunications standard. All elements are expressed in IPCablecom. While a lot of IETF work is embedded in it, we've tried to fill in all the gaps. The first stage is telephony - then video, and later full multimedia communications."

We observed that IPCablecom was heavily based on PacketCable and asked how it would work outside North America. "While the US was the incubator, it translates very well internationally." The standard provides annexes which allow it to match specific environments. "There are many regional differences around the world - IPCablecom already handles the major ones in North America, Europe, Asia and can be extended to accomodate local issues."

Since IPCablecom is designed specifically for cable systems, we asked Dick about interoperability with other forms of broadband Internet access, like DSL and fiber. He told us that IPCablecom was designed to interface to other networks through the PSTN, but that approach "is not elegant in the long term. There's no reason why the standard can't be extended when the market begins to sort out the standard for DSL and for telephony on DSL."

We posed another question to clarify the potential for end-to-end IP. Most cable operators in North America seem to be focused on connecting PacketCable systems directly to legacy circuit switches using the GR303 interface, so we asked whether the "end-to-end IP" strategy was drifting off or whether the current impetus on GR303 (V5.2 in Europe) was just a near-term tactic.

Dick's answer was encouraging. "The long term will center around a complete IP implementation. But IPCablecom is flexible. Since some cable operators own circuit switches, there are provisions in the standard to allow that kind of interconnection - this addresses the specific economic interests of manufacturers and cable operators."

We're sure Dick is right that economic interests, not protocol theology, will be the key determinant.

[Note: We have written about end-to-end IP in prior isues of BBHR. See the two-part article "End-to-end IP: How Will The ILECs Survive?" in the 9/26/2000 and 10/26/2000 issues. For back issues see http://www.bbhcentral.com/report/back.html ]

( www.itu.int/ITU-T )


DOCSIS

If you didn't track how CableLabs' focus on product specification and certification began, it's worth understanding the history. In 1996 cable modems were proprietary systems tying a vendor's cable modems in the home with the same vendor's cable modem termination system (CMTS) at the cable headend. Since cable operators wanted to buy interoperable CMTS and cable modems from many vendors, and to move toward retail sales, they chartered CableLabs to undertake a collaborative multi-vendor effort. This resulted in the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification version 1.0 (DOCSIS 1.0), a complete set of specifications for interoperable cable modems and CMTS.

Once the DOCSIS 1.0 specifications were completed, CableLabs set up a formal "certification" process for cable modems and a "qualification" process for CMTS. The process has been very successful: the first DOCSIS 1.0 modems were certified in early 1999; at last count, 203 modems have been certified and 26 CMTS qualified, from more than 60 vendors. We view this extraordinary effort as one of the key reasons for cable modems market share advantage over DSL in North America.

Next came DOCSIS 1.1. To support PacketCable (which handles time-sensitive communications) it enables multimedia communications over cable - primarily managing and enforcing "quality of service" (QoS). The specs were issued in early 1999, first equipment was certified late in 2001; 21 modems and 4 CMTS have passed. [More info on DOCSIS 1.1 is contained in our article on the Western Cable Show in BBHR 12/19/2001.]

DOCSIS 2.0, the third phase, extends the specs to provide increased upstream bandwidth and more reliable operation during plant impairments. With 2.0 specs completed in early 2002, CableLabs is hoping to start certification testing later this year. Meanwhile, several companies have released products based on the technologies used in DOCSIS 2.0.

( www.cablemodem.com )


PacketCable

PacketCable is developing interoperable specs for advanced, real-time multimedia services such as IP telephony, multimedia conferencing and interactive gaming. It is built on and closely coordinated with DOCSIS 1.1.

Like DOCSIS, PacketCable is a multi-phased project. Three sets of specifications have been issued: 1.0 and 1.1 together make it possible to provide IP-based "carrier-grade" primary telephone service within a single "zone" (typically, a single cable system). 1.2 adds the inter-zone mechanisms to permit end-to-end IP between cable systems.

Now that some vendors have received DOCSIS 1.1 certification, they are focusing resources on PacketCable. Although no products have yet achieved PacketCable certification, people in the industry are hopeful that some will be approved this year. The main focus is currently on 1.0 and 1.1.

Cable operators are not waiting for certified products to gain experience with IP telephony. Many are conducting field trials of IP telephony, using pre-certification technology. Some of these trials have been under way for some time. Several vendors recently announced that their DOCSIS 1.1 equipment is being used in a trial Comcast has been running in Detroit since last year.

[For related information, see "Residential Broadband Telephony - How and When?" from our VON Asia 2000 talk at http://www.bbhcentral.com/presentations/VONA2000_1.ppt ]

( www.packetcable.com )


CableHome

With broadband service being the single largest driver for home networking, it's natural that cable operators want to extend their services into this arena. They want to standardize specifications to simplify installation, lower equipment costs, and enable remote troubleshooting of problems in the home. These capabilities would simplify life for the consumer and provide a revenue stream for the MSO.

While the combination of DOCSIS 1.1 and PacketCable bring "carier-grade" IP telephony to the customer's home, CableHome provides the mechanisms to maintain the quality to a telephone (or other device) within the home. More broadly, the goal of the CableHome architecture is to "establish a home network infrastructure to manage the delivery of high-quality, cable-based multimedia services." With CableHome, a cable operator can manage, support and upgrade the network on the customer premises.

The phase 1.0 specification of CableHome, released earlier this month, includes hands-off provisioning of the residential gateway device, tools to help the cable operator assist in diagnosing and resolving home networking issues, configuration and management of gateways and firewall management.

CableLabs is establishing a certification process for CableHome, as it has for its other projects. Since many vendors are planning to integrate DOCSIS modems with CableHome and/or PacketCable functionality, CableLabs is organizing to enable parallel certification testing of integrated devices.

ITU-T Study Group 9 has already added the definition of a new set of "IPCable2Home" specifications to its work program. As cable operators start taking end-to-end responsibility for IP-based telephony and multimedia communications, it's very likely that the CableHome effort will provide the basis for global standards for home networking management.

( www.cablehome.com )


Managing Media Chaos -- OpenGlobe

Does this scenario sound familiar? Some of our CDs are in Dave's car and some are in Sandy's, some are at Dave's PC and others at Sandy's, some are on the shelves near the dining room CD player and others are in a drawer in our family room. Some have gotten into the wrong jewel cases and some are missing their liner notes. We have friends visiting and want to play that new CD we're sure they'll love. But...where is it? And how do we keep track of the music we've downloaded to our various PCs? And what about the growing video chaos now that we have a DVD player?

We think of this mess as our personal media chaos but suspect we've not alone.

We spoke with Rob Hudson, VP Marketing at OpenGlobe, who sees problems like ours as their opportunity. He explained that OpenGlobe sees its role as letting users manage their media and thus increase the value and connection they have with it. This means things like ".. easily store and access their media collections, discover gaps, import and use digital media, create favorite playlists, ... explore new artists or genres, get customized content, receive media recommendations, and opt in to personalized purchasing opportunities" plus "access Internet radio, entertainment news, collect album art and liner notes for every disc in your collection".

OpenGlobe is part of Escient Technologies, LLC. The parent company's tag line captures something lots of us hope for: "We make technology behave." OpenGlobe's sister companies include Escient Convergence Corp., whose heritage is designing high-end media management systems; and Gracenote, which operates CDDB, the largest online music database (see the following article).

OpenGlobe goes about simplifying users' relationships with their media two ways:

  • They create core hardware and software technologies which are embedded in consumer electronics and PCs by OEM partners
  • They create consumer-focused Internet-delivered content and services to complement the home entertainment products deployed by OpenGlobe's OEM partners.

The two thrusts mutually support one another. For example, the Compaq iPAQ™ Music Center stores over 5,000 songs and organizes and identifies your songs through an on-screen "Visual Music Guide" to create song lists and groupings. The associated OpenGlobe™ Entertainment Services power the Visual Music Guide by identifying the CDs through an Internet connection as they are recorded. Song titles, artists, album covers and genre information are also downloaded and users can listen to and purchase music from the Web.

When the user presses the OpenGlobe button on the remote, they can access free services including track lists, biographical information on the performers, links to related performers, and opportunities to buy additional CDs.

OpenGlobe is also developing a comparable service for DVDs. This includes biographies of actors, "filmographies", and of course more buying opportunities.

Some of the types of products created by OpenGlobe and examples of partner implementations are:

  • distributed home music servers (Escient FireBall)
  • digital audio jukebox/server/players (Compaq iPAQ Music Center MC-1)
  • home-networked audio receivers (Kenwood Axcess)
  • CD/DVD changer management systems (Escient Tunebase 100/200 and PowerPlay)
  • reference design for UPnP-compliant network audio entertainment receiver/players (Texas Instruments)

Rob told us that the goal for OpenGlobe products is mass market acceptance: "our beachhead is the family room". This requires making products with simple-to-use interfaces at consumer price points.

With all this focus on CE products, we asked whether OpenGlobe includes PCs in the equation. "The opportunity to fill a need and bridge the gap between the learning in the PC space and the needs of the entertainment space is significant. It will evolve to a rich combination of PC and home entertainment (HE) innovations...not one or the other alone. OpenGlobe really seeks to jump start the HE piece and leverage the PC trend, so maybe that means that we are in the right place at the right time."

( www.OpenGlobe.NET ) ( www.EscientTechnologies.com ) ( www.EscientConvergence.com ) ( www.Gracenote.com )

While OpenGlobe's current target is the mass market using consumer electronic devices, other products are going at the problem of organizing and accessing music for more "technically advanced" homes. One example is the Turtle Beach AudioTron, discussed below. It assumes that you already have a home network and are willing to record digital music files on one or more PC hard drives. When you're not at your PC it provides a 'smart stereo component' that uses your home network to stream music from the computer hard drives.


Broadband Home Labs -- Audiotron and AudioStation

(Dave)While sitting at my PC writing this section, I'm listening to some of my favorite music (as it happens, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson). I've set up the AudioTron to find all my "folk-rock" albums, and play all the songs in random order. Yesterday, I asked it to play tracks from all my CDs in random order.

At the same time, I'm using AudioStation to "rip" my CDs to disk so I can play them on the AudioTron. At this point, I've recorded 890 tracks from 69 CDs and I'm adding them as fast as I can. It's as nearly automatic as could be -- AudioStation uses CDDB through my broadband Internet connection to get all the information about a CD within 20 seconds after I put the CD in the drive, and it finishes ripping each disk within four minutes.

While I've encountered a few setup problems, I'm very impressed with this system and doubt I'll be able to live without it. Sandy hasn't been able to play with it yet, so we'll report on her evaluation and some additional features in next month's issue.

Now I wish I could do the same thing with all my vinyl disks!


AudioTron

When we visited EH Expo last month, we saw the AudioTron for the first time. Seth Dotterer, director of marketing at Turtle Beach, was kind enough to arrange for us to borrow one for evaluation. We've had it for about 10 days and I've been playing music on it almost constantly since I got it working.

Turtle Beach describes AudioTron as a "digital music player for home networks". It is packaged as a piece of audio equipment designed to fit in with and connect to the home entertainment center. It connects to a home network with Ethernet or HPNA phoneline networking. Once AudioTron is set up, it searches the hard drives on all computers connected to the network for music files, and creates its own index by artist, album, track and genre.

It couldn't be much easier to use. With the front panel or remote control, you just select one or more tracks to play - by artist, album, track or genre. They can be played in track or random order, and you have all the buttons you'd expect to pause playback, go backward and forward, control volume and more.

For the purpose of this review, I've set up the AudioTron on the conference table across from my desk. That way, I can point the remote control at it to keep the music going, rip disks, and write this review at the same time! The AudioTron has standard RCA jacks for audio output - for now I've connected it to a spare set of computer speakers. (I had to go out and buy an adapter - too bad it wasn't included with the kit.)

Setting it up was the hard part. While we have a rather complex network at home -- a Windows NT domain with eight PCs running everything from Windows 3.11 to XP Pro -- we were impressed that AudioTron seemed to cope with it fine. The problem was to figure out exactly how to set up our PCs so the AudioTron could find our music files. It took a combination of reading an appendix in the detailed instruction manual installed from the CD-ROM, research on the Turtle Beach web site, and several calls to customer support to get it right. The AudioTron includes a very nice setup utility - but unfortunately it told us that we were set up correctly when we weren't.

Once I got it working and got some music on my hard drive, I've played music nearly continuously. The sound quality is generally fine, although several tracks seem distorted - perhaps I should have used a higher "quality" setting when recording the CDs with AudioStation. But I can always play the CD when I want to listen critically rather than writing a review!

AudioTron is priced right -- it's $299.95 including all the required cables and the AudioStation jukebox software.

( www.audiotron.net ) ( www.turtlebeach.com )


AudioStation

AudioTron comes with AudioStation, a Windows "jukebox" program to create and manage the digital music library. I've used several of these programs over the years, and found that AudioStation makes it nearly effortless to rip CDs and create an index to my music library.

I installed AudioStation from the AudioTron CD, and then (following a call with customer support) downloaded a newer version from the Turtle Beach website. Once I registered AudioStation and CDDB (see below) I was ready to start ripping CDs ("ripping" is the term commonly used for reading a CD and converting it to a digital music file in a compressed format on your hard drive).

The ripping process couldn't be simpler or faster. I configured AudioStation to "Record CDs automatically on insertion." After I put a music disk into the computer CD-ROM drive, it takes about 20 seconds to see a screen indicating that CDDB has found the metadata for the disk (see below) and AudioStation automatically starts ripping (it calls it "recording") the CD to my hard drive. It finishes processing a CD within four minutes. At that point, it has added the album as a folder on my hard drive, with each of the tracks as a file in WMA format. It also builds a database of artists, albums and tracks.

I'm glad that my new machine has a fast processor (1.8 GHz) and a big (80GB) hard drive. AudioStation uses just about all the CPU cycles while ripping CDs. Each album requires about 35 MB of disk space so I've already used about 3.5 GB while working on this review. But at this point I've recorded 99 albums and almost 1400 tracks - more than 86 hours playing time according to AudioStation.

I could play the music from my new library directly on my PC with AudioStation, but it's easier to use AudioTron. Once I move AudioTron to another room, I'll probably start using AudioStation as the player.

I had some setup problems with AudioStation, but was impressed that it properly supported both our Windows NT domain and the XP Pro operating system on my new machine. I'm still having a problem getting it working on Sandy's XP Pro machine and hope to resolve the problem in a few days so she can use it too.

So far, I've ripped all of the disks at a "medium" quality level of 96 Kbps - perhaps I should have ripped them at higher quality. But the process is so effortless that I can go back and do it again for the albums that need it.

AudioStation is priced at $29.95 in a box, or $19.95 for a download. There's also a free demo version with a few features disabled.

( www.turtlebeach.com/site/products/audiostation )


CDDB - Gracenote

CDDB is an online music data base that's essential to the operation of AudioTron and AudioStation. CDDB comes from Gracenote, a sister company to OpenGlobe (see our separate article). CDDB's data base has the "metadata" for almost a million albums and 10 million songs, all available online from CDDB's servers through the Internet. Nearly all jukebox programs and standalone devices use CDDB's database and online service.

CDDB was the pioneer in building an online database of CD metadata. The database is built by user submissions: users enter metadata (album name, artist, genre, song titles and more) for albums that aren't in the database, and to correct mistakes in entries that are already there.

This approach makes CDDB a very broad database (it failed to find only 5 CDs in my collection, all pretty obscure and probably self-published), but it creates inconsistencies in the metadata - such as slightly different artist names and/or genres on different CDs by the same people. Once I'm done with this review, I'll submit metadata for the CDs it couldn't find and corrections for some of the others.

( www.cddb.com ) ( www.gracenote.com )


The Future Of Audio

Using AudioTron/AudioStation/CDDB and musing on what Rob Hudson said about OpenGlobe got us thinking about where this is heading. The PC and consumer electronics worlds are moving closer all the time.

I'm using AudioStation on my PC to build a collection of songs from all of our CDs, cataloged automatically by artist and album. AudioStation is using the online metadata from CDDB to build an index. Stepping away from the PC, AudioTron uses the index so we can search for and play music any way we want - by track, album, artist, etc - and anywhere we want (at least anywhere our network goes).

While we think the system is great, we'd like to play the audio selectively on any set of speakers in our house - but we'd have to get multiple AudioTrons to do that. And we miss the additional metadata (artist bios and cross links) that OpenGlobe provides to advanced consumer electronics devices in the home entertainment center.

Because AudioTron is already connected to our home network, it's not a big stretch of the imagination to extend it to add UPnP-based music server functionality. If we installed UPnP speakers like those shown at EH Expo by GE SMART (see BBHR 4/2/2002), AudioTron could provide their music under control of any "control point". It's only a little more of a stretch to extend AudioTron with video output and a broadband link to OpenGlobe.

Looking further out, we'd sure like to see music servers running on networked devices like AudioTron and on one of our PCs, both with access to all the music in the house. We'll upgrade all our loudspeakers so they're connected to the home network and controllable through UPnP. We'll carry around a wireless web tablet to select music from the server's index, control which speakers are playing, and view the CDDB and OpenGlobe metadata while we're listening to the music. May sound far-fetched but it's not far away...


Mexico: Broadband Heats Up

[The following report is by Catherine Duenas and Jeffrey Rosenberg, co-founders of i-modulo, which consults in public relations and strategy for broadband technologies, and digital entertainment. i-modulo is currently working on projects with Canitec.]

The buzz at last week’s Canitec, Mexico’s equivalent to the NCTA in the US, was broadband. All sessions focused on the digital delivery of value added services such as interactive television, high-speed internet, and telephony over cable, all of which seem to offer alternatives to increase the sector’s eroding margins.

Every major operator seems excited at the prospect of offering digital services to its subscribers. For the first time, upcoming legislative changes may provide the cable industry with the opportunity to offer IP telephony. The nation’s top three MSOs – Cablevision (450,000 subscribers), Megacable (400,000 subscribers), and Cablemas (300,000 subscribers) – are on standby, and waiting to react aggressively to the first sign of change in their favor.

Today approximately 23 systems offer broadband Internet services to about 130,000 subscribers. Approximately 80,000 of these broadband subscribers are located in Guadalajara and Monterrey, areas serviced by giant Megacable. Currently Mexico’s cable subscriber base stands at 2.6 million representing only 12% of households.

( www.i-modulo.com ) ( www.canitec.org )


More on Broadband Plumbers - Interviews With SaVoyant, Intelligent Home and Homesync

Our recent articles on "broadband plumbers" generated a lot of email and we followed up to interview the CEOs of three companies that have different twists on the business.


SaVoyant - Broadband for Billionaires

Andrew Rollert, CEO of SaVoyant got our attention in his email saying that "the high end is what's exciting" about home technology management. Based in Boston, SaVoyant focuses on the ultra-high end of the market. Andrew referred to his clients as "billionaires" and sees them as "highly successful but time-constrained customers". His background is in the brokerage business, and he thinks there are strong parallels in the needs and the business model.

SaVoyant does an initial installation and then provides lots of on-call "hand holding". Each home has a "residential technology consultant" (RTC) "dedicated to managing their technology assets". Andrew told us that his customers "love this permanent relationship. It's like doctors and lawyers - one person dedicated for reselling and refurbishing assets in the house." The customer buys "RTC credits" for phone calls and house calls.

SaVoyant is focused on "the top .05% of the market". They've already done almost 1000 homes - a mixture of new builds and retrofits - and are planning to expand geographically. Although SaVoyant isn't interested in the mass market, Andrew thinks a similar model will be appropriate in a few years for people who don't want to do it themselves: "SaVoyant is a Mercedes, other companies can be Toyota".


Intelligent Home - Making Retrofits Pay

Dave Olcott, CEO of Intelligent Home in Rochester, NY has yet a different focus -- specifically, home networks connected to broadband.

Dave told us they're especially interested in retrofitting existing homes. Their current ratio is 60:40 new homes to retrofits. Dave would like to see 80% retrofits because of the huge base of existing homes and his belief that the new home market is becoming commoditized: "In some parts of the country, rates for structured wiring components are being reduced to single-digit margins."

IHI works closely with the local cable operater, Time Warner Cable. Dave said that TWC has "been able to roll product out much quicker" than the phone company with DSL, and broadband "provides the need for our services." IHI installs Road Runner (TWC's high-speed access service) as part of its structured wiring installation: "Road Runner doesn't support multi-PC installation, so they direct it to IHI. We set up the modem and configure the PCs. TWC has a happy customer, and TWC is happy since the odds of changing to DSL are minimal."

Dave thinks there's a good future for this approach: "There's a whole different skill set that's involved that cable ops and telcos can't do." IHI currently operates in several upstate New York cities and plans to expand geographically and work with more service providers.

( www.twcable.com )


Homesync - Making it Part of the Builder's Process

We were recently in Colorado to visit CableLabs and spend a weekend with our son in Colorado Springs. As we drove around the area we were astounded to see the boom in home construction. Areas that a few years ago were bare fields are now large sub-divisions and signs abound for new homes.

While we were in Denver we had the opportunity to get acquainted with Homesync. They target the production builder and aim to make "broadband plumbing" a standard part of the construction process for new homes -- like kitchen counters, sinks and flooring.

Subsequent to our visit, there were some changes in the company's top management. We interviewed their new CEO, Larry Hay, by phone to understand the changes. Larry's background is in successfully growing franchised retail establishments like Radio Shack and Taco Bell. In his view, Homesync is developing systems and procedures that will make their services both helpful and profitable for production builders. In Denver and Colorado Springs, home buyers visit a Homesync "experience center" to see all the capabilities that can be incorporated in their homes. They see how much they get for their standard allowance and make informed choices so they will have the infrastructure that's needed to support services they want now or later.

Homesync currently is working with builders such as D.R. Horton, Classic and Infinity and has about 3000 homes committed for the coming year.

( www.gohomesync.com )

[For previous articles on "broadband plumbers" see the 4/2/2002 and 2/25/2002 issues of BBHR. All back issues are on our website at http://www.bbhcentral.com/report/back.html ]


Miscellany: What kids want and "Bandwidth Moms"

...from the "If you could choose only one" department comes this research finding: If children could only have one medium or media technology, more would choose the Internet (28%), with TV second (26%) and the telephone third (21%). The results come from Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research (KN/SRI) recent study "How Children Use™ Media Technology", which looked at American children in the 8-17 age group. There were significant differences in results for boys and girls. For example 38% of the boys would choose the Internet, but only 28% of girls, for whom the telephone came in first. Just as advertisers target young purchasers, broadband service providers seem to be well positioned to appeal to this group, which will be making tomorrow's purchase decisions. ( www.statisticalresearch.com )

...meanwhile, one of the interesting places their moms (and some kids) are visiting is a site called Bandwidth Moms. It was brought to our attention by Phil Kastelic, who shared some engaging entrepreneurial ideas about where the broadband plumbing and associated services business is going. Phil's wife, Diana, is one of four moms whose Web site is "moms helping moms helping kids". It's a portal to rated educational sites, sorted by age group from "kiddie corner" thru "college central". ( www.bandwidthmoms.com )


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

In response to our request to write us about things we could improve in our newsletter and website, Jeremy Friedlander of BroadJump wrote: "One little element that might make it better is to have the links that are embedded in the letter launch a new browser window. I was checking out some of the 'people news' and each time I checked out their website, I lost your letter."

Thanks Jeremy! Great suggestion and we've implemented it in this issue on the website. We plan to update earlier issues over the next few weeks.


Broadband Gurus

For the past six years, we have focused our consulting services almost exclusively on the Broadband Home community. We bring to bear decades of broadband experience with corporations big and small, as well as acting as independent consultants to the industry.

We get great satisfaction from working with companies that are addressing various segments of the Broadband Home and its potential. If your company is interested in our consulting services, you can learn more at ( www.BroadbandGurus.com ).