Magis Networks - The networked TV is coming
Over the past year we've published occasional blurbs about how Magis Networks has garnered new funding from some major industry players. With all the focus and popularity of Wi-Fi, we wondered why companies like Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Sanyo, Motorola and AOL Time Warner Inc. were investing in a company that is not going the Wi-Fi route. Our recent phone interview with Magis EVP Pete Fowler helped put in place some of the pieces of the complex home networking puzzle.
To understand Magis' direction, it's important to understand where Wi-Fi stands today. Wi-Fi has had great success in connecting PCs and other 802.11b equipped devices to broadband networks and to each other. Recently the Wi-Fi Alliance started interoperability testing on 802.11a, a faster technology with sufficent bandwidth for video. Although it has the bandwidth, .11a still lacks the quality of service provisions which are important for carrying isochronous information like video and audio. Those capabilities are "in the works" (in the form of 802.11e) but the standards development seems to be stalled. Enter Magis, whose investors don't want to wait for capabilites to move entertainment, especially video, around the home.
Magis says its goal for Air5™-based networks is to support "multiple, simultaneous streams of high-quality video, audio, and TCP/IP data at ranges up to 250 feet, and throughput up to 40 Mbps, while maintaining their original quality and security. Air5 features Quality of Service that is necessary for the distribution of video, such as high-definition (HDTV) and standard definition television, as well as audio applications such as voice calls." Fowler said that at the recent Panasonic industrial expo in Japan they demonstrated carrying data payloads of 25-28 Mbps for 80-100 feet. Initial products using this technology are being introduced in Japan; examples include plasma display panels and LCDs which can be carried around the house and have video wirelessly delivered to them. We expect to see some of these at the January CES and will probably see them enter the North American market in 2003. Given Motorola's investment in Magis, we expect we'll see products from this collaboration at BroadbandPlus in Anaheim in December.
It's easy to get confused about their technology when reading their company backgrounder, since it says that Magis was "established in August 1999 to develop next-generation 802.11a chipsets" and "The foundation of Magis’ Air5™ technology encompasses IEEE 802.11a, HiperLAN2, and Wireless 1394 standards." What does that all mean?
Like 802.11a, Air5 works in the 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum and uses a similar physical specification. But the similarity ends there since its MAC is synchronous and based on HiperLAN2 - much better suited for isochronous video than the asynchronous MAC of .11a. While Air5 can co-exist with 802.11-based systems (by finding different channels to operate on), it can't interoperate with them. Existing Wi-Fi systems would have to be replaced with proprietary Magis technology to interoperate with Magis-equipped devices. This seems like a stretch.
The good news about Magis is that they have silicon today which seems to work well for video networking, carrying HDTV or multiple streams of standard definition TV. The more difficult part of the picture is that its technology is proprietary. We believe that to be successful in the networking market, Magis will have to get standards approval for their technology, both to overcome fears about being captive to one vendor and to get the volumes that come with multi-vendor support.
Meanwhile, 802.11 needs to get its act together on QoS, in order to play its part in the entertainment networking scenarios of the future. It's this kind of uncertainty that is causing companies like Microsoft to delay their Media Center thrust for remoting the TV until the future direction for video networking starts shaking out.
( www.magisnetworks.com )