IN THIS ISSUE:
Competing Digital TV Transport Paradigms
The "Evolution of the Monitor" -
Compelling Broadband Applications
Your Voice -
Broadband Home Labs
Website Changes -
Marc Aldrich has been appointed VP of North American Sales at Narad Networks. He was previously Cisco Systems' director of U.S. cable field sales and engineering. ( www.naradnetworks.com )
Matthew Bross was appointed CTO at BT. He was previously with Williams Communications, LLC. ( www.bt.com )
Michael Hogan has joined SiRiFIC Wireless as President and CEO. Prior to joining SiRiFIC, he was a General Manager at Texas Instruments. ( www.sirific.com )
Ted Leonsis was named President of the America Online interactive service after James de Castro resigned. Lisa Brown has been named EVP, Interactive Marketing at AOL; she was formerly President and CEO of USA Electronic Commerce Solutions LLC. ( www.aol.com )
Peter Mondics was named president and CEO of Predictive Networks. He most recently was co-founder and general manager of TVGateway. ( www.predictivenetworks.com )
Alison Ritchie, the chief executive of BTopenworld, has been appointed as BT's first chief broadband officer, with the mission of directing the company's policy on broadband across the whole of BT Group. ( www.bt.com )
Alan E. "Lanny" Ross has been named interim COO at Broadcom.( www.broadcom.com )
Craig M. Waggy has been appointed as OpenTV’s CFO, Mark H. Allen has been appointed General Counsel, and Scott Doyle has been appointed Chief Intellectual Property Officer. They will also retain their current duties with Liberty Broadband Interactive Television (LBIT). ( www.opentv.com )
Maggie Wilderotter has been named senior VP of business strategy at Microsoft. She was previously President and CEO of Wink Communications Inc. ( www.microsoft.com )
Company News --Acquisitions
Fidelio Acquisition Company LLC, a company formed by Sony Corp. of America and Royal Philips Electronics, is acquiring InterTrust Technologies Corp., holder of substantial Digital Rights Management (DRM) intellectual property, for $453 million. ( www.sony.com ) ( www.philips.com ) ( www.intertrust.com )
Roxio Inc. is acquiring the assets of Napster Inc., for $5 million in cash and 100,000 warrants to purchase Roxio common stock. ( www.roxio.com )
Broadbus Technologies Inc., a video-on-demand and streaming-media server company, has received more than $12 million in funds from Charles River and other VC funds, including Comcast's. ( www.broadbus.com )
CIRPACK, a vendor of next generation telephony equipment, closed an investment round for over 4 million euros. ( www.cirpack.com )
Flarion Technologies, provider of OFDM mobile broadband systems, has received an investment from SK Telecom; the amount was not disclosed. Flarion's PC 1000 wireless PC cards are installed in field trial users' laptops and PDAs, providing broadband Internet access and other IP applications with full mobility. ( www.flarion.com )
Narad Networks, a provider of business broadband solutions, has secured an additional $16.25 million in financing. ( www.naradnetworks.com )
Sand Video, which has real-time video compression technology based on the emerging H.264/MPEG-4 part 10 standard, has received an $8 million equity investment. ( www.sandvideo.com )
SiRiFIC Wireless Corporation, a developer of RF integrated circuits for wireless products, has completed a US$11.5 million (Cdn$18 million) equity financing round. ( www.sirific.com )
BT Group plans to begin trials in 2003 of a "midband" Internet access service that will run at 128 kbps -- that is, slower than broadband but faster than dial-up. NTL also has a midband product. Such offerings are being increasingly introduced as a bridge to full broadband or for those with less demanding needs. ( www.bt.com )
CableLabs' DOCSIS specification has received the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) award for Intelligent Community Technology of the Year. The ICF focuses on the uses of broadband technology for economic development by communities. ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.worldteleport.org )
Comcast Corp. and AT&T Broadband have combined, with the new entity being called Comcast Corp. rather than AT&T Comcast, as originally proposed. The new unit has an aggregate value of about $60 billion, over 21.4 million subscribers, 59,000 employees and presence in 41 US states. ( www.comcast.com )
Cox Communications is one of the US cable operators now offering home networking. See http://support.cox.net/custsup/homenetworking/homenetworking_faq.shtml#3 for their pricing and positioning. ( www.cox.net )
Intel is expected to introduce its Banias line of processor chips for mobile computing in early 2003, containing built-in Wi-Fi functions and supporting both 802.11a and 802.11b. ( www.intel.com )
Intersil and ViXS Systems displayed an 802.11a-based home video networking system at Comdex. The technology can provide up to eight broadcast-quality video streams to different wireless clients simultaneously. Intersil and Ubicom also demonstrated an 802.11g access point using the Intersil PRISM GT chip. ( www.intersil ) ( www.vixs.com ) ( www.ubicom.com )
Jungo has released OpenRGT v2.1, a CableHome 1.0-ready software platform for residential gateways and Home Access (HA) devices. They also announced availability of complementary Network Management System (NMS) modules, their CableHome-ready Kerberos server and SNMP client. ( www.jungo.com )
Kreatel Communications and Minerva Networks announced the integration of the Minerva iTVManager with the Kreatel IP-STB System, providing a solution to deliver advanced television services over fiber as well as xDSL networks. ( www.kreatel.com ) ( www.minervanetworks.com )
Legerity has introduced a new family of voice ICs for enabling the connection of telephone lines to DSL and cable modem equipment. Legerity says its new devices are also a good fit for fiber to the home (FTTH), ATM passive optical network (APON), and voice over IP (VoIP) applications. ( www.legerity.com )
MeshNetworks, Inc. announced US FCC regulatory approval for their mobile wireless broadband and MeshLAN™ Multi-Hopping 802.11 network products. MeshNetworks network architecture is based on ad hoc peer-to-peer (P2P) networking technology, where user devices become the network. ( www.meshnetworks.com )
Motorola Broadband Communications Sector formed a new unit, called the Motorola NETsolutions Group, to serve the design and deployment needs of broadband network operators worldwide. ( www.motorola.com/broadband )
Movielink LLC had an initial limited launch of its broadband Internet video-on-demand service which allows users to download major motion pictures for rental viewing. Suppliers and backers include MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Recent hits are priced at $4.95, with older films renting for $1.99, and film trailers, movie clips and still photographs available free to other site visitors. ( www.movielink.com )
N2H2 has publicized their Sentian filtering software to companies whose Internet bandwidth might be overloaded with employees downloading movies from services like Movielink. Other companies providing such filtering include FastTracker, ContentKeeper and FutureSoft. ( www.n2h2.com ) ( www.fatline.com ) ( www.contentkeeper.com ) ( www.futuresoft.com )
OTC Wireless Inc. has signed a contract to provide broadband wireless equipment to Ultranet to support its new wireless broadband service in the Dominican Republic and Caribbean Islands. Ultranet will initially target their broadband wireless service to businesses and resorts in the Dominican Republic. The second phase will deliver broadband Internet to the home. After the Dominican Republic, Ultranet is targeting other Caribbean and Latin American locations. ( www.otcwireless.com )
Sigma Designs and Vweb announced an MPEG-4 capable personal video recorder (PVR) reference design named Rhapsody, which uses the VW2005 MPEG-1, 2 and 4 encoder chip from Vweb, and EM8475 decoder chip from Sigma Designs. ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.vweb.com )
SyChip is making a PC card 802.11b modem for PDAs which will be available through retailers and wireless service providers early next year. ( www.sychip.com )
Terayon launched its line of cable modem extensions. The external add-on devices attach to Terayon’s TJ 700 DOCSIS cable modems, enabling them to support cable telephony, wireless home networking and other broadband services. Their initial version is the Vx™, which enables their modem to function as an embedded Multimedia Terminal Adapter (eMTA), supporting up to two lines of Voice-over-IP cable telephony service and high-speed Internet access. ( www.terayon.com )
TI announced its multimode wireless local area networking (WLAN) solution supporting IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b and the 802.11g draft standard, including support for enhanced security and QoS. TI´s Auto-Band™ technology, processor and system reference are designed to provide interoperability between the three different 802.11 physical layers, letting users roam with a continuous connection from an 802.11b network to 802.11a network, and eventually 802.11g, without manual adjustments. ( www.ti.com )
ADSL terminology and standards have been on the move. ADSL2 is a recently completed and ITU approved standard that will supersede existing ADSL standards. ADSL2+ is an ADSL2 extension targeted for standards consent at the ITU in early 2003. ADSL2+ will permit doubling of ADSL2 bandwidth from 1.1 MHz to 2.2 MHz, thereby doubling the maximum downstream data rate to over 20 Mbps. This increase will be effective only on loops shorter than 8,000 feet. ADSL2 is often called ADSL+ by the technical community.
Although the market penetration of personal video recorders has not been dramatic, a new report indicates that the behavioral shifts of those who own them are. We received an excerpt of NextResearch's report, PVR Monitor Wave III from Ucentric.
Significant findings from the report include:
Jennifer Choate of C Cubed, LLC, who conducted the study, summarized the bottom line: "PVRs hold the potential for what consumers may well want -- PROACTIVE TV." The excerpt is available at http://www.nextresearch.com/media/PVRMonitorWaveIIIFinal_ExcerptOnly.pdf .
US: The FCC released its Spectrum Policy Task Force's report, which said U.S. spectrum management rules should evolve from the current "command and control" model into a more flexible and market-oriented regulatory model. The task force recommended providing incentives for users to migrate to more technologically innovative and economically efficient uses of the spectrum, since new technologies combined with new policies could enable that change. The report is available at ( www.fcc.gov/sptf ).
Subsequently, two US senators sent a letter to their colleagues, encouraging more unlicensed spectrum be devoted for broadband. They intend to pursue legislation and have created a working draft of a bill called the "Jumpstart Broadband Act." The draft legislation calls for the FCC to allocate not less than 255 megahertz of contiguous spectrum below 6 gigahertz for unlicensed use by wireless broadband devices.
The new paradigm: Broadband = Innovation
A recent article in the New York Times (15Nov02), describing Hu Jintao's naming as chief of the Chinese Communist Party, reflected the current positioning of broadband support as symbolizing innovation: "... he is also the innovator who installed broadband Internet access at the Communist party school and encouraged academic debates about democracy and separation of powers."
China is indeed a place to watch as reports increasingly focus on broadband's adoption and potential there. Current statistics and projections for China are briefly summarized at http://cyberatlas.internet.com/markets/broadband/article/0,,10099_1490351,00.html
( www.nytimes.com )
Note from the Editors: The following is the first in a series of guest articles by experts from across the broadband ecosystem. Its author is Dr. John Pickens, Chief Technical Officer at Com21. John serves on several advisory boards, is a frequent industry speaker and was a major contributor to the PacketCable standard. We’re delighted to welcome John as our first contributor and hope you will find his insights as interesting as we do.
The Complex TV Universe
Twenty years ago, TVs were simple devices with cheap frequency-agile tuners and 75-ohm physical connectors capable of receiving broadcast signals. Only a few dozen channels were on the air, and content was broadcaster-selected and broadcast to regional audiences. The program channels were distributed via analog transmission - one program channel per 6 MHz analog transmission channel. The world was simple and well defined.
The rise in popularity of cable TV provided a minor perturbation to this simple world - because the frequency plan was different, cable companies provided external set top boxes for tuning cable channels. Shortly the TV manufacturers caught on and delivered "cable-ready" TVs, with integral cable tuners. TVs could receive channels over-the-air, or on-cable, and the world was once again simple and well defined (though the consumer's configuration choices were more complex and prone to error).
But the engines of technology innovation, regulation, and competition, were quietly gearing up to disrupt this simple universe.
Today (and looking ahead) the TV universe is very complex. Multiple incompatible transmission methods exist external to the home – over-the-air, satellite, cable, twisted pair, fiber-optics and wireless. A myriad of potentially usable but incompatible transmission methods now exist inside the home: coax, wireless, Ethernet, powerline, twisted pair, and Firewire. High Definition TV (higher bandwidth) is becoming more common. The simple paradigm of broadcast TV (channel surfing) is being morphed into more intelligent models of on-demand content management (VOD and PVR). The user interface model is bordering on the complexity of the PC. Broadcasters have imposed thorny proprietary encryption schemes to protect against theft-of-content (conditional access); Hollywood wants uncrackable digital rights management functionality.
External-to-the-TV set-top boxes are now needed to enable access to the new digital transport paradigms and service functionalities. Set-top box vendors see a revenue opportunity to increase the functionality of set-tops and are moving them toward the high-end paradigm of PC computing. Battles have erupted between advocates of cheap vs. expensive, thin vs. thick client, service provider vs. consumer electronics industry control, and proprietary vs. standards-based set-top box and system paradigms. And, of course, creaky legacy requirements (analog tuners in TVs) confound the need for vendors, producers, and consumers alike to move to the new all-digital world.
MPEG standards are widely used for digital TV encoding and transport. The MPEG encoding standards define digital algorithms and packet formats for digitizing and compressing audio-visual information (e.g., movies, video, music); all forms of transmission of digital TV have adopted these standards. MPEG transport standards are discussed in the next section.
Transport provides the foundation: the technology used to transport the TV stream (audio + video + control) across the backbone, through the “first-mile,” and distributed through the home.
Digital TV Transport Alternatives
There are really only three major competing networking paradigms for transport of TV – analog transport, MPEG transport, and IP transport. A fourth paradigm – Ethernet transport – is achieving gains in the first-mile; the plusses and minuses argued for IP transport are essentially shared with Ethernet, so Ethernet is not discussed further.
Analog transport is the legacy transport gorilla. It exists because it was first, and because of the massive installed base of analog TVs and VCRs. Because of its dominance even digital first mile technologies like fiber to the home (FTTH) sometimes carry analog TV in a separate spectrum band (or separate cable). Analog transport is a very inefficient use of spectrum – one audio/video channel per 6 MHz in North America (7 or 8 MHz in Europe). Today’s digital encoding technologies carry ten times the content in the same spectrum as one analog channel – with another three-times capacity multiplier on the near horizon. Nevertheless, analog continues to dominate in the installed base.
MPEG transport is a small (compared to analog) legacy gorilla in its own right. Both Satellite and Cable adopted MPEG transport in early deployment of digital video. MPEG transport defines a synchronous framing structure (including time stamps) and transmission mechanism with strict requirements for timing tolerances. Its advantage is that it is optimized for handling the real-time requirements of TV (audio/video). It can also carry IP as an encapsulated frame type (e.g. DOCSIS transmits IP in Ethernet frames encapsulated in MPEG frames). Its disadvantages are that the equipment and vendor choices for infrastructure are limited and expensive; the technology is not compatible with the evolving physical layer transport media; expensive backbone devices are required to rate shape, multiplex/demultiplex, and enforce clock synchronization of the real time stream; and physical transmission options within the home are limited.
IP transport is an emerging player in the distribution of digital TV. Some market segments, e.g. FTTH and DSL, have adopted IP for TV and are aggressively installing IP set top boxes. IP is generally accepted as the most popular convergence technology for unifying services, applications, and physical networking technologies. Its advantage for digital TV is the dramatic cost reduction and performance improvements for networking technology (see below). An IP transport switch switching frames with MPEG encoding is potentially much less expensive than an MPEG transport switch switching both MPEG and IP. The disadvantages of IP transport are lower transmission efficiency (due to IP header overhead); a primitive Quality of Service (QoS) environment (judging by the installed base of network equipment); and the large buffers the receiver (TV) needs to maintain to manage jitter and latency (increased cost and intelligence).
Why IP Transport Will Win
Ultimately IP transport will win. While it will not win overnight, and will win in some markets more slowly than in others, over time it will dominate. Since this may seem like a bold statement, some analysis of how this might happen is in order. For IP transport to win, it needs to conquer the backbone network, the first mile network, the home network, and CPE equipment.
In the backbone network the driver for long-range adoption is innovation in performance, functionality, and cost. IP backbone technology (and Ethernet) is on a rapid paced cycle of improvement. Massive strides in recent years have ratcheted IP backbone technology from 1Mbps to n*10Gbps (large “n”). A large number of systems and silicon vendors have driven the engine of innovation toward lower cost and higher performance. In the backbone, IP exhibits a “Moore’s Law” type of phenomenon. Nothing like Moore’s Law is occurring in backbone technology for MPEG transport.
One might argue that IP’s dominance in backbone networks is not absolutely assured. Technologies are appearing that make it possible to carry both analog and MPEG transport streams on separate colors of light over DWDM fiber optic networks. However, at each forwarding point from one network hop to another network hop the cost of the electronics which does analog-to-analog and MPEG-to-MPEG forwarding (and its required services of re-multiplexing and rate-shaping) is on a cost curve that is more expensive and dropping less rapidly than the technology for switching IP transport. And the dedicated bandwidth for analog and MPEG transport is unavailable for other IP services.
First-mile technologies that are not MPEG transport based (Fiber to the home, xDSL, Ethernet) have already adopted IP transport for TV. While they sometimes carry analog in an out-of-band channel as a low cost way of supporting legacy TVs, they have adopted IP as the delivery vehicle for digital TV and have deployed IP set top boxes with IP receivers.
First-mile technologies that are MPEG transport based (Cable, Satellite, terrestrial broadcast) will take the longest to evolve to IP. They are held back by their sizeable installed base of legacy MPEG equipment – thousands of headend transmitters and millions of set top boxes – both of which are generating service revenue.
MPEG-4 may play a key role in convincing MPEG transport carriers to switch their first mile technology to IP transport. Although MPEG-4 multiples the network capacity up to three times, today’s CPE hardware is not MPEG-4 capable. So a massive hardware switch will be required to take advantage of MPEG-4. Whenever CPE hardware is changed, the opportunity exists for change in transport protocols.
Another driver for change is the need to lower equipment cost in the network. Today’s narrowband MPEG networks carry 10-12 TV streams per 6Mhz with each stream capable of bursting to 25% of the total available channel bandwidth and causing overflow. Expensive DSPs are required in the network to constantly groom and re-encode the video.
The evolution to wide-band (Gigabit) delivery in the first-mile would provide a converged video/data solution and eliminate the need for expensive DSP-based switches. A fully packed Gigabit transport channel, for example, would carry 333 streams at 3Mbps each (MPEG-2 coding), or 1000 streams at 1Mbps each (MPEG-4 coding). In the home, a home gateway (the router/bridge between the first-mile network and the home network) can provide a filtering service that selectively extracts and forwards only those video streams that are being viewed in the home. Assuming that the CPE equipment is IP transport enabled, no additional hardware change is required to enable unicast delivery of TV within the home.
One impediment in home networks that needs to be overcome is Quality of Service (QoS) handling of real time TV streams. Standards (e.g. CableHome) are being defined that deliver managed Quality of Service in home networks. Switched Ethernet is, in many cases, already QoS capable (via DiffServ priority handling). Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) is certainly capable of supporting the IP transport requirement for TV even today. Other technologies are receiving QoS functionality in the standards bodies, and it is only a matter of time until the hardware is available.
The final hurdle in switching to IP transport is the CPE device itself. Today the CPE devices are the PC and set top box; tomorrow the CPE device is also the TV (or other video equipment) with an embedded IP transport receiver. If one is willing to switch physical layer technologies (e.g. from coax to Ethernet) an IP transport receiver can be much less expensive than an MPEG transport receiver. Even with a common physical layer technology, IP transport is lower cost because only one receiver is required (by comparison, today’s set-top boxes commonly have three receivers – two for video channels, and one for a DOCSIS channel).
MPEG transport advocates can stall IP transport by extending the lifetime of MPEG transport through innovation and competitive arm-twisting. MPEG standards changes may add functionality for HTML web and other IP services, and slow the migration to IP transport.
But ultimately IP transport will drive from the backbone to the first-mile to home networks and to the CPE (set top first, then embedded in TV) as a converged service. Classic MPEG transport based service providers are already replacing MPEG transport backbones with IP transport backbones, and carrying video and data over the IP backbones. The operator and the consumer both will then have wide flexibility in choosing best-in-class layer two technologies (backbone, first-mile, home network) for delivery of service. Cost will drop, performance will rise.
Whether the customer wants “plain old TV” or cool IP services, IP transport is superior to MPEG transport. It is far superior for converged services, and more cost-effective for video alone. The challenge for existing service providers is when and how to change.
We first met William Watté several years ago at one of our Broadband Home conferences. His company, M-TEC WIRELESS, has been an early advocate of broadband wireless networks and 5GHz/OFDM technology. They have evolved their original business plan -- which was focused on creating OEM modules -- into one offering their technologies as components of devices and chipsets. They "see the numerous chipset manufacturers as our partners."
In a recent interview William told us that "In some way, we have a similar solution to what Magis Networks is offering: we have a MAC solution offering QoS for video distribution, and the development is based on the knowledge of HiperLAN2. However, we differ from Magis in some key points."
Their distinctive intellectual property consists of two parts:
William said their major differentiation from Magis is compatibility with 802.11a. "Both our SViP (Streaming Video Protocol) and an 11a system can work on the same frequency. QoS for SViP remains assured." He added "One of the keys to accomplish this is in our fully software configurable MAC. While most MACs have a software configurable part, they usually also need some hardware assistance for the most critical timings. M-TEC WIRELESS has a solution to control even the lowest layers of the MAC in software. This allows us to not only run SViP and 11a simultaneously, but be ready for any standard or proprietary system in 5 GHz (11i, 11e, etc.). "
William was at Comdex showing "the strength of our system to distribute streaming HDTV videos compared to an 11a system. We can show four of these videos at DVD quality, while 11a can't even cope with one."
M-TEC believes their solution provides the quality of video consumer electronics companies and TV producers want, while meeting the end users' needs. These qualities include ease of use, QoS, inexpensive implementation, auto-configuration and standards compatibility. However, many bigger players have started in other directions. Thus the acid test will be what level of traction M-TEC can get with the influential players in the industry. We'll be looking forward to hearing William's feedback after the follow-ups from COMDEX take place.
We've written several articles this year about "networked media adapters": devices that play audio or video from a broadband connection or a PC over a home network. We've also written about media servers - both PC-based and stand-alone.
The PRISMIQ MediaPlayer is a new media adapter: a low-cost device that connects to your TV and sound system on one side, and over your home network to a capable PC on the other.
We recently met with two PRISMIQ executives - Ken Goldsholl, CEO and Brad Kayton, VP of Marketing. They briefed us on the MediaPlayer and hooked it up in our home entertainment center so we could see it in action. They told us that PRISMIQ is focused on "the network-centric home - not PC-centric or TV-centric".
The MediaPlayer is a networked media client providing audio, video, Internet browsing and chat on the TV screen, leveraging the horsepower of the PC you already have.
PRISMIQ's approach is to put most of its functionality on the PC you already have. The package includes software installed on your PC, with the MediaPlayer acting as the audio/video/network interface device. The PC serves as the jukebox for both audio and video.
We didn't have much time to play with the MediaPlayer, but we liked its user interface - it worked well on our projection TV when we used S-video. It comes with a remote control and an infrared keyboard; the keyboard will be priced optionally but you would want to have one if you use the TV for web browsing.
But if you want to insert a DVD in your PC and watch it on the TV, the PRISMIQ system doesn't let you do it. It's not that Prismiq overlooked the capability. Rather it's because the encryption mechanism on copyrighted DVDs prevents you from transferring digital information from the PC to another device over a network. That's where those 5C and DRM acronyms start playing a role -- but that'll wait for another article.
The current version of the MediaPlayer doesn't support WMA audio or MPEG-4 video. Their PC software does real-time transcoding from WMA to MP3, and from MPEG-4 to MPEG-1 or -2, with some impact on PC resources and media quality. Ken told us that PRISMIQ expects that lower-cost chips will enable software decoding of WMA and MPEG-4, and they'll include this in later models, perhaps by the end of 2003.
PRISMIQ expects to ship production units next month, and we're looking forward to playing with one in our home. We'll tell you more about it in a Broadband Home Labs article.
( www.prismiq.com )
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2002, Bill Gates talked about two concepts that caught our attention - one code-named Freestyle and the other dubbed Mira. Microsoft rolled out version one of Freestyle last month, in the form of H-P's Media Center PC (see http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0210_3.html ). At Comdex this month, Gates announced that the first "Windows Powered Smart Displays" (aka Mira) will be available to U.S. consumers beginning Jan. 8, 2003, and ViewSonic announced the features and pricing of the first products.
The rollout of Smart Displays proved sensitive from a PR perspective, since it presented great opportunity for confusion between two similar-looking devices: the Tablet PC (introduced November 8th) and Smart Displays. Both have a touch-sensitive LCD screen, allow input without a keyboard, are Wi-Fi connected for mobility, and are based (although in different ways) on Windows XP Pro.
In a telephone interview with Aubrey Edwards, Microsoft's Director of Marketing, Embedded Appliance & Platforms Group (EAPG), we discussed the differentiation, Smart Displays product positioning, and their future potential. Aubrey was ready with lots of helpful analogies, since this has clearly been the subject of many questions over the past months.
Tablet PCs are the evolution of the laptop computer. Based on an advanced version of Windows XP Pro, they are self contained and provide local execution of applications anywhere they are taken. Their initial target is the knowledge worker, not the user at home. Some Microsoft executives believe that tablet PCs will replace conventional laptops.
On the other hand, Smart Displays are "the evolution of the monitor when you cut the cord". They are targeted for the home, and enable a user to pick up the screen and have the same PC experience in any room. The target user wants access to her PC applications and data in more relaxed locations than at the PC. Sample applications include Web surfing from the couch, downloading recipes in the kitchen, checking email from the deck or showing digital pictures to a visiting neighbor over a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
A Smart Display system has three essential elements: a host PC running XP Pro, a Wi-Fi network, and a Smart Display. Since the preponderance of intelligence is in the host PC, users should be able to buy a more powerful PC later and benefit from its increased intelligence delivered through the Smart Display bought earlier. Since its intelligence is external, a Smart Display would be less susceptible to obsolesence than a Tablet PC.
Smart Displays are limited by wireless coverage distance and are tethered to the home environment. So the Smart Display is like a cordless phone--you can take it around the house and into the nearby yard as long as it still communicates with its base station. The Tablet PC is more like the mobile/cell phone which you can use wherever you take it; the analogy isn't perfect since the cell phone is limited by coverage of a compatible carrier--but you get the idea.
Although the Smart Display is conceptually the monitor with the cord cut, Microsoft found that to meet users expectations the display did, in fact, have to be fairly "smart". It contains a wireless network card and a fast processor running Win CE acting as the client connecting back to the host PC.
The first versions of Smart Displays (the airpanel(TM) from ViewSonic) are priced at $1099 (10") and $1499 (15") and include integrated wireless support and a USB wireless adapter for the PC to simplify setup. Since early adopters who seem most likely to buy these will probably already have a Wi-Fi network, we expect to see products packaged without the wireless adapter, although setup with an existing network will likely be more complex.
While Smart Displays can handle most PC applications, they can't handle wireless video. Video is not currently supported by the remote desktop protocol (RDP) which provides the link from the PC to the remote display.
Microsoft seems to be grappling with the question of what, if anything, Smart Displays can do when not connected to their host. Current Pocket PC applications won't run locally on a Smart Display. OEM partners can add local applications, such as cycling thru local storage to act as an electronic picture frame or possibly be used as a universal remote control.
Because Smart Displays have touch screens and must be sturdy enough to be mobile, they use LCDs that are expensive compared to those used for fixed flat-panel displays. The initial price points may make users question why they would spend that much for a portable screen when they could buy a another whole PC at the same price. The basic concept of Smart Displays is appealing, but will need to reach a significantly lower price point if it is to become widely adopted.
We recently received an announcement from ProSyst about the start of field trials of networked home appliances in 25 German households. Our initial reaction was to dismiss it as unlikely to produce much in the way of real world impact. However, we recognize that there is a danger in assuming that just because something has not taken hold before, it won't this time around. Otherwise the Wright Brothers might not have flown at Kitty Hawk. Technologies or other factors can change and it's important to be sensitive to whether such changes have happened.
We talked on the telephone with Susan Schwarze, Marketing Director of ProSyst and Co-Chair Marketing OSGi, to learn more about the various pilot programs that she is involved in or aware of. She pointed out that although telematics is the first area of application for OSGi in the US, in Europe more projects and trials are underway with smart homes. Partly she sees this coming from greater willingness of European telcos to act as service aggregators.
InHaus Duisburg is one example. Their home gateway runs ProSyst's mBedded server, based on OSGi Release 2 specs. It connects with Deutsche Telekom's TeleHome Service Provider Platform. Different protocol stacks on the gateway provide access to various sensors, actuators and household appliances. Project partners include Sony, Miele, Volkswagen and Siedle (makers of entry control, building communication and biometric systems). The InHaus web site describes the project as "a model of how in the future an unlimited number of networked appliances like light, heating and temperature control, domestic appliances, entertainment devices, sensors and actuators, consumption measuring instruments, alarm systems, and many more can be connected via gateways with central service centers of external service providers. Such companies can then offer a wide variety of new services around the home."
Susan believes that "most new housing will include service gateways." Bosch brand washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances will have modules that will connect them to the service gateway. Susan estimated that modules will cost 50€ and service gateways will cost 200-300€.
The field trial starting soon for "smart@Home networked home appliances" involves retrofitting Siemens and Bosch products with an extra module that communicates over powerline to a residential gateway. Users can access their applications with a WebPad, PDA or PC via Wi-Fi inside the home or use a WAP-capable cellphone from outside. The gateway was developed in collaboration with Setrix and Siemens ICN.
The goals of the study are to gather results on product acceptance, preferred features, system usability and willingness to pay. We believe that if some applications can be shown to provide real benefit to the manufacturer or service provider -- such as alerting an appliance service contract provider that something has gone awry in a hot water heater -- then the cost of the gateway can be partly borne by that provider rather than the end user. We see service contract providers for essential home equipment and electric power providers as two of the most likely candidates.
We look forward to seeing the study results.
Most of the comments from our readers on compelling broadband applications have related to music and games. There was more news on those fronts this month: the official launch of Xbox Live, Charter's launch of the FullAudio Digital Music Service, and Gateway announcing that all consumer desktop PCs will ship with Gateway Rhapsody installed.
Sport is another area many consumers find compelling. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has introduced NBA Inside Ticket (IT) for $9.95/month or NBA IT Plus RealOne™ SuperPass for $14.95/month. Inside Ticket provides live audio of games, exclusive video, specialized stats and analysis. SuperPass, which already has over 850,000 paid subscribers, adds exclusive sports content from FoxSports, CNN/SI, MLB.com and NASCAR.com plus news and entertainment from CNN, ABCNEWS, E!Online and iFilm. We're not ardent sports fans, so if any of you have subscribed, please let us know what you think. Sports seems to be just the type of application that Microsoft and H-P had in mind for the Media Center PC -- viewed from the sofa, not just the desk.
"Digital magazines" may be next; until the recent launch of Tablet PCs and Smart Displays, we hadn't paid much attention to them. They provide exact digital replicas of their paper versions -- not the Web-based and very different-appearing content one finds at sites like nytimes.com or fortune.com. Part of the reason that the Web versions have become widespread is that they were designed to work over dial-up connections and thus don't deliver lots of formatting and images and ads or all the articles at once.
But once you have broadband, downloading lots more information is no longer slow and burdensome. Add a convenient portable form factor that you can take to the bathroom or read on your train commute and suddenly digital magazines start making more sense. They give you the great look that has been designed for the reader plus features you never got from your magazine or newspaper. For example, if I know there is an article someplace in the issue on Africa (or white-collar crime or whatever) I can do a search for that word or phrase and have each instance of it highlighted.
Two of the best known sources for digital publications are Zinio and NewsStand. Zinio allows you to subscribe to digital versions of periodicals like Business Week and PC Magazine, using their downloaded reader. It lets you zoom in, search and jot down notes. NewsStand has the same likeness to paper, and features like search and mark-up that are better than paper. It includes an impressive list of newspapers and magazines, including The Australian, The Manila Times, The Boston Globe, The Scotsman, The New Zealand Press, China Daily, the International Herald Tribune, The Harvard Business Review and Consumer Reports (and lots more). Once you subscribe to the service, content can be "pushed" to you when a new issue becomes available from the publisher. We expect that -- as with many "chicken-and-egg" phenomena -- the proliferation of new electronic devices like Smart Displays and Tablet PCs will encourage many more titles to become available.
In the past week, we've used two other applications that, while not impossible to use on dial-up, really come into their own when using broadband. One of these is Shutterfly and especially projects like making gift calendars. For those not familiar with it, Shutterfly is a Web-based service that lets you transfer your digital pictures to their site and turn them into prints, greeting cards or (as we recently did) gift calendars with your own pictures chosen for each month. While an eighteen-month calendar could certainly be done with dial-up, uploading and manipulating all those high-quality images over broadband is certainly far less frustrating.
The second application was reviewing Vanguard's quarterly report on financial status. We received an email from Vanguard on recent market activity and the performance of several Vanguard funds. Normally we might have simply deleted the message as being too time-consuming (and frankly dull) to go through. However, Vanguard is now using Placeware with streaming audio and annotated slides, and gives users a choice of recording formats. Those with broadband can choose a version with Windows Media™-formatted streamed audio & video, including slide annotation and the ability to skip around in the presentation to hear and see those parts that are of particular interest. It made all the difference in whether we tossed the message or viewed it as a valuable service - which we did.
We still haven't seen broadband's "killer app", and we suspect we never will. But we think that, by accretion, applications are adding up to "enough to matter".
( www.xbox.com ) ( www.charter.com ) ( www.fullaudio.com ) ( www.gateway.com ) ( www.listen.com ) ( www.nba.com ) ( www.real.com ) ( www.zinio.com ) ( www.newsstand.com ) ( www.shutterfly.com ) ( www.vanguard.com ) ( www.placeware.com )
Stephen Davies wrote to ask: "Is the "Broadband Home" newsletter intended to be US-centric? I was amazed to read an article about digital radio in the Broadband Home newsletter which didn't make even a mere mention of the standard and internationally accepted "DAB" Digital Audio Broadcasting system. DAB is in commercial use in many countries, and in testing in many more. In total more than 40 countries are currently using or testing DAB.
"On a recent trip in Europe my DAB car-radio received digital radio in almost every country through which I passed: UK, Natherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. http://www.worlddab.org/ provides some background and links. Another interesting "rest of the world" digital radio technology is DRM - Digital Radio Mondiale - which provides digital audio broadcasting on medium- and short-wave. DRM is still a way from commercialisation, though. http://www.drm.org "
Sandy replies: Mea culpa. We know better--we've used and appreciated DAB when driving in the UK. Thanks for reminding us that one drawback of living in the US is our tendency to fall into a myopic view, because our island is so big. Thanks for keeping us honest. We noted a recent article saying that demand for the Evoke, latest DAB digital radio in the UK, is outstripping supply. One Web listing for the Pure Evoke-1 says "as the radio is in high demand, it may not be possible for you to place an order, due to changing stock levels and the sheer number of people trying to secure a radio. We suggest you try the site every day." ( www.videologic.com ) ( www.radio-now.co.uk/buy_a_dab_radio_set.htm )
HomePlug in Europe
Several readers have asked whether HomePlug powerline networking adapters could be used in Europe, and we were glad to hear from Brian Lasslett of LANergy:
"LANergy Limited (www.lanergy.com) is a company based in the United Kingdom developing products for home networking. In January 2002 LANergy launched a range of powerline bridge/adapters for home networking and broadband distribution in the home. These products are available worldwide ... The LANergy powerline adapters are both FCC and CE (European) approved. They are also available with both 110V and 220V operation.
"The LANergy Appian Powerline Adapter is a fully managed two port (Ethernet & USB) bridge, supporting simultaneous operation of both ports. ... We also have a PCI card.
"The chipset we are using is from Cogency."
Brian has promised us a couple of LANergy devices as part of our continuing test series on HomePlug.
In a long email dialog, Knut Flottorp of Norway has expressed the strong sense that the US is more protectionist than Europe while claiming the opposite. To widen the dialog, we've excerpted two of his emails. We would be interested in the reactions of other readers, especially those outside the US, as to how closely Knut's thoughts are shared by others.
Knut wrote: "You did not understand how I could claim US 'Protectionalism' and favourers of own industry. Read attached reference document, know that CDMA was invented long before GSM - and was considered and rejected when the GSM network air interface was defined.
Knut: "The Truth: The European model has been open to free competition from 1992 - on everything - even the air interface. Not one operator has even seen the need to elaborate on the US technology. Every operator are used to international cut-throat competition that is non-existent in US. The US market is now highly regulated and impossible to penetrate with 'foreign technology'. In Europe, the markets have been fully accessible for foreign technologies, where the US has been 'licked'. 'Domestic' mergers are not an indicator of a free and functioning market - that is like compares to Stalin's confiscation of the local industries in the old Soviet union. ...
"As long as the US federal agencies let reports of such non-critical nature be distributed it may be viewed as lack of critical science in the US - or a pathetic attempt to promote own industry and discredit all competing technologies. ...
"I fought my battle at the Shanghai Airport with the representatives for the FCC. They where on an IS delegation ready to explain that CDMA network superiority. The problem was that they were unaware that GSM had already been deployed in China. They were unaware that I could dial my operator in Norway from Shanghai. They were unaware that I could hit an internet site from a mobile handset, They were unaware that I could read my email with a handset. They were unaware that a telephone existed with full Internet browsing capabilities. They were unaware that I was charged reasonable in Norway for calls placed in China. Bottom line: they were ignorant - and they did not care less - they even then tried to utter 'but CDMA is better'. And they will keep on shouting that the acronym is better."
In another email following our article on replacing the radio in Sandy's car, Knut wrote "Tell Sandy that she is lucky to have a Supra, (it is a good car!) with a twin size DIN slot for the car audio. Thank the Germans for that. If she had an American car, e.g. a Ford, she would have to change the entire car - or replace with original "Delco". ...
"This is one of the fundamental differences between the US and Europe: You focus on 'Strategic Alliances' on the golf course, while Europeans focus on engineers presenting the ideas as an international standard. Like the size of a car radio, and which connectors should be provided. Or the functionality of a large network. The result is that in the US you do not care less what happens once you have to go beyond the alliance. You have numerous broadband protocols, about one per provider, making acquisition of a competitor not only to obtain his customer base - but also to be able to expand your customer base with your technology making this cheaper to all. That this is expensive is known and hidden as 'infrastructure costs' in the merger."
A note from Rick Loughery said: "Just want to say - that I really enjoy the HTML format version - the rollover definitions are extremely convenient versus clicking to another link. Thanks."
Our Webmaster, Dave (also co-editor and CTO of Broadband Home Labs, etc.) thanks Rick for letting us know that someone has noticed and likes that feature. Please continue letting us know what works -- and doesn't --from your perspective.
Continuing our in-home evaluations of emerging technologies, we now have three tests in progress:
We'll share what we've learned in an upcoming issue.
We've completely refreshed the "Links and Resources" section. We've expanded it to multiple pages, removed some links and added many new ones.
We also added a page with demographics on our newsletter subscribers and website visitors.
Please visit http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com.