BBH Report Home Page
December 17, 2002 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Heard on the Net

Wireless Home Entertainment – Stuck In A Traffic Jam?
A Guest Article by Bill Rose

Broadband Plus -
The New Western Show

Broadband Plus: Brian Roberts
"The Opportunity of a Lifetime"

Broadband Plus
Pizzaz is Out, Practical is In

Broadband Plus
The Year of Home Networking

Broadband Plus: Cable Telephony -
A Snapshot

Broadband Plus
Video Telephony and Videoconferencing

Broadband Plus
The End of Analog Cable?

"'Tis the Season to Go Wireless"

ArrayComm -
Another Approach to Ubiquitous Wireless

Broadcom -
Next-Generation Video Compression

Your Voice -
Readers' Comments

Broadband Home Labs
Tests In Progress

Website Changes


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Mark Belinsky has been appointed Senior VP and General Manager of Macrovision Corporation's new Music Technology Division. Belinsky has over 20 years of management experience in areas such as digital rights management, copy protection and software licensing. ( www.macrovision.com )

Maggie Bellville has accepted a new position as EVP of operations for Charter Communications. She was previously CEO of Incanta. ( www.charter.com )

David Colley has become CEO at Media Logic. He was previously a founding partner of Callahan Associates. ( www.iseetv.net )

Arthur Dubroff has been promoted to Chief Financial Officer at Net2Phone. ( www.net2phone.com )

Ed Forman has joined ICTV as senior VP, marketing. Forman had previously consulted for ICTV and prior to that served as president and CEO of RealContax, Inc. ( www.ictv.com )

Tom Hurley has been promoted to President of the Comcast Digital Programming Center and Matt Bond has been named EVP of Programming at Comcast Cable Communications. ( www.comcast.com )

Marcos Rosenthal has joined RADVISION and will head their new sales office in Brazil. Rosenthal was previously with PictureTel in South America. ( www.radvision.com )

Teresa Vega has been appointed corporate VP and group president for Telcordia Technologies Inc. Mobility, Cable and Emerging Markets. Vega was previously senior VP and chief marketing officer for Lucent Technologies. ( www.telcordia.com )


Company News

--Funding

2Wire, a provider of broadband gateways, has closed its fifth round of funding with $27.5 million. ( www.2wire.com )

Aperto Networks, a fixed broadband wireless technology vendor, closed its series C equity financing round with $22 million in funding. ( www.apertonetworks.com )

Gotuit Media Corp. has obtained $6 million in venture capital funding. Their system enables viewers to skip through programs by using the remote control to bring up an index on the TV screen and move forward or backward through the show. ( www.gotuit.com )

IPWireless, Inc., a mobile broadband infrastructure provider, has secured over $27 million in additional funding. ( www.ipwireless.com )

--Other News

Boeing's Connexion by Boeing unit has signed a memorandum of understanding with Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) that will lead to installation of Boeing's satellite-based airborne broadband service offering in SAS planes. SAS will install the Connexion by Boeing system in 11 long-haul aircraft as the first stage of a planned larger rollout, with commercial service planned for 2004. ( www.boeing.com/connexion )

Broadcom has released their BroadVoice VoIP telephony solution. It is both a highly-integrated chip providing a modular two-line telephony platform delivering high-quality voice over standard analog phones, and a pair of new voice codecs claiming improved performance at lower bit rates. ( www.broadcom.com )

BroadQ and Advent Networks jointly announced a system that can deliver video-on-demand from cable company facilities to TVs linked thru Sony PlayStation 2 consoles. Advent Networks’ Ultraband System links the cable head-end and the customer premises. It provides 5 Mbps of bandwidth and can support multiple data streams, including MPEG4, MPEG2, DiVX and MP3. BroadQ’s QCast Tuner software is installed on the PlayStation 2 at the customer home and displays the content. ( www.broadq.com ) ( www.adventnetworks.com )

Cometa Networks, a new company formed by Intel Capital, IBM, AT&T, and global investment companies Apax and 3i, will deploy Wi-Fi based broadband wireless access service in “hot spots” throughout the top 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. Cometa will sell services through telcos, ISPs, cable companies, wireless carriers and other Internet retailers. See the "Wireless" article below. ( www.cometanetworks.com )

Conexant and Jungo jointly announced introduction of their CableHome-based HomePlug reference design for home gateways. ( www.conexant.com ) ( www.jungo.com )

ContentGuard, which has a large portfolio of Digital Rights Management (DRM) related technologies, has licenced its DRM intellectual property to Sony for the development, manufacturing and marketing of Sony products and services. ( www.contentguard.com ) ( www.sony.com )

Hughes Electronics Corporation announced that their DIRECTV Broadband subsidiary, which provides broadband via DSL, is closing its high-speed Internet service business. The decision does not affect their DIRECWAY broadband-by-satellite service. ( www.hns.com )

Liberty Cablevision has launched phase 2 of its VoCable trial in Puerto Rico, extending service to 4,000 video subscribers. Liberty is outsourcing the VoIP service to Net2Phone. The service includes call waiting, Caller ID, directory assistance, and support for CALEA. ( www.libertycablevision.com ) ( www.net2phone.com )

N2 Broadband has announced Xport, which will allow cable operators to prepare and manage local content – such as local sports, news and events – within existing VOD (video on demand) systems. Xport is currently being trialed in three divisions of a major MSO and will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2003. ( www.n2broadband.com )

National Semiconductor announced that Samsung Electronics has chosen its Geode processor technology for Samsung's first Internet Protocol (IP) digital set-top boxes (STB). It will be launched in Japan for an interactive TV service, known as BB Cable TV, by Softbank Broadmedia Corp. ( www.national.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.softbank.co.jp )

Navini Networks nomadic wireless broadband technology is being deployed by YourInter.Net, a regional ISP in Indiana, Pennsylvania, following a successful technology trial of the 2.4 GHz system. This is one of the first commercial deployments of Navini's non-line-of-sight, "zero-install" wireless broadband network. Separately, Navini and Pronto Networks have announced a partnership for providing solutions for service providers wishing to deploy numerous hot spots in large coverage areas, creating "hot zones." ( www.navini.com ) ( www.yourinter.net ) ( www.prontonetworks.com )

Net2Phone announced full interoperable support of ARRIS head end and residential cable equipment for its hosted VoIP solution. Net2Phone is positioning itself as an integrator with the ability to leverage MSO's installed IP infrastructure and operate other key network elements including Net2Phone's network monitoring, billing and operations support systems. ( www.net2phone.com )

Nielsen Media Research, provider of TV audience measurement services and Ucentric Systems, provider of multi-TV PVR applications, announced an agreement to create television audience measurement software that will track usage of personal video recorders on multiple television sets. Nielsen software, integrated into the Ucentric system, will enable Nielsen to collect tuning, recording and playback information from every TV set connected to the Ucentric system. ( www.nielsenmedia.com ) ( www.ucentric.com )

Phonex Broadband has reduced the price for their NeverWire 14 home network device to US$99. As prices of powerline networking devices drop, the market is expected to expand. ( www.phonex.com )

Pioneer Electronics announced their Wireless Gateway Modem which combines a DOCSIS 1.1 cable modem, a router-gateway with four-port Ethernet switch, and an 802.11b wireless base station. They are part of a growing segment which combines multiple functions in a single device. ( www.pioneerelectronics.com )

RealNetworks and Starz Encore Group will launch Starz On Demand, a broadband-based online subscription video on-demand (SVOD) movie service featuring new hit movies. The service, to be available in spring 2003, is offered through the RealOne subscription platform and will offer the same movie titles available via the traditional Starz On Demand digital cable service. ( www.real.com ) ( www.starzsuperpak.com )

Sanyo and Magis Networks will hold the first US demonstration of a prototype Sanyo wireless television system at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. The demo will show a Sanyo-designed wireless television access point and remote terminal transmitting and receiving video at up to 30 Mbps. ( www.sanyo.co.jp ) ( www.magisnetworks.com )

SBC Communications is dropping its regional brand names in favor of a single national brand, SBC. SBC will no longer market its services under the names of SBC Southwestern Bell, SBC Pacific Bell and SBC Nevada Bell. ( www.sbc.com )

SnowShore and Openwave Systems are collaborating to enable SnowShore’s media servers to power Openwave’s voice messaging software. The collaboration will allow broadband service providers to deliver new messaging services. ( www.SnowShore.com ) ( www.openwave.com )

SONICblue introduced a Networked DVD player. In addition to standard DVD playback, the unit brings pictures, music and video clips stored on your computer onto your TV. The player can stream MPEG2 video files through a wireless network from a computer to a consumer electronics component. The D2730 works with either a PCMCIA Ethernet Adapter or an optional PCMCIA 802.11b Wireless Network Card and can stream MPEG1 and MPEG2 video files at bitrates up to 3 Mbps. ( www.sonicblue.com )

Sony has released its Passage technology which allows cable operators to use equipment from different suppliers on legacy digital CATV networks. It allows operators to introduce alternative conditional access systems, innovative set-top boxes and headend equipment from multiple manufacturers. ( www.sonypassage.com )

Telecom Italia and Intel have teamed to launch an Intel Pentium 4 PC with pre-installed ADSL modem, providing a ready-to-use PC pre-configured for high-speed Internet access. ( www.telecomitalia.it ) ( www.intel.com )

--Standards

The MPEG-4 Audio Licencing Committee has selected Via Licencing Corporation as Licencing Administrator for the MPEG-4 Audio patent pool. The objective is to provide one-stop access to patents from multiple parties that are necessary for MPEG-4 Audio under fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory conditions. ( www.m4if.org )

--Reports

The Q3 report from Point-Topic indicates that the number of digital subscriber lines (DSL) worldwide grew over the quarter by nearly 20% to 30.6 million. Point-Topic notes that the Asia-Pacific region still claims the greatest number of DSL lines with 12.28 million as of Q3. South Korea has the largest number of DSL subscribers, with 6.1 million lines. They also report that China is now fifth in number of DSL lines and growing faster than any other major country. The top 10 countries in terms of total DSL lines are: S.Korea, US, Japan, Germany, China, Taiwan, Canada, France, Spain, Italy. However, in terms of the top 10 countries in DSL lines per 100 population, Hong Kong, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Singapore are part of the list. ( www.point-topic.com/analysis )

--Briefly Noted

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is funding a $900,000 study examining the impact of next-generation high-speed Internet on urban and rural communities. The project will examine Alberta's $295 million SuperNet broadband network as a model for how advanced high-speed Internet connectivity can help communities remove the barriers of distance for the delivery of both commercial content and essential health, education and emergency services. The project will examine such questions as "whether increased on-line opportunities allow more young people to pursue postsecondary education without leaving their rural communities, and whether improved access to the Internet sparks new business opportunities in small towns." ( www.sshrc.ca )

The DSL Forum held its Summit meeting in San Francisco, December 10-12, 2002. At the meeting, Forum President Bill Rodey announced the latest global broadband DSL deployment figures from the third quarter, provided by Point Topic. The next DSL Forum meetings are scheduled for February 10-13 in Dallas, Texas and May 5-8, in Lisbon, Portugal. ( www.dslforum.org )


Wireless Home Entertainment – Stuck In A Traffic Jam?: A Guest Article by Bill Rose

Note from the Editors: The following is the second in a series of guest articles by experts from across the broadband ecosystem. Bill Rose is President of WJR Consulting Inc., providing product and business development services to the home networking industry. A frequent speaker at industry events, Bill also chairs the Consumer Electronics Association’s Home Networking Committee and the Technology and Standards Council, is a board member of the Home Networking and IT (HNIT) Division, and sits on several corporate Technology Advisory Boards.


Entertainment Networking Requirements

Home Networking has arrived! WiFi or IEEE 802.11b based wireless networks are being deployed at an accelerating pace in homes; experts say that shipments of WiFi devices have exceeded wired Ethernet at retail outlets. However, these networks are primarily being used to share files and Internet connections. For home networking to reach the mass market, most experts agree it must support entertainment applications – especially audio and video distribution throughout the home. So where are the entertainment networks?

To answer that, we have to start with the requirements for an entertainment network. It is generally accepted by the consumer electronics industry that to be successful, an entertainment solution must meet a number of criteria:

  • “No New Wires” – The customer is not willing to pull new wires through the walls, so the network must work wirelessly or over existing wiring in the walls.
  • High throughput - Minimum throughput of 30 Mbps (1 HDTV stream equals 20 Mbps)
  • Low Cost - It can’t cost more than the devices you are connecting
  • QoS – It must guarantee the delivery of your cable/satellite/DVD movie, TV show, or music from beginning to end, without interruption, and without degradation
  • Range – It must be able to connect devices throughout the home, at video data rates without repeaters or multiple access points
  • Security including support for Copy Protection schemes such as 5C
  • It must be available on the market

No-New Wires Solutions

While structured wiring with Ethernet is the home entertainment network solution of choice for new homes, the cost and other issues with installing new wires make it unattractive to most homeowners.

Instead, “No New Wires” has become the holy grail of networking. HomePNA™ (telephone wiring) and HomePlug™ (powerline carrier) both claim to handle entertainment and they are correct – to a point. However, HomePNA has been around for a few years and has not made any market penetration so we can assume the market has spoken.

HomePlug is a more recent entrant to the market. With a realized throughput of around 4-5 Mbps in a home, it is an excellent solution for both data and audio networking but is too slow for high quality video.

Both HomePNA and HomePlug have announced plans for higher-speed solutions. Only time will tell whether they will be competitive with wireless solutions for whole-home entertainment networking.


IEEE 802.11

The Wi-Fi family of wireless solutions consists of two physical layer standards – 802.11b (operating in the 2.4 GHz band), and 802.11a (operating in the 5GHz band), providing maximum data rates of 11 Mbps and 54 Mbps respectively. A new standard called 802.11g is in process, which will provide 54 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band. We can quickly dismiss 802.11b with real throughput of 3-5 Mbps as too slow for HD and SD video. This leaves 802.11a and g, both providing a realistic throughput of up to 30 Mbps.

There are many good arguments that neither of these can handle video across an entire home based on their throughput and range. 802.11g networks, operating at 2.4 GHz, suffer from a congested and noisy frequency band populated by cordless phones, microwaves, audio and video repeaters, and other devices. Current 802.11a implementations suffer from higher signal attenuation and therefore less range; studies have shown that it can drop well below 20 Mbps with less than 50 feet and a single wall between devices. However, let’s assume for now that both can deliver adequate throughput throughout a home. The real problem is their dependence on CSMA/CA.

CSMA/CA

Networks and the data they carry can generally be placed into two categories: asynchronous and isochronous. The file you send over the network to be printed, or the Web page you browse is asynchronous data: a delay of a second or two is no problem. Live or real-time video, audio and telephony data is called isochronous: these applications only work properly when guaranteed that data will arrive on time.

All 802.11 standards use CSMA/CA (Carrier Sense-Multiple Access) at the Media Access Control (MAC) layer and are often referred to as “wireless Ethernet” because they are based on the Ethernet protocol, which is also CSMA based. CSMA requires a device to wait for the network to be idle (Carrier Sense) before transmitting. CA or Collision Avoidance was added to the 802.11 MAC to compensate for the fact that it is impossible to detect a collision on a wireless system. CA mandates that after detecting an idle line a device must wait a random amount of time before transmitting. Since both of these wait periods are variables, the result is an asynchronous network solution.

A highway provides a good analogy to CSMA/CA. The highway itself is the wireless channel the devices are operating on, and the cars are the data packets devices are trying to send. A car entering the highway has to wait for a gap in the traffic before it can get on. This is the carrier sense part of the protocol. Additionally, some highways have traffic lights at the entrance ramp. This further delays the cars entering while they wait for a green light. This equates to collision avoidance.

Carrying the analogy further, once you get onto the highway, there are no guarantees as to when you will arrive at your destination. A 65 MPH speed limit does not guarantee you will be able to go 65 MPH.

All 802.11 networks using a CSMA/CA MAC share these same characteristics. As the traffic gets heavier, it takes longer and longer to send data. The result can be a blank screen or dropped frames on the TV set. Adding a large amount of memory to buffer the signal can help but it costs money. It is also hard to determine how big a buffer is needed. If the network is too crowded, it continues to fall further behind. Additionally, it takes time to fill a buffer. If you like to channel surf, the buffer has to fill up each time you switch to a new channel resulting in a delay before seeing what is on. A 3 second wait results in 90 seconds to surf 30 channels.

802.11e QoS

To try to fix this situation, IEEE created Task Group “e” (TGe) several years ago to develop a “quality of service” (QoS) mechanism for 802.11. While continuing to use CSMA/CA as the basis for the solution, they added priorities (Enhanced Distributed Coordinator Function or EDCF) and an optional Hybrid Coordinator Function (HCF). EDCF is analogous to emergency vehicles: everyone else (lower priority data) has to wait while they pass. HCF is analogous to a traffic cop; it allows for more tightly controlled access to the network for high priority data, at the expense of all other data transfers.

While EDCF and HCF help, there is still no guaranteed arrival time possible. They must be backward compatible so there are still variable wait periods, and simply increase the probability of data arriving on time.


TDMA Alternative

There is a better alternative. With TDMA or Time Division-Multiple Access at the MAC layer, each device with data or content to send is guaranteed the bandwidth it requires. QoS can be guaranteed because the network controller, typically the access point, grants a portion of the bandwidth to requesting devices. When there is no more bandwidth to give out, it will not grant the device permission to communicate until some is freed up. The network can also reserve some bandwidth for asynchronous data to ensure your Internet surfing experience does not slow down to that of a dial-up connection. Thus both isochronous and asynchronous data is carried simultaneously.

To accomplish this, TDMA networks divide the total available time into time slots and assign those time slots to a given application – say watching a movie. There is no need to wait for an idle line; a device just waits for its time slot and transmits.

TDMA is analogous to a rail system. You contract for a certain amount of space on a train (the time slot) and your cargo (the data) is guaranteed that space. Since the conductor (the access point) knows the train’s departure time, and the speed it travels at, he can guarantee the time of delivery.

Several wireless technologies are based on TDMA, including IEEE 802.15, HiperLAN2 in Europe, and AIR5™ from Magis Networks, Inc. IEEE 802.15.3, one version of 802.15, is being developed specifically to handle entertainment in homes and meets all of the requirements except for range and availability: it is only designed for a range of up to 10 meters, is not yet an approved standard, and no devices are available yet.

HiperLAN2 was specifically designed to handle entertainment. It supports all the requirements for entertainment networking including high throughput, support of both asynchronous and isochronous data, 3DES security, low error rates using forward error correction (FEC), QoS, etc. Because its genesis was from the access side, it supports many of the access side protocols such as ATM making it a costly (from a processing and memory perspective) standard to implement. At this time there are no chip sets available, nor does it appear to have any traction in North America, or for that matter, in Europe.

Recognizing HiperLAN2’s strengths as well as its shortcomings, Magis designed AIR5 based on a subset of HiperLAN2’s MAC layer -- making it much smaller, simpler and less expensive to implement. AIR5’s physical layer and RF design are based on 802.11a, but it includes many enhancements providing greater range and an improved ability to penetrate walls and other structures.

At the MAC layer, it supports all of the features in HiperLAN2 that made it excel at entertainment networking, without the additional access side features, which are not required for home networking. It also includes support for 1394 and 5C copy protection, something Ethernet-based networks do not.

In Europe, there is a requirement to support power control and frequency agility. Power control allows a device to use only as much transmit power as is needed to reach the destination device. Frequency agility allows it to automatically change channels to avoid other networks and noise sources. Together they provide for more efficient use of the available RF spectrum, and are included in both Hiperlan2 and AIR5. The IEEE 802.11h standard specifies these features but they are not included in currently available Wi-Fi implementations.

The bottom line is that wireless entertainment networking has arrived – but it’s not the Wi-Fi Highway. It’s the TDMA high-speed rail system.

( www.homepna.org ) ( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.wi-fi.org ) ( grouper.ieee.org/groups/802/15/ ) ( www.hiperlan2.com ) ( www.magisnetworks.com )


Broadband Plus -- The New Western Show

This year's Western Show, renamed Broadband Plus, once again shrunk in terms of exhibitors and attendees (about 10,000 after last year's approximately 17,000). Last year in our report http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0112.html#link4 ) we said "the glitz is gone" and this year's show was even more focused and technology-based.

That said, we continue to find it a "don't miss" event for catching up with key contacts and getting briefed on what's hot. To give a sense of where cable is in fulfilling the vision of the broadband home, we report on a handful of topics from the large array of things we saw and heard.

In the following sections, we'll cover:

  • Brian Roberts - "The Opportunity of a Lifetime"
  • Pizzaz is out, practical is in
  • The Year of Home Networking
  • Cable Telephony -- A Snapshot
  • Video Telephony and Videoconferencing
  • The End of Analog Cable?

( www.broadbandplus.org )


Broadband Plus: Brian Roberts - "The Opportunity of a Lifetime"

The US cable industry has a new face and its poster child is Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, the largest US cable operator following its acquisition of AT&T Broadband. Roberts was the featured speaker at the opening session of this year's Western Cable Show. In past years you could count on the opening session being full of flash and show biz. Speakers frequently included folks like Ted Turner and John Malone, and they were often entertaining, provocative and irreverant. Brian (and the North American cable industry) seems to warrant a new set of descriptors: low key, thoughtful, bottom-line oriented and articulate.

Although Roberts spoke about the opportunites he sees now that the acquisition of AT&T has been completed, he also acknowledged with strong words "the crisis" of several situations. He applied the term to AT&T Broadband's loss of 525K basic subscribers this year. "Tragic" was the word he used to describe the reality that one third of customers in the sophisticated, hi-tech San Francisco Bay area are not able to get high-speed Internet access via cable. Fixing these situations is clearly "job one", along with getting the new Comcast's margins up.

The message of Roberts speech was more about the need to re-unite the cable industry and present a united focus on satellite, their primary competitor, than on the new technologies which are generally front and center at the Western show. His focus is on competently rolling out what already exists and making the customer experience the best it can be. The order of priorities for services is digital cable, cable modems and VOD. Services like telephony using voice over IP will come later.

Because the foundations of the cable business are in getting consumers to pay for delivery of video content, Roberts declared that "TiVo is the Napster of our future". He said it's incumbent on MSOs to develop a viable pay model for the future, but also acknowledged that "the genie is out of the bottle". Not surprisingly, this quote generated much commentary on the Internet. We found the statement to be strange, since at the same time Roberts uttered those words, his newly acquired AT&T Broadband was offering TiVo with a $50 rebate (see http://attbroadband.tivo.com) and one TiVo model is AT&T branded.

Roberts and his team clearly have a huge job ahead in improving the entire customer experience, accelerating technology development and capital spending (especially for upgrading the AT&T plant) and simultaneously responding to Wall Street pressures for free cash flow. However, with some of the excellent folks on their team, we wouldn't bet against them.

( www.comcast.com ) ( www.attbroadband.com ) ( www.broadbandplus.org ) ( www.tivo.com )


Broadband Plus: Pizzaz is Out, Practical is In

With all the financial performance pressures on cable operators, many seem to be more interested in making investments in technologies that have fairly immediate impact on their financial results, rather than on new applications which may (or may not) bring them lots of future revenue. We saw many fewer whiz-bang technology demos and more suppliers focused on pragmatic issues like managing traffic, provisioning service and supporting customers.


ICTV

The applications being shown at the ICTV booth were emblematic of this shift. ICTV supplies "HeadendWare", a centralized software platform that extends the life of existing digital set-tops by supporting multimedia and two-way real time interactivity on the TV. Several years ago ICTV was demonstrating how their platform would let cable operators offer "the hottest games". At this show, Ed Forman, Senior VP of Marketing, was speaking instead about "fully interactive TV-based customer support" to "lower support costs while increasing customer retention". The focus is no longer on providing applications like "Monster Truck Rally" or "Deadly Tide" but instead on things like animated interactive tutorials and self-provisioning.


Ellacoya Networks

Another area of concern to MSOs is how to manage the various types of traffic that occupy their bandwidth, especially the peer-to-peer file sharing programs which take huge amounts of upstream bandwidth (see http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0208.html#link6 ). Ellacoya Networks is is one of the companies addressing this concern through their tools for monitoring and managing the traffic. Ellacoya's CEO, Ron Sege, demonstrated how their IP Service Control System enables operators to "identify, report on, and limit aggressive applications".

Ellacoya's system allows operators to set up restricted bandwidth pools for specific applications and/or user groups during peak hours. High-usage applications get high throughput when the network is lightly loaded and lower throughput at times of peak demand; bandwidth can be allocated by type of traffic and user. It allows prioritization of on-net versus off-net traffic, limiting of upstream off-net peer-to-peer traffic, and other sophisticated features to reduce the need for additional backbone bandwidth. It also provides information to assist operators in offering tiered and usage-based services. Ellacoya's software is currently in use at several smaller broadband operators such as Millennium Digital Media, and is in trials with major operators.


Netsurfer

Helping customers to set up their broadband account and customize their online experience can take significant MSO assistance. Netsurfer is another company focused on the practical side. Their subscriber connectivity and management software helps decrease the need for a technician at the subscriber’s home, automates provisioning and subscriber activation, provides self-diagnostic tools to cut down helpdesk calls and enables automatic downloads and updates. They have provided their software to more than 500 broadband and dial-up service providers in 14 countries.

At the show we spoke with Netsurfer Chairman Jeff Russell and CEO Steve Walden, one of Dave's colleagues from his days at Prodigy. They told us about Netsurfer's newly disclosed relationship with Cablevision Systems, which was recently announced. Cablevision selected Netsurfer's software tool, branded Net Guide, to address customer needs from PC installation and support to the introduction of new features and services.

( www.ictv.com ) ( www.ellacoya.com ) ( www.mdm.net ) ( www.netsurfer.com ) ( www.optimumonline.com )


Broadband Plus: The Year of Home Networking

Cable operators are clearly planning to expand their service portfolios to include installation and support for home networking. Several cable operators have launched home networking offerings, and many others have been running technical and marketing trials. The CableHome™ initiative issued its first specifications earlier this year, and certification tests are under way on the first generation of products.

So it was no surprise that many vendors were showing home networking products at BroadbandPlus. We talked with vendors about many different "flavors" of home networks - wireless, powerline, phoneline, coax - and many kinds of devices from network adaptors to fully-featured integrated gateways.


HomePlug

The HomePlug Home Networking Alliance had a pavillion with many vendors' products. We especially liked the HomePlug Embedded Module from Cogency Semiconductor. It's a small printed circuit board module containing all the circuitry to add HomePlug to a product such as a Cable/DSL router or gateway, a digital audio player, or a VoIP telephone.

ST&T xNetworks showed us a HomePlug-to-Wi-Fi adapter and a HomePlug-equipped VoIP telephone.

Siemens showed a HomePlug-enabled broadband gateway.


Jungo

At the Jungo Software Technologies suite, we met with Udi Yuhjtman (VP Operations), Yaal Eshel (Director of Marketing) and Tania Elfersy (Marketing Manager) for a demonstration of their OpenRG software. We first met Jungo CEO, Ofer Vilenski, several years ago and were glad to see their progress and a live demonstration running on a product that's about to be released. Jungo has recently announced that their gateway software has been integrated with TI's cable modem/wireless LAN residential gateway design. They also have created a CableHome-based HomePlug reference design for gateways with Conexant.

OpenRG is a comprehensive integrated software solution for a residential gateway. The current version includes a Stateful Packet Inspection firewall (just certified by ICSA Labs®, the relevant standards body), support for CableHome 1.0, UPnP, and most flavors of Voice over IP and voice over DSL. Jungo's software will be incorporated into gateway products which they intend to get to market via two methods: service providers and gateway companies that have retail distribution.

The OpenRG user interface is designed to appear in a web browser on a PC connected to the gateway. Although the interface was well designed and comprehensive, it would be daunting for an end user unfamiliar with home networking. However, Jungo's intent is that in the service provider version, the user interface will be specialized to their needs, and they will remotely manage the gateway and hide some or all of the more sophisticated elements. The interface would also be customized by gateway companies that intend to sell at retail.

We're expecting to test an OpenRG-based gateway product in our home soon and are looking forward to using it.


Conexant

We met with Al Servati (Director Marketing, Cable Modem Products) and Reza Mirkhani (Sr. Product Marketing Manager) of Conexant Systems. Conexant claims to be the long-time leader in chips for dial-up modems, and is now focused exclusively on broadband. They make chips for

  • broadband modems (cable and DSL)
  • digital set-top boxes (video encoders and decoders)
  • residential gateways
  • home networking (Ethernet, HomePlug, HomePNA, and wireless)

Before and during the show, Conexant made a series of announcements which taken together may indicate the future direction for cable operators:

  • a single-chip cable modem supporting DOCSIS 2.0 with backward compatibility with the earlier DOCSIS 1.1 and 1.0;
  • the selection of the Broadway 2.0 CableHome software suite from Ashley Laurent for integration with Conexant cable modem chips; and
  • a reference design for residential and SOHO gateways based on Conexant's network-processor and HomePlug chips and Jungo's OpenRG software suite. The reference design includes support for CableHome.

An OEM vendor can build an integrated device with a next-generation cable modem and residential gateway, incorporating support for CableHome and three types of home networking: Ethernet, USB and HomePlug -- all with three Conexant chips and software from Ashley Laurant and Jungo. During 2003, we expect to see OEMs building these devices for distribution by cable operators as they launch home networking solutions.


Broadcom

We met with Stephen Palm of Broadcom for an update on their products. Broadcom is focused on creating and marketing chips for "high-speed transmission of data, voice and video" and has a wide array of hardware and software technologies.

Stephen showed us their progress with HomePNA running over coaxial cable in the home. While HomePNA was designed for phone lines, Broadcom says it works very well over coax, and Broadcom is providing this technology for a trial with Comcast and Ucentric systems. We noticed a small metal box acting as the interface between the phone plug and coax, and Stephen told us that the manufacturer had contacted Broadcom after reading our earlier article on HomePNA over coax.

Stephen also showed us Broadcom's "54g" technology based on IEEE 802.11g. We discuss this in the "Wireless" article below.

( www.cablehome.org ) ( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.cogency.com ) ( www.stt.com.tw ) ( www.siemens.com ) ( www.jungo.com ) ( www.ti.com ) ( www.icsalabs.com ) ( www.conexant.com ) ( www.ashleylaurent.com ) ( www.broadcom.com )


Broadband Plus: Cable Telephony -- A Snapshot

AT&T and Comcast

Those who can remember back to the last century (1998 to be specific) may recall that shortly after AT&T purchased TCI, they laid out a "three-step plan" for cable telephony. Phase 1 in early to mid 1999 was to deploy circuit switched HFC telephony; Phase 2 starting in late 1999 called for first deployment of packet telephony with local loop bypass bundled with AT&T long distance service; Phase 3 in 2000+ called for end-to-end packet telecom and connecting all LD-IP telephony traffic to the AT&T national packet network. So how is the industry doing with respect to those long-ago goals?

It's little surprise that those overly-aggressive goals were way out of line with the realities that have been achieved. Comcast, which now owns AT&T, has more pressing priorities in 2003 than a full-court rollout of IP telephony. Brian Roberts' opening talk indicated that the 2003 applications focus will be digital cable, cable modems and VOD.

That's not to say that cable telephony is out of the picture. The NCTA reports that as of June 2002, U.S. cable telephony served approximately 2.1 million local voice customers. As of September 30, 2002, AT&T had 1.3 million circuit-switched subscribers and Cox had 651,000.

Comcast had made a conscious decision not to deploy circuit-switched cable telephony, prefering to wait for PacketCable VoIP telephony. Now it needs to figure out how to serve and migrate the AT&T circuit-switched customers, while simultaneously shaking down and starting to roll out PacketCable.

During the week Comcast completed the acquisition of AT&T Broadband, we visited their offices in Philadelphia. Our meeting with Steve Craddock, Senior VP New Media Development, focused on how Comcast's telephony plans are shaping up. 2003 will be a year of limited VoIP residential deployment, with a full rollout in 2004.

"VoIP -- This is No Drill"

Some of what we heard from Steve was later echoed in the session "VoIP -- This is No Drill" he moderated at BroadbandPlus. Cameron Gough of AT&T Broadband (now Comcast) pointed out that the biggest challenges in rolling out VoIP are "integration, interoperability and back office". What Comcast will be doing in 2003 is putting the system into the real world in one specific area and "making the template work right". "VoIP will be the next big thing after 2003."

For cable operators, VoIP telephony means the implementation of PacketCable, which Ted Griggs of Syndeo divided into two eras, BC and AD -- where BC is before CableLabs and AD is after (their) direction. Stan Brovont of Arris pointed out that although there had been talk in the past of cable telephony for second-line service, "primary line, carrier grade" (i.e., life-line service) is now the predominant industry assumption for meeting the bar. The majority of today's cable telephony subscribers are served by Arris equipment for circuit-switched telephony, and Arris is busy trying to work toward maintaining a significant role during the migration to packet switching.

It is interesting to track how PacketCable has developed. The goal was to avoid repeating the telco history with legacy circuit-switching products - these take forever to modify and cost lots once their buyers are locked into a specific vendor's proprietary approach. PacketCable's intent was to build on the increasing adoption and ubiquity of packet technology, leveraging the economies of generic servers providing individual telephony functions such as record keeping, call management, announcements, CALEA, signalling, element management and routing.

Over the past several years, various companies have specialized in creating the multiple separate elements needed for PacketCable telephony. This has created numerous technology options, but put the complex system integration and operations burden on the MSO buyer or a hired integrator. With the entry of vendors like Cedar Point, there seems to be some swing back to integration (this time of the switched IP architecture) in order to simplify the delivery and management of VoIP services.

Judging by the huge attendance at this Broadband Plus session -- all seats were filled and folks lined the walls and sat on the floor -- cable telephony development is very high on the agendas of both the MSOs and the vendors. Responding to an audience question about whether the cable upstream can handle substantial volumes of IP telephony, Craddock said he was confident about using DOCSIS 1.1 today and later moving to 2.0. He also indicated the importance of working on royalty-free codecs, some of which are as good or better than those for which royalties must be paid.

The Impact of SIP Telephony

Another question from the audience was "What about companies like Vonage and Net2Phone as competitors?" In our minds these companies are quite different. Net2Phone is seeking to partner with MSOs: its Cable Technologies Division has developed an outsourced standards-compliant telephony solution for cable operators, using DOCSIS technologies and components from companies such as Arris and Motorola; they are currently in Phase 2 of a trial in Puerto Rico with Liberty Cablevision. Vonage is a competitor: using SIP telephony, it is trying to collect all the telephony revenue and bypass broadband service providers.

PacketCable telephony is supported by a number of vendors but is exclusive to the cable industry. While the PacketCable work proceeded and time passed, many companies proceeded in a different direction for packet telephony: using SIP as the call control protocol. Vonage uses SIP, and Microsoft provides native support in Windows XP and uses SIP in Windows Messenger. In discusions at Broadband Plus, several companies privately questioned PacketCable's market impact versus the many companies including Microsoft lining up behind SIP. The long time it has taken for the cable industry to develop and deploy PacketCable may provide an opening for Vonage and others to use SIP telephony to siphon significant portions of the packet telephone revenue away from operators.

The industry's perspective seems to be that Vonage and others might gain some limited base of those looking for cheap telephony and second line service, but that SIP telephony won't have a large impact without the high quality, reliability, 911 lifeline support and CALEA support in PacketCable. The industry also questions whether such providers would be able to scale to handle large numbers of customers.

QoS also provides an advantage for the MSOs. With services like Vonage, as long is there isn't congestion on the network, you can make perfectly satisfactory phone calls. But MSOs point out that problems can arise when the cable network traffic is heavy. What PacketCable can do that Vonage and others can't -- because SIP is not "network aware" -- is to use QoS to make sure that voice packets are given priority over other packets.

In addition, MSOs could deploy new traffic management tools, like those from Ellacoya, to provide priority to their premium service customers, such as those that buy the MSOs' cable telephony. Customers using SIP telephony over a standard cable data service would not be given priority and would receive poorer service, especially at peak calling times.

Craddock and Gough also pointed out that the business plans of providers like Vonage in the US rely on the so-called enhanced service provider (ESP) exemption for ISPs. This means that they are exempted from payment of certain interstate access charges. Changing this regulatory status might damage or destroy their business economics.

So what is the status of cable telephony? Many of those who have lived through all the industry and organizational changes since the AT&T/TCI acquisition are still at work to create the final deployed result. In 1998, Mark Dzuban was working on AT&T's cable telephony plans; today he is Executive Vice President, Cable Telephony Deployment, at Cedar Point.

In April 1998, Steve Craddock spoke on IP voice over cable technology in a session at the Voice on the Net (VON) conference. Since then he has overseen the development of the PacketCable specifications and organized trials in Union, N.J., Willow Grove, Pa. and Detroit. He and the Comcast team have already installed some of the equipment for residential VoIP phone service which will be introduced in a portion of the Philadelphia market during 2003.

We organized and moderated that VON session, now nearly five years ago. The long time serves as an object lesson in how long it takes from the time new technologies are conceived until they are operationally ready for deployment.

( www.attbroadband.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.ncta.com ) ( www.cox.com ) ( www.packetcable.com ) ( www.syndeocorp.com ) ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.arrisi.com ) ( www.cedarpointcom.com ) ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.net2phone.com ) ( www.libertycablevision.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.ellacoya.com )


Broadband Plus: Video Telephony and Videoconferencing

While cable operators were focused on the "nuts and bolts" of rolling out VoIP, some vendors went against the tide to show video telephony and videoconferencing. We visited some of these vendors in the CableNET area, and noticed them attracting some broadband service providers.

RADVISION has developed technologies for video telephony and videoconferencing. It has been deployed by FastWeb in Milan, Italy, to complement their broadband Internet, VoIP, cable TV and VOD services. The service went live on October 15, 2002 and they are providing video telephony in many key Italian cities, with plans to expand next year.

ECET demonstrated Integration Port, their communications and collaboration software system which supports video, voice, instant messaging, whiteboard and document authoring. Services are presented to the user through a single application run from the user's desktop computer. ECET's systems have previously been targeted to the business environment, but the company is adapting it to address consumer needs.

InnoMedia displayed their new IP VideoPhone. Their MTA 3368 supports all IP based communications protocols including SIP, MGCP and H.323. It can deliver real-time high quality video images supporting bandwidth as high as 768 kbps. The unit has a 4" TFT Color LCD and uses an embedded Linux platform.

Equator Technologies, which produces system-on-a-chip processors, announced a "Home Video Conferencing Reference Design Kit" featuring their processor and platform with software from videoconferencing provider VCON.

( www.cablenet.org ) ( www.radvision.com ) ( www.fastweb.it ) ( www.ecet.com ) ( www.innomedia.com ) ( www.equator.com )


Broadband Plus: The End of Analog Cable?

We spoke on "All-digital Networks" in a session titled "They're Just Over the Horizon: Emerging Technologies, Friend or Foe?" Our speech talked about the emergence of all-digital networks and suggested that cable operators should start thinking about a future without analog television.

We discussed the emergence of all-digital networks - where all services including video are carried in digital formats, usually with IP over Ethernet over fiber. As everything goes digital, these networks are being deployed in Europe and Asia. In the United States, a few are being deployed as "community networks" in areas unserved or "underserved" by incumbent broadband providers.

We observed that cable systems, even those under construction today, are optimized for analog television, with 6 MHz channelization and and highly aymmetric "low split" configuration. We suggested that cable operators consider the timing and benefits of an "all digital" approach based on their hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) cable infrastructure.

Please see our talk at ( www.BroadbandHomeCentral.com/presentations/BBP 2002.ppt ).


"'Tis the Season to Go Wireless"

Wireless has been in the news the past few months and a full-page ad with this headline in the Sunday New York Times (12/15/2002) shows how mainsteam it has become. The ad, by Intersil and Linksys, promised "rebates on seven of our most popular networking products" -- all 802.11b wireless devices: routers, Ethernet bridges, PC cards and more. Wireless PC cards sell for less than $60 after rebate. A wireless router - including a cable/DSL router, wireless access point and 4-port Ethernet switch - costs $100 after rebate. Not long ago, the access point alone cost more than $500.

Now that wireless has reached the mass market, we thought it would be worth an update on some of the changes taking place.


IEEE 802.11g Products Coming to Market

IEEE 802.11g is the latest version of the 802.11 family of standards. It operates at speeds up to 54 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band. Thus it combines the speed of 802.11a with the frequency band of 802.11b.

While the .11g standard won't be ratified until 2003, products based on it are starting to appear in the market. At the BroadbandPlus show, Broadcom showed us their "54g" chip (so-called because 802.11g isn't yet "official") and both Netgear and Linksys talked about products about to appear on the market. (The Linksys website shows a "Wireless-G" router that will be available at the end of this month.)

With three different versions of 802.11 technology, it's going to be difficult for consumers to decide what to buy:

  • We are already seeing single-mode 802.11a and 11b, and dual-mode 11a/11b products. We will soon see dual-mode 11g/11b and tri-mode 11a/11b/11g products.
  • The Wi-Fi Alliance has decided to use "Wi-Fi" for all 802.11 products and differentiate between them in the fine print on the box.
  • 802.11a and .11g promise much higher speeds: the 54 Mbps claimed by both will probably provide about 30 Mbps -- still six times the realistic 5 Mbps speed of 11b.
  • 802.11a runs in the 5 GHz band, which promises both more usable channels and less interference from other uses.
  • 11a is expected to have less range than 11g with more trouble transmitting through the walls of a house.
  • A dual mode 11a/11b product requires two radios (one each for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) while a dual-mode 11b/11g unit requires only one radio for 2.4 GHz.
  • Many vendors have told us that 11g products will be priced only slightly above 11b, while 11a products sell now at two to three times the price of 11b.

We think 11a may prove to be the winner in the enterprise market, where the additional channels are an important consideration.

But we think 11g will win in the home, especially if the pricepoint of dual-mode 11g/11b products quickly reaches the current pricepoints of 11b. That would provide an easy migration path for the rapdily growing installed base of 11b products, in much the same way as 10/100 Ethernet equipment eased that migration.

We plan to test and report on 11g products early in 2003.


Built-in Wi-Fi

We just bought an IBM X30 portable with built-in Wi-Fi. The antenna is built into the cover. The 802.11b functionality is on a tiny "Mini-PCI card" that plugs in under the keyboard, leaving the PC Card (PCMCIA) and Compact Flash (CF) slots available for other devices.

We've already used Wi-Fi when we're on the road and expect to use it more now we have it built into our main road computer.

We're glad that Wi-Fi is packaged on an interchangeable Mini-PCI card. As we reported above, 802.11g products are already appearing on the market, and we anticipate that IBM will offer a card with 802.11b/11g some time in 2003. At that time, we'll remove the 802.11b card and swap it for a new one.


Hot Spots - Boingo and Cometa Networks

We expect that most people have heard of "hot spots" - places with a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet. They are increasingly mentioned in the popular press. Some are free (such as Bryant Park in New York City), others have a fee. Several companies are now trying to simplify finding, connecting to, and paying for the use of hot spots.

Boingo

Boingo was one of the first companies trying to aggregate hotspots. David Hagan, the President of Boingo, spoke in our session at BroadbandPlus. In his speech, he estimated that there were over a million potential locations for hot spots, including gas stations, restaurants and retailers. Boingo has so far signed up 900 locations -- including hotels, coffee shops and free networks -- and is negotiating with many more. (A quick search on the Web showed that Boingo was available in three nearby hotels and a deli.) They have a variety of payment plans, ranging from an "As-You-Go" plan at $7.95 per 24-hour "connect day" to an unlimited plan at $49.95 a month.

Cometa Networks

Early this month, AT&T, Intel and IBM announced that they were forming Cometa Networks, a new venture to offer Wi-Fi services to telecommunications companies and ISPs for resale to their customers. One of the IBM executives says the plan is "to offer a single sign-on, single authentication, seamless-roaming nationwide network." Customers would not sign up for a new accounts, but rather would use an existing account with a telecommunications provider, cable operator or ISP.

The firm says it will have "ubiquitous coverage in the US" by the end of 2004 and expects to deploy 20,000 hotspot sites. AT&T will provide network infrastructure and management, while IBM will provide wireless site installations and back-office systems.

We think this announcement will encourage broadband service providers to decide how to leverage the growing popularity of Wi-Fi. For smaller operators, it seems an easy decision to join Boingo, Cometa or one of the other aggregators. Larger operators face a more difficult decision: whether to join one of the aggregators and have a widely available service to which they can affix their brand, or whether to develop and market a differentiated service.

We are a little concerned, however. The recent outburst of enthusiasm for Wi-Fi sure seems a lot like the enthusiasm for "dot coms" a short time ago. We wonder whether the willingness to pay for hot spots isn't limited. In the long run the question is whether this is really a stand-alone business or an incremental service to be provided by mobile telephone and broadband service providers. Are hot-spots today's version of payphones, and if so, how long will they be around?

( www.intersil.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.ibm.com ) ( www.boingo.com ) ( www.cometanetworks.com )

For background information on wireless technologies and networking, please see our Links and Resources at ( www.BroadbandHomeCentral.com/resources_homenet.html#wireless )


ArrayComm -- Another Approach to Ubiquitous Wireless

During our trip to the West Coast, we stopped by to visit with ArrayComm. In San Jose, we met with Nitin Shah (Chief Strategy Officer), Stephanie Schweighofer-Jones (Vice President, Corporate Marketing), Alan Norman (Vice President, Business Development) and Katie Juran (Director of Corporate Communications). ArrayComm's core expertise is adaptive antennas; their IntelliCell® antenna technology is deployed by wireless telecommucations carriers around the world on more than 100,000 base stations. They have now developed a wireless high-speed access technology and are about to start deploying a full system.

i-BURST™ is a wireless broadband access system. Unlike Wi-Fi, which is limited to about 100 meters, i-BURST can operate over 5 km or so -- comparable to a mobile telephone. It provides 1 Mbps or more per user -- comparable to fixed-wire DSL or cable modem service. It is a "non-line-of-sight" technology, so it can work through walls and trees. Various names have been used to describe this kind of technology - we call it "Broadband Cellular Data" or BCD.

Not long after we arrived at their offices, ArrayComm said they would like to show us a demo -- whereupon they took us out to the parking lot. While driving in a large van around their part of San Jose, they used a portable PC to show us web browsing, streaming video, and IP video telephony - all running over i-BURST from one of their antennas on top of their building to an antenna in the van. It was a memorable demo!

ArrayComm claims that their "smart antenna" technology is far more efficient in the use of wireless spectrum compared with conventional 3G technologies. Nitin claimed a 400x improvement in spectral efficiency -- 400 times as many users in the same spectrum.

ArrayComm does not build equipment. Rather, it licenses its technologies to equipment manufacturers including Kyocera in Japan and LG Electronics in Korea. It forms partnerships with companies such as CommWorks, a leading provider of data communications equipment to telecommunications providers.

To test its i-BURST system in live operation, ArrayComm purchased spectrum in Australia and created a subsidiary, CKW Wireless. Unlike conventional 3G systems, which require "paired spectrum" (two distinct frequencies for transmit and receive), i-BURST operates in "unpaired spectrum" with a single frequency. ArrayComm says it was able to purchase 5 MHz of unpaired spectrum at a much lower cost than paired spectrum.

ArrayComm has now organized a consortium to help with the Australian roll-out. In addition to CKW Wireless, the consortium includes CommWorks, Vodafone Australia, OzEmail (a leading ISP) and Crown Castle (the leading operator of shared wireless infrastructure). For its initial deployment in Sydney, the consortium is building ten cell sites to cover 150 square kilometers (60 square miles). The operational trial has begun, and full commercial service is expected by July 2003.

We are carefully watching ArrayComm and other companies with innovative "broadband cellular data" technologies. These provide an alternative to cable and DSL for fixed broadband services, and appear far superior to 3G for mobile broadband.

The promise of "anywhere any time" broadband at a flat rate with speeds of 1 Mbps sure appeals to us, and we suspect will appeal to many people. Why would I look for a hot spot and pay extra to use service there when I can get broadband everywhere?

( www.arraycomm.com ) ( global.kyocera.com ) ( www.lge.com ) ( www.commworks.com ) ( www.vodafone.com.au ) ( www.ozemail.com.au ) ( www.crowncastle.com )


Broadcom -- Next-Generation Video Compression

We visited Broadcom to meet with Sandy MacInnis, Technical Director, Digital Video Technology. In a telephone conversation several months ago, Sandy filled us in on why a new video compression standard is needed and what the standard promises. He said it was hard to describe the differences over the phone and invited us to see some demonstrations. Although the bulk of our conversation was technical, it was refreshing that Sandy's bottom line about his work is "what matters in the end is what real viewers perceive".

MPEG-2 is the most widely-used standard for broadcast-quality digital video - it is used by nearly all digital video broadcasting over satellite and cable, on DVDs, and for high-definition (HD) TV. The video compression/decompression algorithm or "codec" is a major component of MPEG-2. By today's standards, this video codec is fairly inefficient, requiring 3 to 6 Mbps for standard-definition (SD) TV and about 20 Mbps for HD. The development work was done in the 1980s and the standard was approved nearly a decade ago; advances in compression algorithms and semiconductors have produced more efficient compression algorithms requiring more processing power.


AVC versus MPEG-4

What will probably become the standard for the next decade or so goes under many different names: AVC, H.26L, H.264, JVT, Part 10. This comes from the many organizations working on the specifications: ISO/IEC calls it MPEG-4 AVC (for "advanced video coding" and shortened to AVC), while ITU-T calls it H.264 (formerly H.24L). It is also referred to as "JVT" for the "joint video team" that developed it. These global standards bodies are working together to define the new standard, which will formally become ITU-T H.264 and ISO/IEC MPEG-4 Part 10. The technical specifications will be completed soon and the standard is expected to be ratified during 2003. Products will come to market over the next few years.

The MPEG-4 standards were ratified some time ago; like MPEG-2, they cover many things besides video compression. The MPEG-4 video codec improves on MPEG-2 by a factor of two, and many people had thought that it would replace MPEG-2 in new products. But the consensus now seems to be that AVC -- with an additional 1.5X improvement -- will be used instead.

Sports scenes are difficult to compress well, and are often used to compare video codecs. Sandy said that AVC produces very good results at 1 Mbps for SD and at less than 6 Mbps for HD - improvements of 3X over MPEG-2. We spent a while with him looking at football videos (American football, that is) and found it very hard to see much difference between the various codecs. Only by looking very carefully could we see differences in the texture of the grass or the detail of a player's hair in a closeup.


Next-Generation Digital Set-Top Boxes

The critical question is which video codec will be built into tomorrow's digital set-top boxes. These boxes are used to receive subscription video programming, whether tranmitted over cable or over a satellite. Unlike PCs, digital set-tops are usually fixed in their functions: while video codecs like MPEG-2 and RealVideo can be downloaded to operate as part of the software in today's PCs, codecs are "hard wired" in a digital set-top. Millions of digital set-tops are in use all over the world -- and virtually every one built to date is based on MPEG-2.

HD is driving subscription video service providers to a decision on new codecs. With the transition under way to HD, with each HD channel occupying four to six times the bandwidth of an SD channel, and with a fixed amount of satellite and cable bandwidth, service providers must decide whether to sharply reduce the number of channels or to face the difficult decision of defining a new generation of set-tops.

While HD digital set-tops based on MPEG-2 have been available for a year or so, the total installed base is still very small. With the AVC/JVT/H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 standard headed for ratification, we expect service providers will soon choose it as a key component of the digital set-tops to be deployed over the next decade.

( www.broadcom.com )


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

A thank you to the many readers who email us to share their knowledge and help us keep up with the constant developments affecting the broadband home. Since our next report will be after the turn of the year, we want to wish all of you a happy, healthy New Year -- and a great one for broadband too! Here are a few recent email excerpts from people immersed in this industry.

We got a note from John Barr, on his way to Korea for the International Workshop on Smart Homes. He wrote that "WiMedia is moving forward. We just got the 802.15.3 draft standard into sponsor ballot". John is Director, Standards Realization at Motorola and is a valuable source in keeping us updated on the status of various industry standards. He serves as President, Open Services Gateway Initiative; Vice President, WiMedia Alliance; and Chairman, IEEE 802.15.3 TG.

( www.motorola.com ) ( www.osgi.org ) ( www.WiMedia.org ) ( www.ieee802.org/15 )

We also got a note from Jean-Charles Point, who has spoken in several conference panels we've organized. He said "I was recently asked by the European commission to prepare a summary on the ongoing R&D project in the networked audio-visual content domain (turning around DVB, MHP, MPEG4, MPEG21 domains, and also about new audio-visual concepts like 3D reconstructions or new user interfaces). I rapidly constructed a site to place the draft document in it; you just have to follow http://www.jcp-consult.com -> report on IST programs on audio - visual content -> report on European R&D projects, and here you go. The report will be published shortly on the offical EEC web site, but in the mean time I am interested that people go to my site to have a look at it. So if you can mention it in your newsletter, I am very interested!"

We're glad to mention it but must confess we have not had time to go thru it yet: too much time on the road and writing newsletters, we fear.

Jack Fijolek of CommWorks wrote to say "I read in your latest report about testing you are starting of SIP phones and providers (like Vonage), who are selling voice services over cable broadband today. I have been testing SIP devices over cable plant for over 2 years and have a wealth of information about what works and what doesn't. I spoke at SIP 2002 in Paris this year and got the distinct impression that mainstream SIP will be the path for VoIP in Europe also."

Since we and Jack were going to the Western Show, we had the opportunity to meet him and start learning from what he has already done. It's always great to hear from people with expertise in areas we are investigating. Thanks Jack!

Tanner Morley from Victoria BC wrote "The first round of the Candian Rural Broadband Initiative is just getting under way. This unique opportunity being backed by the Canadian Government is a part of their broader plan to make broadband available to every Canadian by 2005. Our company, ISP Internet Server Professionals Ltd, has put together an offering targeted at people wanting to take advantage of the second round of the Rural Broadband Initiative. Our new Neighbourhood ISP Platform makes it possible for small ISPs in rural communities to thrive even in the midst of all the giant national ISPs. " ( www.ispltd.com )


Broadband Home Labs - Tests In Progress

Continuing our in-home evaluations of emerging technologies, we now have four tests in progress:

  • HomePlug: We're completing our tests of the newest HomePlug adapters from ST&T.
  • SIP Phones: We're testing three kinds of SIP telephones for the broadband home: a stand-alone Ethernet-based SIP phone from snom technology AG; a low-cost phone service from Vonage based on Cisco SIP-to-analog technology; and Windows Messenger, which provides SIP telephony on a PC. With the latter, we expect to use handset technology from Eutectics. If you would like to participate in our testing, please visit http://www.BroadbandHomeCentral.com/bbhl/communications.html for more information.
  • Wi-Fi: We're testing Wi-Fi access points and PC Cards in our home the same way we tested HomePlug earlier this year. We'll measure range and speed for both 802.11b and the new 802.11a versions of Wi-Fi. We're using AirMagnet Laptop to make precise measurements. In addition to our own house, we're also running tests at our daughter's house in California.
  • TiVo: We've just received a TiVo Series2 DVR for in-home testing.

We'll share what we've learned in an upcoming issue.

( www.stt.com.tw ) ( www.snomag.de ) ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.eutecticsinc.com ) ( www.airmagnet.com ) ( www.tivo.com )


Website Changes

We added a summary of each article to the Table of Contents of this report on our website.

We revised the sections on structured cabling in our "Links and Resources" section. We created a separate page describing current user choices for home networking, and updated the page describing how to install structured cabling.

We added pages to the Broadband Home Labs section describing tests in process.