IN THIS ISSUE:
Spain Plugs Into Broadband
Connected by Design -
"Share Your Broadband" -
"Whole Home" Networking over Coax -
Your Voice -
Killko Caballero has joined RADVISION as its senior VP of enterprise strategy. Mr. Caballero was previously the CEO and president of First Virtual Communications, after it acquired CUseeMe. ( www.radvision.com )
Rick Cluthe has joined ICTV as Managing Director, Europe. He was previously with DST Innovis. ( www.ictv.com )
Frank Gine has been appointed VP of Sales and Marketing at Enhanced Telecommunications, Inc. (ETI). He was previously at Convergys Corporation. ( www.etisoftware.com )
Richard Hornstein was named CFO of OpenTV. Hornstein was previously with Golden Gate Capital. ( www.opentv.com )
Martin Wahl has joined Gotuit Media as director of engineering. Wahl was previously with Broadbus Technologies. ( www.gotuit.com )
Clint Wheelock has been appointed of Director of Wireless Research at In-Stat/MDR. Mr. Wheelock was previously with Qwest Wireless. ( www.instat.com )
Company News --Acquisitions
Broadband Central (no relation) which provides high-speed outdoor wireless infrastructure to service providers on a franchise basis, has been acquired by three entities; the new owners include FRC Component Products Inc. and Accelerated Communications Corp. FRC additionally formed Broadband Central USA as part of the ownership structure. ( www.broadbandcentral.us )
CNET Networks is buying online music distributor MP3.com from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum. CNET plans to relaunch the site next year as a place for information about music. ( www.cnet.com ) ( www.mp3.com ) ( www.vivendiuniversal.com )
Conexant Systems and GlobespanVirata are merging, in a transaction valued at approximately $969 million. Current Conexant shareholders will own about 62.75 percent of the combined company, which will retain the Conexant name. ( www.conexant.com ) ( www.virata.com )
A Newbridge Capital-AIG consortium has paid $500 Million to purchase new shares of Hanaro Telecom, making it the major shareholder in the Korean broadband service provider. ( www.newbridgecapital.com )( www.aig.com )( www.hanaro.com/eng )
Yahoo! Europe has acquired dotmusic.com from BT Group. Financial terms of the deal, which also included the purchase of GamesDomain.co.uk, were not disclosed. ( www.yahoo.com ) ( www.dotmusic.com ) ( www.bt.com )
8x8 has raised $5.2 million through stock private placement. ( www.8x8.com )
Entone Technologies has secured $16 Million in a Series B financing round. ( www.entone.com )
Entropic Communications has raised $29 million in Series B financing. ( www.entropic-communications.com )
Myrio has secured $9M in additional funding. ( www.myrio.com )
USA Broadband closed a $4 million round of financing from an undisclosed private investor.
Appairent Technologies and Pulse~LINK have agreed to jointly develop a Media Access Control layer (MAC) for Ultra Wideband Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) communications. [See the article in this issue.] ( www.appairent.com ) ( www.pulselink.net )
Broadstream Communications and SkyStream Networks announced an agreement to offer an outsourced, multichannel video service targeted to the telephone company market. It allows independent telcos to quickly roll out video services by outsourcing the head-end infrastructure and content provisioning. Skystream's video delivery platform encodes digital video in ASP and H.264 MPEG-4 formats in the same unit. The service will be available in the 1Q2004. ( www.broadstream.tv ) ( www.skystream.com )
Comcast has entered the win-back and price competition fray in the U.S, by offering DSL customers in some of its franchise areas cable broadband service for 12 months at $19.95 a month. The price subsequently reverts back to the normal levels. ( www.comcast.com )
Freeview digital terrestrial service in the U.K. celebrated its first complete year of operation, announcing 2 million UK homes now have the service. Freeview is marketed by DTV Services Ltd, a company run by its shareholders: the BBC, Crown Castle International and BSkyB. Although prices on integrated digital TV sets are dropping, many consumers have chosen to purchase the less expensive digital adapters for £80-100. ( www.freeview.co.uk )
Matav Cable Systems Media Ltd. is partnering with other Israeli cable MSOs and their subsidiaries in order to receive a license from the Israeli Ministry of Communications to supply fixed cable telephony services in Israel. ( www.matav.co.il )
Minerva Networks, Kasenna and Amino Communications announced their NetVision platform for delivering IP television over telephone networks. ( www.minervanetworks.com ) ( www.kasenna.com ) ( www.aminocom.com )
Pinnacle Systems has introduced its ShowCenter, one of the new class of products sometimes called digital media adapters, for cataloging and showing the media assets from the homes' networked computers on TV and audio systems. ( www.pinnaclesys.com )
ProSyst Software AG announced at the OSGi World Congress that their mBedded Server Smart Home Edition has been selected by Motorola Broadband Communications as the operating platform for an upcoming line of Motorola advanced residential gateway products. ( www.prosyst.com ) ( www.motorola.com/broadband )
RealNetworks announced it had more than a quarter million subscribers to its digital music services at the end of the 3Q03; it also announced that Comcast has agreed to distribute and market its Rhapsody music service and run national TV ads promoting the service. Separately, RealNetworks is working with Intel to help home stereos and other non-PC devices access the Rhapsody service over home networks; Rockford's Omnifi is the first device supporting this. ( www.realnetworks.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.omnifimedia.com )
Thomson announced their new video delivery platform called Cobra at the TelcoTV conference. It supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, Windows Media 9 Series, and MPEG-4 Part 10 (JVT) compression technologies. Thomson collaborated with Intel, Microsoft TV and Alcatel to create the platform. ( www.thomson.net/EN/home ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.microsoft.com/tv ) ( www.alcatel.com )
Ucentric Systems released Whole Home Media 1.0, a software application designed to be integrated into set-top boxes and consumer electronic devices. It will allow consumers to easily access and play their digital music collection in any room in their home through a user-friendly interface that can be accessed from any screen, including a TV, PC and PDA. ( www.ucentric.com )
ViXS Systems has launched a new chipset which provides QoS for multiple video streams. The XCode II chipset is aimed at DVD-Rs with on-board hard drives and standalone devices such as PCs, digital video recorders and LCD displays. The chip's wireless capabilities can add portability to LCD sets. ( www.vixs.com )
Volo Communications launched a new wholesale IP telephony service targeted to ISPs, telecom carriers, CLECs and DSL and cable modem service providers. The offering is based on a softswitch from Volo's parent company, Caerus Inc. ( www.volocommunications.com )
The Wireless Technology Forum (WTF) has been founded by BellSouth, Cingular, Cisco Systems, Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Proxim and Sellera. Its goal is to increase communications of various stakeholders in the wireless marketplace. Its first meeting was sponsored by Motorola on November 13. ( www.wirelesstechnologyforum.com ) ( www.bellsouth.com ) ( www.cingular.com ) ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.nokia.com ) ( www.proxim.com ) ( www.sellera.com )
Briefly Noted Countries:
Korea -- Given the leading position that Korea has achieved in broadband penetration, it's worth noting when their government commits to a related project with similar goals. The Korea Times reported that Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) said they are beginning infrastructure construction for home networking services in major cities, after securing the budget for construction last year. The article quoted ministry official Choi Woo-hyuk as saying "The MIC plans to launch pilot home networking services in 10 million households in 2007. It is scheduled to select two consortia, including broadcasting firms, construction firms and home appliance makers to build the infrastructure and manufacture related devices in November. South Korea intends to garner 15 percent of the home networking market by 2012." ( times.hankooki.com ) ( www.mic.go.kr/eng/index.jsp )
Subsequently the Korea Times announced that KT Corp. has signed agreements with 16 companies and local governments to form a consortium to launch pilot digital home networking services. The consortium members include Samsung, KTF, KT Hitel, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Woori Bank, Hana Bank, Daelim Industrial, and broadcasting firms including KBS, EBS and Skylife. Seoul National University Hospital and Kwangju and Taegu city governments also participated in the consortium. KT said that the consortium will apply for government approval to begin test services and that other firms may soon join its consortium. ( www.kt.co.kr/new_kt/eng/index.jsp )
U.S. -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an order that by July 1, 2005, every product sold in the U.S. which can receive either DTV broadcasts or DTV streams must be able to recognize an ATSC DTV "broadcast flag". This is intended to protect high-value content from unauthorized copying and re-distribution. Consumer advocates and others are concerned that the regulation could force consumers to buy new equipment and lead to regulation of how computers are built. ( www.fcc.gov )
Reporting on record third quarter US broadband growth, Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG) results showed that:
Personal Video Recorders are at the "tipping point":
In our (admittedly New York-centered) view, PVRs are at that magical point after which there is an increasing rush to adopt the technology (and integrate it into various devices). Why do we think this is true?
"Planet Broadband" by Rouzbeh Yassini:
Just in time for the upcoming holiday season, there's a new book for that friend or family member who looks strangely at you and says "tell me again what this broadband stuff is all about". Cable modem pioneer Rouzbeh Yassini of YAS Broadband Ventures, along with Leslie Ellis, Roger Brown and Stewart Schley, provide a clear, understandable description of what broadband is, how it's delivered, what it does for people today and may do tomorrow. Most critically, they explain why it matters. ( www.yas.com )
Note from the Editors: During our trip to Spain in May, we had the opportunity to meet with Antonio Gomez, Jaime Estalella and Steve McCarthy from Tecnocom, a Madrid-based systems integrator and PLC technology pioneer. We are pleased to continue our series of guest articles by broadband experts with this contribution from Tecnocom, which has been engineering PLC networks for more than two years and participated in extensive trials of voice and data transmission over the electrical grid in Spain, Portugal, Latin America and China. Their projects in Spain have included both the Zaragoza pilot and the deployment of Iberdrola’s commercial offering.
Antonio Gomez joined Tecnocom in 2001 as Managing Director for the Broadband Technologies Business Unit. Throughout his twenty-year professional career he has constantly been involved in cutting-edge technologies. Antonio worked with IBM from 1982 to 1993 in the Development, Product Management and Technical Support groups in Spain, France, the Netherlands and the USA. In 1993 Antonio joined Cisco Systems Europe as Technical Consultant, in 1998, he became General Manager for Cisco's Services Division for Spain, Portugal and Africa and in 2000 he became Operations Director for Cisco Systems’ EMEA Services Division for Emerging Service Providers. Antonio holds a BSEE from Rotterdam University.
Advances in Power Line Communications (PLC) technology allow for high-speed, broadband communications over medium and low voltage lines, providing unprecedented market opportunities for utility companies. Early in October, 2003, the Spanish Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT (http://www.cmt.es)) granted Endesa (http://www.endesa.com), Iberdrola (http://www.iberdrola.es/webcorp/wcorp/en) and Union Fenosa (http://www.unionfenosa.com), the country’s three main electric companies, licenses to offer voice and data services over their grids. Using PLC technology, these companies have begun bundling packages to offer a serious alternative for broadband services to their customers in Spain. The fundamental importance of PLC is its dual role as a competitively-priced broadband alternative and as a new driver in the digitalization process of the country.
General positioning of electric utilities in Spain
PLC allows electric companies the possibility to increase revenues in an otherwise stagnant market, using their existing fixed assets. The electricity sector is in the midst of a liberalization process which will lead to increased competition and threats to margins. To improve their positions, electric companies are seeking to diversify and enter into new market opportunities. PLC offers the opportunity for these companies to diversity their product range without large infrastructure investments. By turning their electric grids into telecommunications networks, electric companies can generate incremental revenue and improve the financial yield of their transport networks and bolster customer loyalty in their increasingly competitive markets.
For the moment, the Spanish electric companies have chosen the strategy of becoming PLC providers for other telecommunications operators, without entering directly into public service. These power companies provide the last mile access infrastructure and offer commercial services through the telecommunications operators in which they are stockholders. The table Electric Company Ownership of Telecom Operators (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/0311tecnocom1.html#ownership) shows the relationships between the electric companies and the telecommunications operators they are using to promote broadband.
Endesa and Fenosa are both negotiating collaboration with Auna (http://www.aunacable.es) to commercially launch voice and data services over the electrical grid and Iberdrola has already launched broadband Internet services through its telecommunications operator Neo-Sky (http://www.neo.es).
In the case of Endesa, Spain’s largest electric company, voice and broadband access is being offered in Zaragoza through company affiliate "Endesa Net Factory" and Auna, the country’s second telecom operator. Endesa’s commercial offering comes on the heels of a massive successful pilot in the city of Zaragoza. This pilot, which began during the first part of 2002, helped to confirm the viability of PLC technology. The commercial offering designed by Auna includes telephone service and Internet access at speeds of 128, 300 and 600 Kbps. It also includes a free first month and sign-up along with a telephone terminal.
PLC services in Zaragoza will take advantage of the 20,000 home network that was rolled out for the pilot. A second phase is planed for January, 2004 which will see commercial launch of PLC services in Barcelona.
Union Fenosa has also conducted pilots in Madrid and some outlying suburbs. A spokesman for Fenosa has told Reuters that the company is in preliminary conversations with Auna about utilizing Fenosa’s electrical grid to offer PLC services, but emphasized that the exact date (which is believed to be first quarter 2004) has not been set.
The present model, in which the electric company provides the infrastructure and the telecom operator markets the telecom services to the end users, could change in the future. The utility companies can easily obtain the type of license needed to “go it alone”. For the moment, these utilities seem to be playing it safe by making their networks available to their commercial partners who already have experience marketing advanced telecommunications services to end users.
However they choose to move forward, the utilities have to get moving as the CMT has determined that these companies must offer service to at least 40% of their customers prior to October, 2005.
In addition to the operator licenses granted by the CMT, the three utility companies have also received approval from Spain’s National Energy Commission (CNE (http://www.cne.es/ingles)). The only requirements of this Commission are that telecommunications services are marketed by affiliate companies, that separate bookkeeping is maintained and the corporate name of the utility company is not used in the service offering.
Major roles of PLC in Spain
The major roles of PLC in Spain are as a competitive alternative to ADSL and as a potential method of bridging the digital divide. This divide is illustrated by the fact that the highly-populated cities of Madrid and Barcelona currently account for 2 of every 5 broadband connections, whereas the smaller cities and towns have generally not yet experienced the value-added services that higher speed Internet offers.
The number of ADSL high speed internet connections in Spain is just over a million and a half as of the end of October, 2003. At 45 euros/month, ADSL in Spain is the most expensive and slowest in Europe, and is prohibitively expensive for many users. Inflated costs are being blamed on high last-mile access fees which are almost exclusively the domain of Spain’s ex-monopoly telecom operator Telefónica.
PLC’s potential is attributed to the fact that there are three times the number of electricity users as there are fixed telephone service users in Spain, according to a study from the University of Oviedo (http://www.it.uniovi.es). From a purely economic standpoint, this potential is debatable, since only those users with a fixed telephone line connection are “worth the trouble” in economic terms of serving with advanced telecommunications services. The table Broadband Speeds and Costs (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/0311tecnocom1.html#speeds) demonstrates PLC’s role as a possible alternative from a social impact point of view for those regions which lack telecommunications infrastructure, but do have an electrical infrastructure.
PLC technology is seen as a new driver in the digitalization process in Spain because Internet access via power lines is fully competitive with other options currently available on the market and because better pricing will help to increase the demand for broadband access. Additional advantages of PLC from the users perspective include symmetrical sending and receiving speeds which better address today’s user patterns and a greater capacity and potential for varied in-home applications, since any power socket is able to connect to the Internet.
Just two weeks following Commission approval, Iberdrola, Spain’s second electric company, was able to start making broadband Internet access commercially available. Iberdrola’s offering is initially directed at 30,000 inhabitants in two densely-populated districts in the north of Madrid. It will be extended throughout the city according to demand. Acknowleding Tecnocom’s contribution to the quick rollout, its Technical Assistance Center Manager, Humberto Encinas, who lives within the coverage area, was Iberdrola’s first paying customer for PLC Internet access.
Iberdrola is marketing two types of services, under the slogan “Internet at the Speed of Light”:
These services include initial connection, installation and a free first month of service plus five email accounts of 25Mb, 10Mb personal web page and maintenance of previously existing email accounts. Iberdrola will offer similar flat-rate services gradually expanding into other cities around Spain.
Tecnocom’s critical role in making Iberdrola’s service commercially available included planning, network design, support and operations services, technical training and network optimization.
Iberdrola’s commercial PLC network contains technology and equipment based on the DS2 (http://www.ds2.es) chipset and manufactured by the Japanese firm Toyocom (http://www.toyocom.co.jp/english). Tecnocom is a 'Global Preferred Partner' of Valencia-based DS2, leader in the development of high performance, low cost PLC chipsets and software.
DS2 is a fabless silicon design house and a leading supplier of silicon and software for PLC. The data rate of the DS2 chipsets is currently up to 45 Mbps (27 Mbps downstream and 18 Mbps upstream). 2 or 3 chips can be used in parallel to reach speeds up to 135 Mbps; new chipsets are in the works that will reach speeds of up to 100 Mbps.
DS2 chipsets are incorporated into nodes to provide backbone communications over the medium-voltage grid; into repeaters in the low-voltage access network; into gateways that connect buildings to the access network; and into CPE devices such as modems and set-top boxes that plug into wall sockets in people's homes.
The three main utility companies in Spain have used various PLC chipset providers for their pilot tests:
PLC is the third broadband access system available in Spain, after ADSL and cable. The news of its commercial launch has created great expectations because of its attractive pricing and speed, as compared with current Spanish ADSL offers.
For the moment, rollouts are limited to geographical areas covered under initial pilot test areas. Depending upon take-up of the offer, PLC will gradually be offered throughout the major cities in Spain. Massive acceptance of the technology will allow for equipment pricing to drop, and the electric companies' business models for offering PLC services will be justified.
Perhaps for Spain and beyond, the most important long-term aspect of PLC is not better pricing and higher symmetrical transmission speeds, but the possibility for broadband services to be offered in areas where ADSL and cable services are not offered. As such, PLC will represent a giant step in the digitalization process of Spain and around the world.
( www.tecnocom.biz )
Broadband on Tap
A recent article in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk) talked about the British government's drive to increase broadband connectivity in order to help make the UK more competitive on the world stage. It then asked the question, "But what exactly is broadband?" Its answer? "Put simply, if the web was water, broadband would be turning on a tap in your kitchen whereas narrowband would be walking to and from a well collecting water in a pint glass." Making broadband as easy as water from the kitchen tap is the goal for broadband in the future.
That's a great way of stating some of the themes we've often sounded during the three and a half years we’ve been writing this newsletter. These themes include:
...much like water from the kitchen tap.
The industry has made considerable progress toward these goals, but still has a long way to go. If anyone hasn’t experienced the gap first hand, please read some of the emails we received echoing the frustrations with home networking we expressed last month -- they're in the article "Reader Stories on Home Networking Realities" elsewhere in this issue.
Despite the shortcomings, much has happened to simplify creating a broadband home since we started on ours in 1996. At that point we had to engineer our own structured wiring layout--because standard residential packages had yet to come to market--and we had to use ISDN because neither cable modem nor DSL service was yet available in our community.
We’ve upgraded some of the elements in our home since then, but have often thought about things we would do differently if we had the chance to start from scratch.
"Connected by Design" Showhouse
In what must be the next-best thing to doing our own house again, we recently were invited to act as the broadband architects and hosts for a beautiful house, designed by the best-selling lifestyle author and architect, Sarah Susanka. The house will be in the parking lot of the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in January during the CES Show, the International Builders Show and some smaller events.
Sarah’s bestselling book “The Not So Big House” has an underlying premise that Bigger is not necessarily Better and comfort is attained by "tailoring our houses to fit the way we really live". Building Media, the producers of the Connected by Design project, pulled together a wide variety of building materials companies and one of our favorite furniture companies, Green Design, to cooperate in creating the house.
Early in the planning, Leviton joined the project to demonstrate their structured wiring and new home automation controller, and Square D jumped in with their new energy-management system, with a commitment to create the connectivity and control for the showhouse.
Building Media also recognized that connectivity and new consumer electronics were increasingly a part of “how we really live” and that infrastructure is not the whole picture. As a result, Craig Savage invited Broadband Home Central to figure out what applications were going to be featured, what products and services could deliver those features, and how they should be configured to make it all work. The good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. We have the very competent cooperation of Jack Merrow, Director of Strategic Marketing & Business Development at Leviton, who has done similar projects, Efficient Electric as the installer/integrator and Blake Brooks to supply some higher end A/V equipment and controls.
Sarah Susanka’s theme is that to get the kind of home you want, you need to start by planning what you want to happen in each space --who will use it and what activities will take place there. “Connected by Design” focuses on putting the fundamental plumbing (structured wiring and broadband) in the home and showing how a family can have their communications, entertainment, computing and gaming activities supported in the rooms where they will be using those applications.
The Showhouse is designed to demonstrate “real life” connectivity -- what consumers can do with today’s broadband connectivity, home networking, consumer electronic and computing products, and the services all this plumbing makes possible. The goal of the project is to show visitors what new homes should include to make connecting easy today, and future-proofed for tomorrow, plus the “how-to” for connecting products and services so they deliver what they promise. In addition to showing the importance and applications for structured wiring, it will demonstrate applications that can be connected in existing homes using “no new wires” approaches, such as Wi-Fi (wireless) and HomePlug (over powerline).
The house will address the real-world questions of how new digital devices can “talk” with each other – and to users’ existing TVs and audio systems. That’s not to say all the problems are solved. There is still a large amount of work to be done by groups like the Digital Home Working Group and others on interoperability – but the goal is to show what is do-able with real products today. The house will include some higher-end systems, but the emphasis is primarily on affordable broadband and connectivity for everyone.
So that visitors can learn more about the items they are interested in while touring the house, they will be provided with a museum-like audio device with numbers keyed to important elements, enabling them to learn about various products and the applications they deliver. Video clips of some products and services will also be shown.
What Visitors Will See
The house will contain the following elements:
Basic Broadband Infrastructure (to and in the home)
Digital Broadband Products
Digital Home Entertainment
Deluxe Audio/Video Systems
Home Management and Control Systems
It’s the applications that matter!
What really differentiates the house is not all these interesting parts, but the applications and their placement where real families would be likely to use them. And the fact that they are put together in a really attractive home—-but one that is not “over the top”. Real people could afford to enjoy living here.
A few of the examples include:
The broadband connection to the home is the fundamental external building block on which many of the applications to be shown in Las Vegas are based. Sandy and Dave feel fortunate to have Cox Las Vegas as the broadband sponsor. Cox will be responsible both for bringing the broadband connection to the home and for many voice, data, and video services, most of which are available in other Cox locations across their franchised areas. These include HDTV, video on demand, PVR, high speed Internet applications and IP telephony.
During the month of December the house will be erected. All the broadband infrastructure will be put in place, and the home, complete with furnishings, will open in time for CES on January 8, 2004. Any of you who have built a home know that this is a gargantuan task!
If you plan to be in Las Vegas during January, be sure to come by, say hello and see the reality of all this! If you can’t join us, we’ll include subsequent coverage on what the house looked like and some of the specific applications that visitors seemed to be most interested in. We hope you will be able to see it.
( www.notsobighouse.com ) ( www.cesweb.org ) ( www.buildersshow.com ) ( www.buildingmedia.com ) ( www.homebydesignshowhouse.com ) ( www.greendesigns.com ) ( www.leviton.com ) ( www.squared.com ) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com ) ( www.efficientelectric.com ) ( www.dhwg.org ) ( www.cox.com/lasvegas )
About a month ago, we received a fascinating press release from the UK announcing a partnership between Bulldog Communications, MyZones WiFi Broadband and Netgear. Together they are offering Bulldog DSL customers the opportunity to use Wi-Fi to share access to a broadband line and split the costs. Subscribers also receive free access to a network of public access hot spots.
We talked on the phone with Clive Mayhew-Begg, CEO of MyZones, to learn more about their plans. Clive has a long history with Internet services including one stint as VP of CDNOW and another as Managing Director of Netscape Asia.
We asked Clive where the idea for MyZones came from. He said he'd been to a Wi-Fi Planet conference where "I sat next to the cable guys. They were talking about changing their 'all you can eat' plans because their customers were all using Wi-Fi and filling up their pipes. That sounded like an opportunity for a new business. MyZones was funded in December, launched in May, and went commercial in September. We've just announced the deal with Bulldog and we're working on other deals."
As we discussed MyZones with Clive, we better understood that what distinguishes it from other Wi-Fi services is that MyZones is using IEEE 802.1x to manage the authentication of home Wi-Fi networks. This idea of network authentication of home Wi-Fi users is vastly different from the common home Wi-Fi model where users are not controlled. Indeed, we suspect the vast majority of home Wi-Fi networks are completely unsecured, since nearly all Wi-Fi equipment -- wireless access points and cable/DSL routers -- defaults to having WEP disabled.
This networked user authentication permits MyZones to implement a growing suite of services. The current offering includes
MyZones users can opt in to the Public Zone to share their broadband connections as public hot spots accessible to other MyZones members.
We asked Clive why a broadband service provider would allow users to share a broadband connection. We wondered even more, what on earth would cause them to encourage users to share the costs. Most US providers specifically exclude sharing in their service agreements and threaten to disconnect service when they detect sharing. He said "That's because they're not selling Wi-Fi as a service." In the UK's highly-competitive DSL market, Bulldog is differentiating itself from other DSL providers by leveraging Wi-Fi and bundling it with their higher-tier 1 Mbps service (their standard ADSL service is 512 Mbps). As users share, they might well upgrade to yet higher tiers with more revenue to Bulldog.
Clive told us that MyZones' next offering might be to couple voice services with Wi-Fi, using a "Wi-Fi phone" to provide flat-rate phone service in any of the MyZones locations.
We found the concept of network-authenticated Wi-Fi services to be very compelling, and expect we'll see other operators (more likely the insurgents than the incumbents) offering similar services in the future.
802.11g--the newest version of Wi-Fi--is a fully-approved standard and lots of products are now on the market. It provides much higher speed than the earlier 802.11b, but it's certainly not the ultimate wireless networking product. It isn't the solution for "whole home networking" -- carrying high-quality digital video and audio and telephony as well as data -- since it lacks QoS and is substantially degraded by walls and floors. And it doesn't work fast enough for high-definition TV, which is gaining increasing market share.
A recent announcement of a deal between Appairent and Pulse~LINK, two companies working on next-generation wireless technologies, got us interested in whether these would any better at carrying HDTV throughout a home.
Several wireless technologies are designed to handle HDTV; some will be on the market soon, while other are several years away. Here's a summary of three technologies we're following:
Appairent -- Why the MAC is important
We talked with Tom McGovern, the CEO of Appairent, a spin-out from Kodak. He explained that 802.15 provides a different MAC and PHY layer for each "sub-dot" (.1, .2 etc). 802.11 has always used the same MAC, and that has gotten 802.11 into trouble: a MAC designed for 2 Mbps doesn't work very efficiently at 54 Mbps (802.11a and 802.11g) and won't work at all for 100 Mbps throughout.
Appairent is very active in 802.15, and its CTO, Dr. Robert F. Heile, is chairman of IEEE 802.15.3a. While most companies involved with wireless networking technologies have concentrated on the physical or PHY layer, Appairent chose to focus its energies on developing a highly-efficient MAC and upper layer stack for 802.15.3 and .3a. This is fully operational and is available today as part of a complete 802.15.3 evaluation platform.
Tom told us that 802.15.3 products "will cover the average household with 42-45 Mbps". He said the 802.15.3 MAC is far more efficient than 802.11; while the 802.11 MAC is contention-based, 802.15.3 is based on TDMA. Although 802.11g and 802.15.3 run at almost the identical maximum physical speed (54 and 55 Mbps, respectively), the efficient MAC layer in 802.15.3 provides twice the throughput of 802.11g.
Work is well under way to create the ASIC implementation, and Appairent and its customers plan to bring products to market during 2004. We're looking forward to testing one of these to see how it does in our house.
Pulse~LINK -- The Benefits of Ultra Wideband
Pulse~LINK is a leader in developing ultra wideband (UWB) communications technologies; we reported previously on their work on UWB over coax (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0206_4.html). Following Pulse~LINK's announcement of a deal to license Appairent's MAC to create an ultra wideband (UWB) wireless LAN system, we interviewed John Santhoff (founder and CTO) and Bruce Watkins (President and COO) to get an update on the role of UWB in wireless networking.
John said he had attended many 802.11 and 802.15 meetings -- these are usually held jointly and members have reciprocal voting rights. At a recent meeting, the consumer electronics representatives said they wanted to cover a full home; a range of 60 to 80 feet, going through walls and floors, should be a requirement.
John said Pulse~LINK's technology was capable of going 100 meters and they will couple it with Appairent's MAC and higher layers to create a LAN solution now.
They think UWB will prove "much more robust" for wireless networking than 802.15.3 or 802.11, which operate over comparatively narrow 20 MHz bands. Since UWB uses a very narrow pulse that goes across 1 GHz or more, it is much more resistant to the "frequency-selective fading" that afflicts the narrow-band technologies.
They think UWB will be used two ways in the home. The first is to interconnect nearby devices (PC equipment or consumer electronics) by communicating over the power line -- just plug the devices into the same power strip and they're talking with each other. The second is using UWB over wireless to reach mobile devices.
Consumer products based on Pulse~LINK's UWB technologies should reach the market in 2005.
The challenge for all 802.15 technologies will be the 802.11/Wi-Fi bandwagon. With the enormous marketing power behind Wi-Fi and its rapidly-growing home penetration, it isn't clear than any new wireless technology--even if better--can succeed in the home networking market. The best opportunity comes from the likelihood that 802.11n will not come to market for three years or more, and will include only limited--if any--back-compatibility with 802.11g.
We will continue to watch these emerging wireless networking technologies, and other "no new wires" technologies based on existing electrical, telephone and coaxial cable wiring.
We recently received a couple of interesting press releases about Entropic Communications, a "fabless semiconductor company ... formed to enable broadband multimedia distribution in the home over existing coaxial cable networks." One announced the appointment of a new CEO, the other the closing of a $29 million Series B funding.
We interviewed Patrick Henry, the newly-appointed CEO, and Micheal Libriczi, VP of Marketing, to learn about Entropic's products and plans. As we expected, Entropic is planning a family of products for "whole home" networking with a "data rate north of 100 Mbps."
Entropic does not believe that networking over coax is the whole solution, but rather that it will provide the backbone networking between floors, connecting all locations that have coax connectors--any location with a TV. Wireless networking will reach the other devices: "Our solution and backbone in general are complementary with wireless for whole-home applications."
It's no surprise that their system is targeted for video networking: "Video is the most demanding application with QoS and high data rate -- it makes our solution for the broadband backbone most compelling. The consumer has to bring it home, plug it in and it works."
Entropic is not trying to solve the whole problem. It will provide the underlying technology--in the form of chips--for companies that want to provide the complete solution: "We have the complete link-layer solution. We provide layers 1 and 2; our customers need to put in the higher layers--including DRM--to make it a good solution so it works when the user plugs it in."
We asked about their confidence in how well their technology will perform in real homes: "We have a very reliable and robust network solution. We've characterized 77 homes in the US, and we have them 'in a suitcase'."
We asked about timing. Entropic will be demoing prototypes at the Western Cable Show in December and at CES in January, perhaps along with business partners. They said they expected to be "starting field trials with MSOs in the next couple of months" and were "a year away from consumer products."
For "no new wires" networking, we've long believed coaxial cable to be more promising than any other existing home wiring, since it is designed and well proven to carry 1 GHz bandwidth around the house without noticeably degrading analog and digital television. We certainly believe that the combination of a 100 Mbps coax-based technology (such as Entropic's) with a comparable wireless technology (such as those described in the previous article) provides a very plausible basis for a complete "whole home" networking solution.
Last month's article on Dave's experience installing a simple network in his brother's house -- see Digital Dreams Meet Reality -- Creating a Simple Home Network (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0310_4.html) -- triggered a lot of email from our readers confirming that we aren't the only supposed experts who have run into trouble with home networking. Here are summaries of two of these; see Reader Stories on Home Networking Realities (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/0311network.html) for more details.
Bill Rose's "Trials and Tribulations"
Bill Rose wrote to tell us about his experiences installing a network in his own home and for one of his neighbors. Bill is one of the leading experts on home networking--he chairs the Consumer Electronics Association’s Home Networking Committee and its Technology and Standards Council and is a board member of the Home Networking and IT (HNIT) Division. We published Bill's guest article on wireless video networking (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0212_3.html) in our December 17, 2002 issue.
Bill wrote: "So, you too have had the pleasure of helping out a friend or family member and spending hours on what should be a quick job for "pros" like us.
You have heard of some of my trials and tribulations before and I have a couple more. Several are not even home networking related but help to point out a disturbing trend in consumer electronics.
To summarize my prior HN experiences, I have installed two HomePNA networks, an 802.11b and an 802.11g network, a cable Modem, a DSL modem, and of course several Ethernet connections to connect the desktop to the above networks. In the course of these installs I have spent approximately 40 hours of my own time including contacting various vendors who mean well but usually conclude it is someone else's problem."
He went on to describe his experiences with "one bad cable modem, one bad DSL modem, one bad 802.11b card, a telephone repair person" who "put his foot through our bedroom ceiling," an "incompatible cable modem" and much more. He also reported "the good news. My 802.11b/g (mixed devices) has been working flawlessly for months. Windows XP (Pro) is far easier than 98 or 2000 to network. In fact, the last 2 installs of 802.11 I have done were on XP machines and they were effortless."
He "volunteered to set up a friend's A/V rack - a simple task you say? Wrong again! She had a new TV (analog), a dual DVD/VCR deck, a DVD burner, a PlayStation 2, a stereo receiver she wanted to use for better audio than the TV provided, and a cable set-top-box. Without going into details, it took 5 hours and 2 trips to Radio Shack to get the system working in a manner that she could use without referring to a state diagram of inputs, outputs, switches, etc. to use all of her devices."
In his own home, he encountered serious problems trying to get "an ATSC broadcast tuner connected to my HDTV so I can get Monday Night Football." After three tries, it still isn't working: "I now have intermittent NBC and WB, no CBS, and almost perfect ABC. Monday Night Football is awesome in HD" and "worth the effort though I might have a different view if I fell 2 stories into the rhododendron" while installing the rooftop antenna.
He described the complexity HDTV poses for consumers trying to choose between 16:9 or 4:3, and between 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i: "This is only disturbing if you don't know why it is happening. Unfortunately that includes 98% of the population. I can easily see ... an emperor's new clothes situation where the owner invites everyone over to see his new TV. He sees it as a great picture since after spending hours getting it set up and several thousand dollars, he can fool himself."
He concludes "The moral of all of this is industry has a lot more to do to make all of this stuff 'consumer friendly' and to ensure their return rates, satisfaction rates, and customer irates are kept at a manageable level. Technology is great but it is far better when hidden from view."
We couldn't agree more. See Bill's full email at Reader Stories on Home Networking Realities (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/0311network.html#bill).
Tony Aiuto says "DSL providers could save a lot of support calls"
Tony is a software developer and full-time telecommuter. He said our article "struck a chord with me, having done similar setups for several friends and family."
He observed that "the DSL providers could save themselves a lot of support calls if they really embraced the idea of home networks, even if they are a single computer. In this era of worms, it is imprudent to connect a machine to a broadband connection without a hardware firewall. ... The easy way to do that is to ship a router/firewall with every DSL modem."
He said that he had "not seen the DSL/PPPoE problem" on his "Covad-based DSL line" but that might be because he's using "Covad's TeleCommute+ service."
He suggested that ISPs leverage the fact that the user's "MAC address ... is associated with a customer" so that "getting mail set up and running could be made much simpler" and suggests a procedure for doing so.
See Tony's full email at Reader Stories on Home Networking Realities (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/0311network.html#tony).