BBH Report Home Page
February 17, 2004 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Kimberly Chun and Barry Demant have been named VPs in Sales at ICTV. Chun was previously at Samsung and Demant was at DST Innovis. ( www.ictv.com )

Elizabeth Cuccinello has been hired as VP of Business Development and Legal Affairs at Fine Point Technologies. ( www.finepoint.com )

Dan Desmet has been promoted to the role of General Manager for the Americas for Tandberg Television. ( www.tandbergtv.com )

Stewart Fox has been appointed VP of sales for AirMagnet. He was previously with Onset Technology. ( www.airmagnet.com )

Ken Haase has joined Netopia as VP of technical services. He was previously director of Wi-Fi product marketing for Proxim Wireless Networks. ( www.netopia.com )

Ed Perry has been named president and CEO of Advent Networks. ( www.adventnetworks.com )

Donald Stalter was appointed CEO of Vivato. Previously, Stalter was with Terawave Communications. ( www.vivato.net )

William Stoehs has joined Broadband Services, Inc. (BSI) as VP, National Accounts, Southeast. Stoehs was previously with Comcast Network Solutions. ( www.broadbandsvc.com )


Company News

--Acquisitions

RealNetworks is buying downloadable computer game maker GameHouse for $35.6 million in cash and stock. ( www.realnetworks.com ) ( www.gamehouse.com )

TiVo has acquired Strangeberry, a technology company "specializing in using home network and broadband technologies to create new entertainment experiences on television." The terms were not disclosed. ( www. tivo.com ) ( www.strangeberry.com )

Zhone Technologies is acquiring Gluon Networks for $7 million. ( www.zhone.com ) ( www.gluonnetworks.com )

--Funding

Airgo Networks, which specializes in wireless networking chips, raised an additional $25 million in funding. The investment will be used to start volume production of Wi-Fi chips, including a multiple input multiple output (MIMO) based device with 108 Mbps single-channel throughput. ( www.airgonetworks.com )

Liberty Media International is investing up to $82 million as it acquires a stake in Japanese cable company Mediatti Communications Inc. Liberty Media will initially acquire a 23 percent stake in Mediatti, with the option to increase ownership. Mediatti owns and operates broadband networks available to 600,000 households, mainly in the Tokyo area; it is controlled by Olympus Capital Holdings Asia, a private equity fund manager, and Tomen Corp. ( www.libertymedia.com ) ( www.mediatti.com )

Personal Broadband Australia (PBBA) has secured second round funding of AU$12m (US$9.4m) to enable continued rollout of its iBurst(tm) network (using Arraycomm's technology) and full commercial launch. Personal Broadband Australia was formerly called CKW Wireless. ( www.pbba.com.au ) ( www.arraycomm.com )

Pronto Networks, a provider of OSS systems for Wi-Fi networks, raised $11.3 million in a "B" series of financing led by BV Capital. ( www.prontonetworks.com )

TiVo has raised $74 million in a share offering to institutional investors. ( www.tivo.com )

Vonage, a provider of broadband phone service, announced the closing of a $40.0 million series C financing round led by 3i and co-led by Meritech Capital Partners, bringing total investment in the company over the past three months to $75 million. ( www.vonage.com )

Widevine Technologies, a provider of content security solutions to the video over IP market, announced the closing of $13 million in venture funding. ( www.widevine.com )


Other News

2Wire announced that it has sold its millionth residential gateway since the product was launched in August 2000. ( www.2wire.com )

Akimbo, a newly-launched company, has announced their Akimbo Service which delivers video content over a broadband connection to a user's TV. The service is downloaded and stored on the Akimbo Player for on-demand viewing. The Akimbo Player is expected to start at $199 and the monthly subscription to the Akimbo Service will be $9.99. CinemaNow is partnering with Akimbo to make its content library available. ( www.akimbo.com ) ( www.cinemanow.com )

America Online has launched a promotion that lets its members download films through Movielink for 99 cents a title. The company is looking for ways to encourage subscribers to sign up for its $14.95 per month service, which is incremental to their current broadband bill. Movielink has previously partnered with other broadband providers including BellSouth, Time Warner Cable and SBC. ( www.aol.com ) ( www.movielink.com )

Comcast had a busy month including not only the huge news of their surprise bid to buy Walt Disney, but also including a hotspot deal with T-Mobile USA to bring Wi-Fi service to its broadband customers. They also announced a deal with Gemstar-TV Guide International to form a joint IPG development group that will use the existing TV Guide Interactive IPG as a "foundation" for future guides. Comcast will own 51 percent of the development group, for which they will pay $250 million. Comcast retains the freedom to develop IPGs with Gemstar or with guides from third parties. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.disney.com ) ( www.tmobile.com ) ( www.gemstartvguide.com )

Deutsche Telekom is increasing its DSL transmission speeds. The available rates will be one megabit per second (Mbps) as the starting offer, 2 Mbps as a standard product, and 3 Mbps as a premium service. Marketing and price structure details have not yet been announced. The current standard offering has a download speed of 768 kbps. Similar moves can be seen in other locations: In the US, SBC has a new plan that offers download speeds up to 3 Mbps for $44.99 per month. Its lowest tier offers download speeds between 384 kbps and 1.5 Mbps, and costs $29.95 per month. ( www.telekom.de ) ( www.sbc.com )

IBM and Eagle Broadband signed a joint marketing agreement to design, build and operate state-of-the-art, fiber-based broadband networks which would deliver bundled voice, video, data and security digital services, video content and multimedia set-top box technology to communities across the U.S. ( www.ibm.com ) ( www.eaglebroadband.com )

Mediabolic announced that Fujitsu Limitedís 2004 spring PC product line is being shipped with Mediabolicís middleware platform and media applications in the Japan market. The software provides consumers the ability to access music, photos and video from multiple PCs via a graphical user interface and remote control. ( www.mediabolic.com ) ( www.fujitsu.com )

Movielink has introduced a new capability that enables customers to download selected movies and view them repeatedly at reduced rental rates for additional days. Customers who use the "MultiPlay" feature can "re-rent" titles for additional 24-hour viewing periods for up to 30 days after the initial download, and do so at a reduced price. Movie download companies are experimenting with what the compelling feature set will be for consumers. Cinema Now last month announced a "download to own" video option which allows users to purchase and download a permanent copy of a digital file for unlimited playback on that device. ( www.movielink.com ) ( www.cinemanow.com )

Nextel announced that it will trial a wireless broadband service in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. market using Flarion's technology. The trial will begin this month and will offer high-speed, IP-based broadband access with the full mobility of wireless service. Nextel's announcement made clear that Flarion is one of a number of "interesting" technologies and that this is a market trial to better understand how the service performs. ( www.nextel.com ) ( www.flarion.com )

Nielsen Media Research has made an agreement with TiVo to launch a new service that tracks and markets information on digital video recorder usage. The plans call for Nielsen to issue reports on individual programs based on an 'opt-in' panel of between 5,000 and 10,000 households recruited from TiVo's subscriber base. ( www.nielsenmedia.com ) ( www.tivo.com )

Rogers Communications is following the now-established track of cable operators who are raising cable modem speeds and starting to roll out IP telephony services. Rogers recently announced plans to offer a cable modem service tier that offers up to 5 Mbps downstream. They also announced that they plan to offer IP telephony services to about 1.8 million homes by mid-2005, and extend it to the majority of its service areas in 2006. The plan is conditional upon supportive regulatory conditions. ( www.rogers.com )

Sprint has joined SBC and Qwest in making marketing agreements with satellite companies so as to be able to offer video services as part of a complete bundle. Sprint will offer EchoStarís Dish Network direct-broadcast satellite service to its local-telephone customers in 18 states. ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.dishnetwork.com )

Streamcast Networks announced Morpheus 4, the new version of its peer-to-peer file sharing program, It provides direct connectivity to users of other existing peer-to-peer clients, including Kazaa, iMESH, eDonkey, Overnet, Grokster, Gnutella, LimeWire, G2 and others. It also includes a free voice chat (VOIP) function. ( www.streamcastnetworks.com )

Telia has launched its Telia Broadband Telephony service. In addition to telephony, it features a chat function, video calls and email. Subscribers to the service can make phone calls free to each other, while calls outside the service will cost the same as an ordinary phone call. The application was developed in cooperation with TeliaSonera Finland and the Swedish software company Hotsip AB. ( www.telia.se ) ( www.hotsip.se )

Time Warner Cable announced creation of a new division, Time Warner Cable Voice Services, that will handle the company's VoIP residential telephone service deployments. Carl Rosetti, executive vice president of new business development, will add the title of president of TWC Voice Services. Each of the companyís operating divisions will hire a general manager to oversee phone deployments. The company expects their Digital Phone service to be available in most, if not all, of its 31 divisions by year-end. ( www.timewarnercable.com )

--Regulatory News

U.S.-- FCC

VoIP-- In a 3-2 vote, the FCC ruled that Pulver.com's Free World Dialup VOIP service is an information service, not a telecommunications service and that the computer-to-computer calling service isn't subject to traditional telephone regulation rules. Similar logic applies to services from Skype. However, the decision does not address whether traditional phone regulations might apply to VoIP services that interconnect with the traditional telephone system. The latter category includes services like that from Vonage. In a separate vote the FCC launched its general rulemaking on VoIP services with a public comment period. ( www.pulver.com ) ( www.skype.com ) ( www.vonage.com )

BPL -- The FCC agreed unanimously to go forward with a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on the subject of Broadband over Power Line (BPL), despite a large number of comments form the amateur radio community. The FCC did not propose any changes in Part 15 rules governing unlicensed devices, but said it would require BPL providers to apply "adaptive" interference mitigation techniques to their systems. The commission views BPL as a potential competitor to DSL and cable modem service and a hope to bring broadband to rural America.


Consumer Video Telephony--Has Its Time Really Come?

Dave has a favorite saying: "A good idea at the wrong time is not a bad idea--it's just a good idea at the wrong time." I (Sandy) was musing on that the other day while reading an article in Communications Daily which said "Four decades after the 1964 World's Fair in New York unveiled the first picture phone, cable operators, equipment manufacturers, other tech vendors and independent phone providers are gearing up to introduce broadband videophone service to consumers."

The minute I read the words "consumer broadband videophone service", lots of cautionary history immediately popped into my head. In my almost 20-year career at AT&T, I lived through multiple incarnations of the consumer videophone and the time had never been right. I hadn't yet arrived at AT&T during the time of the original Picturephone, but that first incarnation was widely promoted at the 1964 World's Fair, and evolved through "improved" models until it died. At prices of $21 for a three minute PicturePhone call (about US$120 in todayís dollars), the videophones in public buildings in New York, Washington and Chicago were hardly within most peopleís budgets.

The problems with that very first videophone have been the same ones that have plagued the category over time. The impediments included:

  • Affordability of both the service and the equipment needed to use the service.
  • Sufficient bandwidth to the home to carry synchronized audio and video.
  • Perceived quality: this is a function of many things; at lower bandwidth, the user experience becomes unacceptable.
  • Community of interest: there must be enough other people who have the product and service for you to communicate with. This generally implies the need for standards.
  • Usability: the product/service combination must be easy for placing and receiving calls.
  • Desirability: it must serve some consumer wants and/or needs.
  • Behavioral acceptance: the more a product requires consumers to change their behavior, the harder it is to accept it. It must also address and overcome fears about privacy: users not wanting to be seen by certain people or not at certain times, etc.

History

In the late 1970s the Picturephone was reborn as Picturephone Meeting Service (abbreviated PMS--those initials later came to have another meaning). It was positioned as a business-oriented, conference-room based system, since affordability by individuals was still far out of reach. Even for businesses, the prices of transmission and systems in the 1980's made this a niche business application: room-based video systems cost upwards of $30,000 each; the systems required multiple megabits to function and 56 kbps transmission across the US cost about $100/hour.

In 1992, AT&T introduced the Videophone 2500, a color, motion videophone that worked over regular telephone lines. Although aiming to be a consumer device, it failed to adequately address most of the impediments. It used proprietary technology so you had to buy them in pairs to have someone to talk with. Since the value of the product depended on the number of customers already owning that product, the use of a proprietary technology was not a good formula for success. It was still way too expensive--originally costing $1500 and then $999. It used regular telephone lines since everyone had them, but the resulting low frame rate made it a pretty poor experience. Potential customers were worried about intrusions into their privacy and insisted on having a mechanical cover over the camera lens, even though there was an off-switch which blocked video transmission when the user did not want to be seen.

Some lessons were learned about early applications and these are seen repeatedly in the history of consumer videophone. They were always most successful in the "heart-tug" applications: maternity wards in hospitals showing new grandchildren to distant grandparents; soldiers overseas connecting with family back home; bone marrow transplant patients in isolation staying in touch with loved ones. A current example from the Freedom Calls Foundation is headlined "Logitech Donates Web Cameras and Headsets... to Enable Video Communication Between U.S. Troops in Iraq and Families at Home".

These are all nice stories, but hard to grow a business from. The issue remained: Even if the technical and cost problems were eliminated, what were the compelling applications and the behavioral changes needed to go from having video as a novelty to a natural and welcome communications enhancement?


Progress

Fast forward to 2004 and let's see how we are doing on overcoming the impediments.

Cost of Residential Bandwidth

With broadband services deployed to over 20% of households in the US and much higher in countries like Korea, affordable bandwidth to the home is no longer a major issue. Any consumer who has broadband has the basics for getting started with video telephony. Broadband connections with low-speed upstream connections might be problematic, but as service providers join the race to up the bandwidth ante, we expect problems will subside.

Compression

Next, let's look at the elements making up the phones themselves, starting with efficient codecs for compression/decompression. The H.264 standard, the next in a succession within the MPEG series (MPEG 4 - part 10) is enabling a new generation of Internet video applications with high video quality, great compression efficiency and resilience to packet and data loss (the types of network impairments typically found on the Internet). Another advanced codec is found in Windows Media 9. Previously, implementing these complex codecs required special chips. However, with the huge increases in processing power of today's PCs, increasingly complicated codecs can be implemented as software-only, thus eliminating the expense of special purpose hardware.

Videophone Components

On the camera front, Webcams are readily available and consumer-priced. Using one of these with a PC (whose residential penetration is now very high) and a microphone is a low-cost way of creating a videophone. A quick Web search yields Webcams selling for as little as $17 which come with USB connectivity for simple installation, are Windows compatible and claim 30 frames per second; of course the resolution on these low priced units is also low (352 x 288). By paying a bit more--but still less than $100--you can get USB 2.0, 1024 x 768 resolution, digital zoom, built-in microphone and high-quality VGA CCD sensor. Many of these cameras have been sold to instant messaging users of Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger and AIM, so familiarity with them is growing. These services are one low-cost way to get consumer videotelephony; many of these provide choppy video and dropped frames, akin to the early experiences of Internet telephony.

Another approach comes from familiar consumer networking companies like D-Link. This approach depends upon the growing deployment of consumer home networking and the availability of the user's TV set. The D-Link approach uses the TV--rather than a PC--as the display device. Their i2eye DVC-1100 Wireless Broadband VideoPhone connects to the user's TV and also connects to their broadband network using Wi-Fi. [Historical note: Projects using the TV as the display, employing camcorders and cable bandwidth for transmission date back (at least) to work done at AT&T in the early 90s.]

Another approach comes from Vibe Phone, which provides proprietary software for download to broadband users and charges based on a cellphone-like model. Users need to have a broadband connection, a Web cam, and Vibe Phone's software. The subscription, which is available on a yearly contract, costs $4.95 per month for 100 Vibe Call minutes, $9.95 per month for 250 minutes, or $19.95 for 650 minutes; if you go over your plan minutes you are billed 10 cents per minute. Call charges apply only to calls initiated; there is no charge for receiving calls. We have not yet tried it, but a commitment to a service contract, even with a free trial first, seems like an impediment for easy adoption.

Communications Protocols

For communications there is no question that the world has settled on IP as the unifying communications fabric, providing interconnection of WANs and LANs of diverse characteristics and able to support any application. On top of this there is currently a choice for how to establish the video connection. Both SIP and H.323 protocols are being used and many VoIP devices (such as snom's IP phone) support both. Microsoft provides SIP support on PCs with Windows XP and Windows Messenger, on smart devices with Windows CE 4.0, on the server with Windows Server 2003 and in other embedded devices with Windows XP Embedded. Thus to the extent that new Microsoft operating systems are installed on consumer PCs and other devices, they are ready to support SIP.

Another technical component which now exists within the cable industry is the PacketCable specification, parts of which were first issued in 1999. PacketCable addresses one of the potential problems not necessarily solved by raw broadband: providing quality of service so that communications packets have higher priority than other packets. Although it is closely associated with cable telephony, its goal has always been multimedia communications, including videotelephony. In 2003 it was augmented by the PacketCable Multimedia Specification.

Assembling the Pieces Into a Service

So it seems that most of the technical and cost obstacles have been eliminated. What has not yet happened is for all these available piece-parts to be assembled into a widely available, consumer-oriented and consumer-priced service--at least, not in North America.

In Italy, FastWeb rolled out their video communication service starting in October 2002, using a Radvision device with the consumer's TV set. Even if you don't understand Italian, their brief video about it (http://www.fastweb.it/video_comunicazione/flash/fastweb_video.html) is pretty clear.

One of the interesting unknowns is how much consumers might be willing to pay for such a service. Over the past few years, consumer willingness-to-pay for telephony has tumbled dramatically. We don't really know how much consumers would be willing to pay for adding good quality video to their voice services, especially since at least rudimentary services are available via IM services for free. We hope FastWeb will share some of their data on how well the service has fared.

The Remaining Question

But the big question remains in some ways the least amenable to science and most subject to environmental conditioning--are enough people ready to adopt and embrace video communication and has it been made simple enough for them to do so? Can video telephony differentiate one service providers' VoIP service from competing IP telephony offerings? Can consumers be assured they won't inadvertently be observed when they don't want to be?

We don't have good answers to these questions, but hope to get real world data to assess where we are on the path to "readiness". If you or others you know in the industry can shed light on the readiness question, please email or call us.

Has videotelephony's time finally arrived? Our verdict is not in yet.

Postscript: Meanwhile, our grandson will have to make do with this simple VTech model we found on the Web, complete with scrolling video screen, voice mail button and speed dial, plus voice activation. Too bad it's just a toy!

( www.warren-news.com ) ( www.bellsystemmemorial.com/telephones-picturephone.html ) ( www.logitech.com ) ( www.dlink.com ) ( www.vibephone.com ) ( www.snom.de ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.packetcable.com ) ( www.fastweb.com ) ( www.vtech.com )


Wi-Fi Evaluation Round Two

A lot has changed since our first evaluation of Wi-Fi products eight months ago. Many older products have been upgraded to full compliance with the 802.11g standard. Lots of new products have come to market, some with Wi-Fi certification. With the products stabilizing, we decided it was a good time to resume our testing and to report on all three versions of Wi-Fi.

"Wireless Is Magic" -- Our Evaluation of 802.11g Wi-Fi (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0306_3.html) (BBHR June 2003) described our first Wi-Fi evaluation. That article reported on our tests of four then-new 802.11g devices: two access points and two PC card notebook adaptors, all based on the same Broadcom chip. We measured throughput at nineteen locations around our house while transferring large files between PCs.

802.11g is the newest "flavor" of Wi-Fi. At the time of our earlier tests, the standard had just been approved, and all the tested devices were based on earlier drafts of the standard; none had completed Wi-Fi Alliance certification testing. Now nearly all devices comply with the final standard, and some have passed Wi-Fi tests.

This report covers the first part of our Round Two testing: "baseline" measurements with a wireless notebook adaptor plugged into a notebook PC in the same room as the access point. This provides a good indication of the maximum throughput possible with each combination of an access point and a notebook adaptor. The test results are summarized below; the detailed results are reported in the Round Two Wi-Fi Baseline Tests (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/bbhl/wifibaseline.html) section of our website.

In an upcoming issue we will report how the throughput is degraded by distance, walls, floors and other obstacles.


Three "Flavors" of Wi-Fi

To remind our readers, "Wi-Fi" wireless networking is based on a set of standards collectively known as "IEEE 802.11". Today's products are based on three "flavors" of 802.11:

  • 802.11a operates in the 5 GHz band and operates at a maximum speed of 54 Mbps
  • 802.11b operates in the 2.4 GHz band and operates at a maximum speed of 11 Mbps
  • 802.11g operates in the 2.4 GHz band and operates at a maximum speed of 54 Mbps

The "11a" and "11b" standards were both published in 1999, while "11g" was published in 2003. 11g products are all back-compatible with 11b. 11a runs in a completely different frequency band so "11a-only" products won't work with 11b or 11g.

To confuse the customer, these products now come in five different combinations: 11a only, 11b only, 11b/11g, 11a/11b combo and 11a/11b/11g.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has tried to clarify this with its logo program, but it can be difficult for consumers to tell the products apart. The picture shows a Wi-Fi logo for a product which supports all three versions and has been certified for WPA (a new security specification). Some "combo" products support multiple standards but have only been certified for one.


Our Baseline Tests

We are conducting an extensive series of tests involving five access points and six notebook adapters, covering all three flavors of 802.11. Most of the tested equipment was loaned to us by Linksys and SMC Networks.

When completed, these tests will include three sets of measurements:

  • Maximum throughput with the notebook adapter close to the access point in the same room: this will establish a "baseline" measurement for further tests.
  • Throughput at each of 19 locations in our house, showing how the maximum throughput is degraded by distance, walls, floors and other obstacles.
  • Internet file download speed with and without wireless networking.

We have completed the baseline measurements and summarize them below. We expect to complete the other two test series soon and report on them in an upcoming issue.

Physical rate and throughput

The quoted speeds of 11 Mbps (802.11b) and 54 Mbps (802.11a and 11g) are maximum speeds, representing the maximum bit rate through the air (this is sometimes called the "physical" or "PHY" rate). The maximum rate at which data can be transferred from one computer to another -- called the "throughput" -- would be much more useful, but is not published. Our "baseline" tests were intended to estimate the maximum throughput for each version of Wi-Fi.

Our throughput measurements are quite a lot lower than the quoted physical rate; we calculated the "efficiency" of these products at between 35% and 53%. This did not surprise us, since the 802.11 protocol includes a lot of "overhead" -- airtime consumed by "handshaking" rather than useful data.

Updating firmware and drivers

Although we knew that the vendors had released updated firmware and drivers for many of the devices we were testing, we chose to run a preliminary series of baseline tests with the devices as shipped from the manufacturer. It did not surprise us that some "draft 11g" devices from one vendor did not work properly with "draft 11g" devices from another.

We then tried to update all of the devices, installing new firmware for the access points and new drivers for the notebook adapters. We found this to be a rather difficult process, requiring several steps:

  • Many products have been sold under the same product number with several different versions. There are different downloads for each version and it's important to match the version number with the right download page.
  • Firmware and drivers are usually downloaded in a compressed format. There are different procedures for uncompressing each format.
  • The upgrade procedure may be documented in the manual, on a web page, in a note as part of the download--or not at all.
  • Although Windows XP has a built-in "driver upgrade" feature, some PC cards cannot be upgraded this way.

We succeeded in upgrading all of the access points and most of the PC cards. After updating firmware and drivers, all 11g devices--even from different manufacturers--worked properly together.

Since we sometimes found better results after updating firmware and drivers, we recommend upgrading. This is particularly important for 802.11g devices, many of which were shipped with "pre-standard" firmware or drivers.

Several of our test runs graphically illustrate the improvement from upgrading firmware.

As an example, we tested the SMC2804WBR router with an SMC2336WAG PC card first with the original router firmware as shipped from the factory and then with the latest firmware after an upgrade.

The "run chart" on the right shows time for each run with the original firmware as shipped from the factory.

The results appear quite "jittery". The throughput is about 14.8 Mbps.

This shows the same router and PC card after upgrading the router firmware.

The difference is quite dramatic. The throughput is now 19.0 Mbps, an improvement of more than 25%.

In addition, most of the new 802.11 devices support an improved form of security known as "WPA", which is considerably more secure than the WEP security in the original Wi-Fi. Many of the upgrades add WPA support for older devices.

While new production products include support for the final 802.11g standard and WPA, earlier-production products may still be in inventory. These will need upgraded firmware or drivers.


Baseline test results

As in our earlier tests, we measured the throughput while transferring large files between PCs. Unlike our earlier tests at nineteen locations around the house, we made all these baseline measurements with our notebook PC close to the access point in the same room. This provides a good indication of the maximum throughput possible with each combination of an access point and a PC card notebook adapter.

As before, we did these tests in only one house, with one sample of each product and with one particular test tool of our own design. We have no way of knowing how well other samples and other products in other homes will perform.

Our test results are reported in detail in the Home Networking - Wi-Fi Evaluation (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/bbhl/wifi.html) section of our website. The Round Two Wi-Fi Baseline Tests (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/bbhl/wifibaseline.html) page includes the measured throughput for each combination of an access point and a network adapter, with many run illustrated by charts.

Here's a summary of what we found:

  • The 802.11b tests averaged 4.5 Mbps throughput, with a range of 3.4 to 5.8.
  • 802.11g averaged 18.9 Mbps, with a range of 16.6 to 21.3.
  • 802.11a averaged 14.7 Mbps with a range of 7.4 to 20.3. The 7.4 Mbps probably indicates a defective PC card - excluding it, the average is 18.4.
  • We calculated the efficiency for each protocol as the ratio of our measured average and best throughput to the maximum physical rate. 802.11b efficiency averaged 41% with a maximum of 53%; 11g averaged 35% with a maximum of 39%; 11a was similar to 11g.
  • Many test runs showed intermittent periods of poor throughput, often lasting 10 seconds or longer during a 1000 second test run. These "spikes" in measured transfer times lowered the measured throughput, sometimes substantially.
  • In some cases, upgrading firmware (for access points) or drivers (for PC cards) made a significant difference in throughput. Sometimes a firmware upgrade greatly reduced the "spikes".

These tests were intended to provide a realistic estimate of Wi-Fi throughput with wireless devices close to access points. The maximum speed of 802.11b is about 5 Mbps, while 802.11g and 802.11a are close to 20 Mbps, about four times faster.

More recent products -- access points and PC cards -- performed better than older ones when running 802.11b. This would indicate that wireless product designers and manufacturers are improving their skills at realizing the potential of the standards.

Many 11b/11g and 11a/11b/11g consumer devices are now on the market. The price difference between these devices and 11b-only devices is small, so we believe consumers should avoid 11b-only devices and favor those with 11b/11g and 11a/11b/11g.

( www.wi-fi.org ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.smc.com )


Broadband--The Measure of "Livability"?

From time to time we wonder whether our closeness to the subject of broadband might color our perceptions of how important it really is. Three things we saw in the media during the past few weeks convinced us that broadband has really arrived in mainstream US culture.

First was an article about seniors and potential retirees in the Feb. 8 Sunday NY Times Personal Business section. Titled "Escaping to the Land of Cheaper Living", it highlighted the growing cost gap, especially in housing, between major US cities like New York and San Francisco as compared with smaller towns. After noting the small size of Geneva, Nebraska (one of the inexpensive towns), it quoted real estate agents saying: "Nevertheless, high speed Internet service is available there and the Lincoln airport is less than an hour's drive." Citing another town, it goes on, "Clay ... also has high speed Internet service. There is also a small commuter airport." So there you are--high speed Internet plus airports equals civilization!

In the same Sunday Times we noted with amusement that the weekly magazine column called "The Ethicist" was titled "Wi-Fi Fairness" and concerned whether it was ethical to use a neighbor's wireless Internet signal which was strong enough to reach the kitchen of the person making the inquiry. The article concluded that it was ethical--as long as you didn't use too much of your neighbor's bandwidth without his knowledge.

Then, as we used TiVo to catch up on an episode of "S and the City" (sorry for the abbreviation--the s... checkers have us spooked), we were amused to note that what puts Miranda over the edge about moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn is not having her DSL line installed when she moves in. But as the episode guide tells us: "After a difficult night out with the girls, she returns home to discover that Steve has finally installed her DSL line, making Brooklyn feel a bit more like home to her."

That was it--we were convinced. It's not just us--broadband really has entered the mainstream!


Getting Digital Music Fast: Get Digital

After reading last month's article on Digital Media adapters, Doug Strachota contacted us and pointed out that DMAs, like so many new devices, start with the presumption that you have all your music ripped onto the hard drive of your PC(s). This misses the important fact that many of us have libraries consisting of numerous CDs and that it is a time consuming job to rip them all. That's where Get Digital, the company that Doug co-founded with Ryan Moore, comes in.

Get Digital is a service company which converts personal CD collections to MP3s or other digital audio formats (such as WMA, AAC or WAV) at the bit rate you specify (starting at 128 kbps). You send your CDs to Get Digital and get back digital files, on either DVDs, CD-Rs, your MP3 player or jukebox, or a PC hard drive. The encoded files on DVDs provide a permanent archive of your music. The CDs are returned with a binder including a color print out, including cover art, of each CD and song they have encoded for you. Price is quantity dependent, starting with $1.99 each for the first 200 CDs and going down to .99 additional for CD's 401-500; the price includes shipping both ways. The price is not cheap, but for those whose time is in short supply, it may be the right answer.

Although users currently find the service through word of mouth or reviews, the company expects shortly to announce some partners from the world of digital media adapters and music services. These partnerships will bring additional user awareness to the service and will also include discount inducements to try Get Digital's service.

To experience how their service works, we've sent them a batch of our CDs. The promise of the listings of the CDs along with the cover art was a real inducement for us to try it. The process is simple: Get Digital sent us pre-paid shipping containers with instructions for sending the CDs to their facility. We took our CDs out of their cases; stacked them on the spindles they provided; packed the spindles back in the same box using the same packing materials; sealed the box; and sent it back using the prepaid and fully-filled-out shipping label they provided.

We'll be intrigued to see how they do on the metadata for some of our more eclectic albums. Their metadata evidently consists of their own proprietary database, which feeds off the commonly used CDDB, but supplements it. Since we sent the CDs in just before going to press, we'll let you know next month how it worked for us. ( www.get-digital.net )


HomePNA -- Don't Count It Out

The last time we mentioned Home PNA in this newsletter was in June, 2003, when we noted that the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance had finalized the spec for version 3.0. In a recent call, Rich Nesin--president of HomePNA and VP of marketing at CopperGate Communications--suggested that we have been not been paying enough attention to HPNA as all or part of the solution for whole home networking.

We asked Rich what the facts were that made the arguments for HPNA 3.0 so compelling. Here is a brief synopsis of what we heard:

  • HPNA 3.0 runs not only over existing phonelines but also over existing coaxial cables, so for telcos it provides an additional means of transport of the signals.
  • The technology runs in the 4-21 MHz spectrum over coax so is suited for homes that are not running digital cable services.
  • Cheap ($3) combiners from companies like TII Network Technologies can make HPNA networks integrate with Ethernet or combine HPNA over phone lines with coax.
  • It is capable of 128 Mbps; the actual speed is about 90% of that at the MAC SAP layer, so it should achieve throughput of 100 Mbps or better.
  • It provides QoS, so it can transport video and could work with other protocols such as IEEE1394 that require inherent QoS.
  • Development chips now exist; product companies (CopperGate's customers) have designs and are ready to go when production chips come out; he expects products during 1H04.
  • V2 and V3 of HPNA can co-exist and operate at their full speeds.
  • Companies like ExtremeSpeed which have large market volumes in places like China are preparing products for the residential market.

We've previously noted that cable operators and vendors are working together through MoCA to use existing coax for high-speed networking. HPNA 3.0 offers another approach, best suited for telephone companies and others that don't depend on the standard cable "return spectrum" below 50 MHz.

We have devoted significant space in the past to articles on other new methods addressing high speed home networking. We invited Rich to author a guest article expanding upon the points we gleaned from our brief conversation, and look forward to publishing it in an upcoming issue.

( www.homepna.org ) ( www.copper-gate.com ) ( www.tiinettech.com ) ( www.extreme.ca )


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

John Barr wrote: "Your reports are always interesting. I was wondering why you didn't report on what Panasonic, Toshiba and Samsung were showing in their booths. You make it sound like only Bermai and ViXS have wireless video solutions. I am still a fan of real QoS wireless networks like 802.15.3/3a. Appairent Technologies (http://www.appairent.com/files/PR-CES04/PR-CES04.htm) was showing two video streams and synchronized rear audio speakers on a 2.4 GHz 802.15.3 system. Toshiba and Samsung were demonstrating multiple channel HDTV streaming (Toshiba 2 channels and Samsung 3 channels)."

Correction: Reader Stan Moyer pointed out that the January 04 article on HomeGenie incorrectly stated that "Sun provides the OSGi software". The statement should have said that ProSyst Software AG provides the underlying OSGi software. Our apologies to ProSyst. ( www.prosyst.com )

Keep those helpful comments coming!