In This Issue
Technology and Aging -
EH Expo Revisited -
Get Digital Part 2
Another Networking Project -
Your Voice -
Our thoughts are with you in the aftermath of the Madrid terrorist bombings. We had the opportunity to visit with some of you last Spring, and we rode the Metro all around Madrid. We used to see the World Trade Center from the deck of our house. So we feel this much more personally than something we read about in the newpapers.
We hope the time comes soon when indiscriminate violence against masses of civilians--whether in Madrid, Israel, New York or elsewhere--will no longer be part of the landscape in which we all must live.
Michael Adams has been named EVP and COO at Rogers Cable, starting mid-April. He was formerly with RCN. ( www.rogerscable.com )
Anthony Bartolo was appointed VP and GM of the Symbol Wireless Infrastructure Division. He was previously with Nortel Networks. ( www.symbol.com )
Michael Economy was named VP of worldwide sales for Entropic Communications. Economy was previously with Trident Microsystems. ( www.entropic-communications.com )
Joshua Ginsberg-Margo was promoted to VP, Product Marketing, and Paul Wilson was been promoted to VP, Customer Care and Operations, at Broadband Services, Inc. ( www.broadbandsvc.com )
Patrick Lelorieux was appointed worldwide VP for Sales and Marketing at SMC Networks. He was previously with Avaya’s EMEA division. ( www.smc.com )
Gabi Magnezi was named VP of Operations at Xtend Networks. He was previously with G-Connect Israel. Also, Leon Urban was named Sales Director, Eastern United States. ( www.xtendnetworks.com )
David Reed was promoted to EVP, Chief Strategy Officer, at CableLabs. Congratulations to David and also to Ed Miller, who was elevated to VP, Advanced Network Systems, to lead the PacketCable initiative. ( www.cablelabs.com )
Mark Richards has been appointed COO of Volo Communications Inc. Richards was previously at Epicus Communications. ( www.volocommunications.com )
Anoosh Shahidi was appointed VP, Business Operations, and Raymond Mills to VP, Technical Operations at broadband satellite provider WildBlue Communications. Both come from the cable industry. ( www.wildblue.com )
Jeffrey Weaver was named Director of Systems Engineering, North America, and Peng-Chong Lee, Sales Director, Asia Pacific for Interactive Enterprise. Weaver was previously with Tropos Networks and Lee was with Motorola. ( www.interactive-enterprise.com )
Jan Werne has been appointed President at i3 micro technology, the Swedish provider of IP-TV and IP-telephony equipment. He was formerly CEO of broadband operator Utfors. ( www.i3micro.com )
Robert Wolf was named CFO of Viseon, a supplier of video communication technologies. ( www.viseon.com )
Company News --Acquisitions
DG2L Technologies announced the acquisition of iVAST International, Moirai Media Solutions, Inc., the parent company of iVAST International, and iVAST Inc.'s entire assets. Terms of the deal were not released. ( www.dg2l.com ) ( www.ivast.com )
Tekelec is purchasing all of Taqua's outstanding stock for approximately $85 million cash, plus the assumption of Taqua's outstanding options. Taqua will become part of Tekelec's next-generation switching business. ( www.tekelec.com ) ( www.taqua.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 )
Aperto Networks, a manufacturer of WiMax equipment, announced a $20 million Series D financing round. It was led by JK&B Capital and with participation from Aperto's key existing investors including Canaan Partners, Alliance Ventures, Innovacom, Tyco Ventures, Labrador Ventures, and Satwik Ventures and brings the company's total financial backing to $77 million. ( www.apertonetworks.com )
Birdstep Technology ASA has raised NOK 75.5 million (USD 10.9 million) in a new share issue. ( www.birdstep.com )
Colubris Networks has secured $13 million in its Series C funding round, led by GrandBanks Capital, with participation by new investor Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds. Existing investors including Prism Venture Partners and the Development Bank of Canada also participated. ( www.colubris.com )
Speakeasy, a broadband service provider, raised $24 million in a "D" series round of financing led by 3i and BV Capital. ( www.speakeasy.com )
USDTV, provider of a digital TV service that is transmitted wirelessly via broadcast stations' idle spectrum, secured $8.5 million in private equity funding from NexGen Investments and a private investor group led by Stonebridge Capital, plus $12 million from private investors. ( www.usdtv.com )
Viseon, a developer of broadband personal video communications solutions, raised $4.2 million in a private placement. ( www.viseon.com )
World Wide Packets raised $8.7 million in a second close of its current financing round, extending the total of that round to $24.5 million. New investors Argo Global Capital and Entrepia Ventures participated in the round. World Wide Packets said it will use the funds to expedite its growth in the municipality, telecom and cable service provider sectors. ( www.worldwidepackets.com )
2Wire, a provider of broadband service platforms for the DSL market, launched its MediaPortal platform. It allows telcos to integrate satellite TV, DSL and a range of entertainment services through one set-top box and back end management system. Through it DSL subscribers can buy digital content or access streaming media services from the Internet via a set-top. It also makes digital content available to multiple devices over a home network. ( www.2wire.com )
BellSouth announced expanded testing of fixed wireless broadband technology with a new rural trial in Palatka, Florida. The trial uses Navini equipment, which was moved from the recently-completed Port Orange portion of its Daytona Beach, Florida trial. This trial is testing new features and capabilities, such as the introduction of Wi-Fi components, and assessing wireless broadband's financial viability and technology operation in different environments and topographies. ( www.bellsouth.com )
Brasil Telecom, the second largest broadband operator in Latin America, announced its choice of Radvision's viaIP platform as a major component in its new converged voice, Web, and video conferencing and communication offering for enterprises and broadband residential customers throughout Brazil. Brasil Telecom will offer video telephony services to its residential broadband customers. ( www.brasiltelecom.com.br ) ( www.radvision.com )
BT announced four Broadband services which are important to BT's retail broadband strategy and will be available in stages over the next few months. ( www.bt.com )
BT is trialing WiMax to bring broadband to four rural locations: Ballingry in Fife, Scotland, Pwllheli in Wales, Porthleven in Cornwall and Campsie in Northern Ireland. ( www.bt.com )
Calypso Wireless was awarded a U.S. patent which covers the seamless roaming of voice, video and data, enabling wireless devices to switch between network types without losing the connection. ( www.calypsowireless.com )
Cinergy Broadband, LLC and Current Communications Group have formed a joint venture and launched broadband over power line (BPL) services in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area. The service uses HomePlug power line modems and offers speeds of 3 Mbps. A subsequent expansion is planned for Northern Kentucky and Indiana. Current will manage the venture and will use its proprietary BPL equipment. The companies have created a second joint venture, managed by Cinergy, targeting BPL to US municipally-owned power companies and rural electric cooperatives. Cinergy has also agreed to participate in a $70 million-plus round of financing in Current. ( www.cinergy.com ) ( www.currentgroup.com )
Comcast and Rentrak announced an agreement to conduct a trial of VOD Essentials, a system that measures and reports anonymous video-on-demand (VOD) usage data. The trial is scheduled to begin in May in Philadelphia. As TV viewing goes from a real-time broadcast experience to one that involves VOD and PVRs, new systems are being developed to help system operators and programmers gather and analyze data to better understand viewer preferences. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.rentrak.com )
EarthLink announced it has joined the advisory board of BPL provider Ambient Corp. and has also invested $500,000 in the company. EarthLink also has teamed with Progress Energy to test broadband Internet service delivered via power lines in Wake County, N.C. EarthLink and Ambient are also working together on a broadband power line pilot with Con Edison. ( www.earthlink.com ) ( www.ambientcorp.com ) ( www.progress-energy.com )
Iberdrola, the Spanish power company, is reported by the Financial Times to be investing 20m euros to offer broadband over power line (BPL) Internet access through its electricity network to approximately 120,000 customers in the Valencia region this year. Iberdrola already offers broadband access through its power network in Madrid, Murcia and Valladolid. ( www.iberdrola.com )
IPWireless announced that UTStarcom is the first company to license IPWireless' mobile broadband technology, and will manufacture the equipment in its facilities in China. ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.utstar.com )
Intel announced support for Web Services Dynamic Discovery (WS-Discovery), a new Web services technology designed to enable various non-computing devices to find one another and exchange data. The WS-Discovery standard was developed by Microsoft, with the assistance of BEA Systems, Canon and Intel. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.bea.com ) ( www.canon.com )
Liberty Media announced its intention to spin off its international businesses to create Liberty Media International. These businesses include United Globalcom, a 20% stake in UK MSO Telewest, a 45% stake in Jupiter Telecommunications of Japan and Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico Inc. among others. ( www.libertymedia.com )
Net2Phone, a provider of VoIP services to broadband service providers, unveiled its SIP-based hosted telephony services to complement its existing PacketCable-ready solution. This positions them to offer two tiers of service to cable operators, depending on the operator’s specific needs. ( www.net2phone.com )
PCTEL reached an agreement with Chrysalis Development LLC to distribute WifiSeeker, a key-chain size device that locates Wi-Fi Hot Spots and determines signal strength level. PCTEL will distribute the product to wireless carriers, including cellular operators and wireless internet service providers (WISPs). The Chrysalis website says "WifiSeeker will be available early Q3 with a Suggested Retail Price of $19.95". ( www.pctel.com ) ( www.chrysalisdev.com )
Sigma Designs, a provider of digital media processors for consumer appliances, and CinemaNow, a provider of IP-based video-on-demand, announced that they are working together with KiSS Technology to create a connected DVD player capable of streaming or downloading Windows Media Video (WMV) content directly from the CinemaNow service. ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.cinemanow.com ) ( www.kiss-technology.com )
SMC Networks announced that it is partnering with Get Digital to offer free CD conversion processing to customers of its EZ-Stream 2.4GHz 11Mbps Wireless Audio Adapter. Customers purchasing the EZ-Stream Wireless Audio Adapter will receive free processing of 25 CDs on Get Digital orders for processing 75 or more CDs. [Also see our article on Get Digital in this issue.] ( www.smc.com ) ( www.get-digital.net )
Vonage broadband phone service announced Circuit City Stores, Inc. as the first national US retailer to offer Vonage services in all of its 600 Superstores and online. ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.circuitcity.com )
Wireless Performance Prediction (WPP) study group: The IEEE has formed a study group to help standardize the metrics and methods which describe Wi-Fi's performance. WPP's members include individuals from organizations including Intel, HP, TI and Broadcom, regulatory agencies FDA and NIST, and independent testing organizations such as the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Labs (UNH-IOL) and Iometrix.
US: A federal appeals court has overturned key portions of the 2003 FCC Triennial Review order with regard to network unbundling rules. The FCC rules made state public utility commissions the decision makers on issues regarding unbundling and local competition; the Court of Appeals said the FCC should have provided unified federal guidelines. This was a major victory for the RBOCs and a substantial blow to companies that have depended upon inexpensive local network access to reach their customers. ( www.fcc.gov )
The US Supreme Court ruled that states have the right to pass laws prohibiting cities and local governments from selling telecommunications services. This represents a victory for incumbent telecommunications providers. The ruling said that although the act was intended to spur competition, it was not necessarily intended to include competition from government-owned municipalities and publicly funded utilities.
Citing figures from Point Topic for 2003, the DSL Forum said that worldwide DSL subscriptions jumped 78 percent year-over-year to 63.84 million. At year end 2003, the top 5 countries with respect to number of DSL subscribers were China (10.95 million), Japan (10.2), U.S. (9.1), South Korea (6.4) and Germany (4.5). ( www.point-topic.com ) ( www.dslforum.org )
The Leichtman Research Group Inc. (LRG) released a study indicating that U.S. broadband is approaching 25 M subscribers, with cable operators having about 60 percent of the new signups during the year. ( www.leichtmanresearch.com )
Strategy Analytics reports that in a survey of 800 broadband households across seven European countries, 41 percent claimed to connect multiple PCs and other devices to their broadband Internet service. Strategy Analytics' report, 'Home Networks in Europe: 9.5 Million Now Installed', indicates that home networking is most popular in the Nordic region, where 52 percent of broadband users connect more than one device. ( www.strategyanalytics.com )
Stratospheric Broadband? An international R&D project named the CAPANINA project is aimed at developing broadband capability from aerial platforms to deliver cost effective solutions providing a viable alternative to cable and satellite, with the potential to reach rural, urban and travelling users. The technologies will be placed on High Altitude Platforms (HAPs)--airships that float at an altitude of around 20km, above normal aircraft but below orbiting satellites. CAPANINA involves 13 global partners and is partially funded by the European Union's Framework 6 initiative. ( www.capanina.org )
comScore Networks recent analysis of US broadband penetration indicated that San Diego is the first US metropolitan market in which a majority of Internet users connect to the Web via broadband connection rather than narrowband. At the national level, 36 percent of online users accessed the Web through a high-speed connection in the fourth quarter of 2003, up 2 points from 34 percent in the third quarter. ( www.comscore.com )
Sports content - Sports applications, which tend to garner very large fees from TV networks for broadcast rights, continue to gain presence via subscription sales on the Internet. Service providers are looking at such content as another way to distinguish their offerings from their competitors.
Broadband in the Sky - Lufthansa will start offering its airline passengers high-speed Internet connectivity. Starting in April Lufthansa will be launching a full-scale deployment of the service across its entire fleet of long-haul aircraft. Lufthansa's in-flight Internet service was developed in partnership with Connexion by Boeing. Users will be able to get broadband access via Wi-Fi or plug in with an Ethernet cable. ( www.lufthansa.com ) ( www.connexionbyboeing.com )
With people staying alive longer, more of them are reaching their 80s, 90s and even 100s. One day, if we're lucky, "them" will be "us"! What does that have to do with technology and broadband? What effect can we and our companies have on our own future well being and that of our parents and loved ones?
To learn more about these issues and the technologies under development, we attended the AAHSA "Future of Aging Services Conference" and CAST "Solutions to the Aging Services Crisis" meetings on March 15-17 in Washington, DC.
Last July, we published a guest article by Eric Dishman "Repurposing Broadband: Home Health Technologies for the Worldwide Age Wave". His article described some of Intel's research in this area, and mentioned the formation of a new organization called CAST (Center for Aging Services Technologies), focused on using technology to help provide aging services, of which Eric is the Chair.
The subject struck a resonant chord for us. We've experienced the traumas of aging parents. We also believe that broadband can be a tool for linking people in their homes with outside people and organizations, in ways that help both those involved and society. We've called these the "tele-social" applications. In our view, this category includes tele-education, telecommuting, telemedicine and tele-care (and more). Each of these links people in their homes with people and companies/institutions/organizations which are located at a distance. And each seems to be an application for which an always-on, high bandwidth connection (i.e., broadband) could be an enabler.
AAHSA and CAST Actions
The organization sponsoring the CAST program is the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA). Its members are not-for-profit nursing homes, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living and senior housing facilities, and home and community-based service providers. CAST was formed a year ago with the mission (in Eric Dishman's words) "to put the age wave challenge--and the opportunity for new technologies to help with this challenge--on the national agenda".
Last week, AAHSA held its spring conference, focused largely on technology. During one afternoon, CAST hosted a demonstration of technology applications which might be part of the future of elder care; it was held on Capitol Hill at the Dirksen Senate Office Building with members of Congress and their staffers invited. CAST called on Congress and federal agencies to support the development and application of technologies to meet the needs of older adults.
For a relatively new organization, CAST did a great job of getting attention and support. Companies participating in the demonstrations included Intel, GE Security, H-P, Honeywell, Motorola, Philips and Comcast. Numerous university research groups such as Georgia Tech and MIT were also heavily involved. The first sign that the initiative succeeded in getting attention is that the Senate Special Committee on Aging has scheduled a 10 a.m. hearing on April 6, 2004 to examine assistive technology’s role in aging services.
Health Concerns of the Aging and Technologies that Can Help
Here's a brief overview of some of the health concerns of the aging and their families that we learned about at the AAHSA conference. Many of these apply to people living in their own homes as well as to those living with some level of assistance.
We saw and heard about a wide variety of technologies to address these concerns. A presentation by Honeywell on ILSA (Independent Lifestyle Assistant), and another by the University of Virginia, helped us categorize some of the functions that are useful in addressing these concerns.
The vision for ILSA is to recognize changes in routine daily behaviors as potential predictors of a change in health status. The four steps they described include:
Some Big Issues
Some of the issues we heard about repeatedly during the conference concerned regulation, liability and financing. Because a significant portion of care for the aging is paid for through government programs, regulations which were once appropriate may no longer be in everyone's best interests.
Since sensor technologies provide detailed information about what a person is doing, their use raises significant privacy questions. However, many installations of technology resulted in significantly more concern on the part of the caregiver than by the aging adult, as long as the client had access to the information about themselves.
Because many of the technologies relate not just to lifestyle and wellness but to medical conditions, fear of legal liability is an issue for some companies which have technologies which could be applied to this market.
...And Also Some Success Stories
Despite the issues which must be addressed, it was reassuring to hear some real world success stories. One of these was presented by Bridget Gallagher, representing Lifecare Services by The Jewish Home & Hospital. Her organization is focused on home care and addresses a population of over 800 seniors, 90% of whom live below the poverty level. Their data on Home Care patients revealed that the number one cause of acute care hospitalization was Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
By providing Health Buddy--a simple telecare technology--to 111 CHF patients and remotely monitoring to promote self care, early intervention and medication adherence, they found that patient outcomes were improved and hospitalization rates were significantly decreased. Bridget's conclusion was that "all home care agencies need to improve patient outcomes while containing fiscal expenditures. It is unlikely that agencies will continue to meet these goals if they do not include Telecare, in some shape or form, as part of their care planning process."
A Work In Process
CAST has just launched an updated Website that includes a clearinghouse to provide "a place to learn what's happening in aging services technologies". It includes four content areas in which technology companies and research organizations can find or post information related to Products, Pilot Projects, Research and Development and Emerging Technologies.
Although many of the technologies we saw in Washington are not ready for deployment today, we are pleased that these companies are forward-looking enough to understand that some of the same infrastructure being put in place now for entertainment and other applications--including broadband connections, home networking and new consumer electronics devices--could play a future role in promoting and maintaining our health. Pursuing this market of wellness and health care for the aging population is not only good for society, it also promises large amounts of money which will be spent by individuals, institutions and governments as the "baby boomers" reach and pass retirement age.
Postscript to our non-US readers
From some of the non-US projects we are aware of, we suspect the application of technology to the health concerns of the aging and their families may be an area in which the US is behind some other countries. One of our previous articles concerned Telefonica's Pilot on Home Health Services. We would be interested in hearing from our readers about other projects in which broadband, home networking and home gateways are being applied to home health care, either for the aging or more generally.
The growth of broadband connections to the home and home networking, plus the increasing popularity of home theaters and surround sound, provide a great opportunity for people to help consumers plan, install and maintain all this equipment and the services it enables. The EH Expo show is targeted at "connected home professionals" which includes A/V contractors, computer systems integrators and VARs, homebuilders, electrical contractors, security system installers, etc.
We last visited EH Expo two years ago, and we decided to revisit this show and see how the industry had changed. We were particularly interested in the impact that the increasing intersection of the PC and consumer electronics worlds had created for this industry.
Although we found some changes in the types of equipment being shown and discussed, overall we felt like we were visiting a parallel universe where all the changes we've seen in the past two years had not happened. While the conference organizers and some of the speakers were well aware of the dynamic changes coming from digital convergence, the preponderance of equipment being demonstrated was still based on closed, proprietary systems with perhaps a few weak bridges to the digital/IP world.
We thought by now it would be a "no-brainer" for homebuilders to include structured wiring to many places in the home to accommodate consumers' increasing dependence on connected digital devices. CEA had released its "TechHome Rating System" prior to EHX two years ago, and a few vendors were talking about it then.
At this year's show, our discussions with vendors and knowledgeable attendees indicated that the industry has made surprisingly little progress in convincing builders that electronic home technologies are not just an expense to be minimized, but rather an opportunity for upselling and increased profits. If the value proposition is unclear to consumers, realtors, builders and integrators, it's hard to fault most vendors for focusing on "traditional" technologies.
Despite this rather glum overview, we found some "points of light" at the show and are hopeful for the future.
"Technology in Master-Planned Communities"
The "Builder Bull Session" on "Technology in Master-Planned Communities" was very helpful. Brian Hills, Vice President, Technical Services of The Broadband Group (TBG) chaired the session and talked about the work his company is doing in helping developers plan the technologies for master-planned communities. He showed an outline of a "technology master plan" with four components:
Brian said that it was important for developers to "make technology an amenity from day one" just like tennis courts and swimming pools.
Don Whyte spoke in the session. Don is president of the Southeast division of Newland Communities, one of the largest US developers of master-planned communities. Newland is a client of TBG and has been following the "master plan" approach in its FishHawk Ranch development near Tampa, Florida.
Don said Newland's mission is to "create wonderful places to live" and that "technology creates an amenity to distinguish our new neighborhoods." Every builder in their community is required to install structured wiring. Newland inspects the homes to verify that the wiring meets the specifications--so the customer has the new services the day the family moves into the house. He said "the community intranet is as much an amenity as the parks and the playgrounds."
In an interview after the session, Don told us that he plans to start building "technology information centers" to demonstrate these new technologies to homebuyers. This would bring together builders and technology providers in a stand-alone building away from model homes and the current design centers. It would focus on technology and provide hands-on demonstrations. The first of these will be in operation later this year.
Structured Wiring Companies
At the show, we talked with several companies that specialize in structured wiring systems; these companies provide the wiring infrastructure that goes into the walls of new homes being built. They are extending their product lines beyond wiring to include more elements of the networking system, and to develop new ways to help builders and installers sell their products to homebuyers.
We were delighted to compare notes with Bobby Riesdorph of Leviton whom we first met two years ago. He confirmed our perception that little had changed in what builders were typically doing with structured wiring, repeating what he told us in 2002: the vast majority of homes equipped with structured wiring still have only one CAT5E for telephony and one RG-6 for video, even though it would cost less than $100 to add a second CAT5E for data.
In November, Leviton and Dedicated Devices (DDI) announced a "partnership to introduce a new class of device which will transform ordinary structured wiring and data networks into fully-capable internet protocol (IP) Structured Media networks." In the Leviton booth, Jonathan Weech of DDI showed us a prototype of their new product -- a small server mounted in the wiring enclosure. They said they would be able to discuss specific features and functions later in the year.
OnQ Technologies recently launched a new initiative called OnQ Home a "new branding identity and sales methodology" that is focused on solutions for builders, installers and consumers. At their booth at EHX, Loren Mitchell, Director of Business Development, showed us their new configurator. This has a "Chinese menu" of networked applications and services--the customer selects from a set of columns and OnQ's system tells them the installed price. The installer will set up the configurator with the products and prices appropriate to the specific market.
OnQ is about to launch a major campaign to help builders and installers use this simplified approach to selling the connected infrastructure and the applications it enables. The OnQ Home web site promises that it "will launch in April 2004" so it should be running soon after you receive this.
Netstreams - IP-based Audio and Video The Netstreams booth was one of the most exciting at EHX - perhaps because it came closest to our view of the evolution of this industry. We were attracted to the booth by a sign for the DiGiLinX distributed audio system. After a demonstration, we observed that it appeared quite similar to a product GE SMART showed us two years ago. We soon learned that Mike Braithwaite--who showed it to us then--is now CTO of Netstreams and indeed we were seeing the latest evolution of that product.
After the show, we interviewed Herman Cardenas, CEO of Netstreams (and formerly CEO of GE SMART). Herman has been working on networked audio and video for a very long time, and we were glad to talk with him about his plans.
DiGiLinX is a "whole home" audio system based on TCP/IP, Category 5 wiring and Ethernet (plus any other technology that can interface with Ethernet, such as Wi-Fi). It is a complete system solution integrating IP-based loudspeakers, audio sources (both "legacy" devices like CD players and emerging "native" devices like home media servers), "metadata" (see the Get Digital article below) and Web-browser-based control screens.
Each room in the house has a DiGiLinX module connected to (or integrated into) the loudspeakers; the module acts as a web server, a controller and amplifier for the loudspeakers, and an analog input for audio devices in that room. A user can address any module (such as "Living Room"), select any content from any source, and direct it to any room or combination of rooms.
The system is designed initially for the demanding "custom" market where audiophiles can hear the difference between compressed audio (like MP3) and uncompressed CD audio. So the system is designed to handle multiple streams of uncompressed PCM audio as well as MP3, and transport them to any combinations of rooms. Herman told us one major problem Netstreams has solved is synchronizing the room modules: an album selected to play on speakers in many rooms will have no audible time difference between rooms, even though each module is playing the content individually.
Although Netstreams will offer several control devices, including wall-mounted and portable LCD controllers, the system can be controlled from any Web browser. So any PC, PDA or Smart Display in the house can be used to control any room's speakers and all sources.
Netstreams has ambitious plans to extend the system for video, and to move into broader markets. Herman said the first audio products will ship in July. We're looking forward to learning more about Netstreams products through a test in our home.
As we were getting ready to leave the show, we noticed a booth for D&H Distributing, a large distributor of home technologies. In their booth, we found demonstrations of several products that fit well in the networked home:
We asked a representative of D&H why they were showing these products at the show, since most other companies were showing much more traditional products. He explained that D&H--unlike most distributors--carries computers, networking and audio/video product lines, and has found that their reseller customers are increasingly combining these products to build integrated systems for end users. D&H now characterizes itself as "a one-stop resource for ... these converging technologies". Glad to see it.
In an article last month we described Get Digital's service converting CD collections to compressed digital audio formats. As we went to press, we sent them our entire CD collection (about 200 disks).
A week later, we received our disks back, along with three DVD-ROMS containing our entire collection in MP3 format. Now we have loaded all the tracks on our server, and can listen to any of our music--selected by artist, track, album or genre--on our AudioTron, our TiVo or any of the other digital media adapters we're testing.
It didn't surprise us that the audio sounded fine, even in MP3 at 128 kbps. Purists might hear the difference from the original CDs, but we can't. Had we been concerned about audio quality, we could have selected a higher bit rate. But we made a tradeoff of compression rate versus disk space -- our entire collection takes about 9 gigabytes on one of our PCs.
What surprised us was the discovery of how important the "metadata" is, how involved we became in getting it right, and how helpful Get Digital was.
In general, "metadata" is data about data. In the case of audio tracks, the metadata identifies the album title, the name of the specific track, the artist, and the genre (Rock, Folk, etc). It also includes the track number, and can include much more including the album art.
Most PC programs for playing and "ripping" CDs use metadata from an online database called CDDB, which we wrote about several years ago. CDDB is a very broad database, but since it depends on individual users to create the metadata for each CD, there are inconsistencies between disks. Some users are more careful than others in typing in album titles and tracks, and different users may characterize the genre differently.
We have a rather eclectic collection of CDs--it's mostly traditional folk music from North America, England and Ireland, with some classical music. When we started ripping CDs ourselves several years ago, we found that many were not in CDDB. So we expected Get Digital to have a lot of problems with the metadata, especially track data and album art.
A few days after we shipped our collection to Get Digital, we received a PDF file by email showing all of our albums: covers, titles and tracks. To our delight, it was in very good shape--much better than we had seen with CDDB. Nearly all the tracks were correct. Only 10 covers were missing -- Get Digital had somehow found album art for most of our obscure English CDs. In a few cases, there was some inconsistency in the artist names; on albums with more than one artist, different albums sometimes had different variations of the names.
After a phone conversation with Doug Strachota, we exchanged email to correct the artist names and track titles. We also mailed the cover art for the 10 CDs that were missing.
When we received the DVD-ROMs with our MP3 tracks from Get Digital, we also received a notebook with high-quality color pages cataloging our entire collection - each album with its cover art and tracks. Because we had worked with Get Digital to correct the metadata, it's in excellent shape. And the same metadata is associated with each track, so any networked digital media player will display it the same way.
We recently asked Doug whether our experience with Get Digital was exceptional - we observed that we felt rather like a newspaper food critic eating at a restaurant for a review. He said Get Digital's customers vary, but they are often dealing "with early adopters who understand the value of getting the metadata correct." It's easy to get it right for customers whose CDs "don't go beyond the Tower Records catalog" and harder for those with collections as eclectic as ours. Get Digital works with customers to get the metadata right -- that way they have the correct metadata in their database the next time they receive the same CD.
Get Digital has positioned itself to create the best metadata for CDs "It's all about the data--which is our focus!" Unlike CDDB and other online databases, Get Digital handles the physical disks and works with its customers to get the metadata right. The first version of the metadata was excellent, and it was even better after we worked with them to correct the few errors we found. When Dave apologized for being picky, Doug replied "you are being picky, but so are we."
We're looking forward to playing our entire collection on our AudioTron and the other digital media adapters we're evaluating.
On our way to EH Expo, we visited with our daughter in Jacksonville. Dave never seems to learn -- he had offered to install a network for our daughter, even after his distressing experience installing a simple network at his brother's house (which took two days and 20 hours). This time it went almost without a glitch.
We installed an SMC2804WBRP-G, a new 802.11g router with a built-in print server. Installation was straight-forward and would have been flawless except for an Ethernet cable that we didn't seat quite right in the cable modem far under the desk. Once we got a solid "click" we were surfing the Web from our portable PCs in less than an hour after getting home with the router.
The problem occurred when we tried to set up security. We had wanted to use WPA, the newest and most secure Wi-Fi security mechanism, but we didn't think one of our PCs could handle it properly without an updated driver. So we enabled the older WEP security in the router and set up 128-bit keys in both PCs. We connected to the router with no trouble, but couldn't connect to the Internet. A little detective work found that we weren't getting DHCP from the router when WEP was turned on - we got it immediately when we turned WEP off.
We looked at the router status page, and found that it had shipped with firmware version 1.000. On the Web, we found the latest version was 1.002. We followed the directions for updating the firmware, and soon had the new software version running. And now DHCP was working properly - we had no trouble getting on the Internet from that point on.
Moral of the story (we've said it before): Always update the firmware (in routers and access points) and drivers (in LAN cards) to avoid problems.
It's probably a good idea in any firmware-based device -- like it or not, there are a lot of those in our future.
Sandy and Dave will be covering FastNet Futures 2004 and SPRING VON 2004 in Santa Clara, California next week, March 29 through April 1. At FastNet Futures, we've organized a session on "Broadband Entertainment" -- Sandy will be speaking and Dave will moderate on Monday afternoon.
If you'd like to meet with us, please contact us at email@example.com so we can arrange it. Or just stop by and say "hi" if you see us.
Wireless versus "traditional LAN wiring"
Jason Lue wrote "It's very lucky for me to find your wonderful website about home networking esp. wireless networking. I'm now in a decision making process whether I should apply the new wireless networking technology to my new home under construction or just traditional LAN wiring like I saw in your video. Wireless is simple and cost effective. The only concern is the range of signal for a typical 3 story house including basement. Your point test data convinced me. I'll definite go wireless without any ethernet LAN."
We replied "I think it's a mistake to "go wireless without any ethernet LAN". I suggest you run structured wiring at least between floors and to each end of the house -- with three floors, that would mean five or so runs from the basement. That would let you position wireless access points as needed to get optimal coverage, and to place Ethernet switches for fixed equipment."
Broadband Products/Services for People with Disabilities
Maurice O'Conner wrote from Dublin: "I look forward to receiving and reading each issue of your Broadband Home e-zine. ... I use bbhcentral.com as my primary source of information about developments in home oriented broadband technologies.
... Have you ever looked specifically at the question of products / services that leverage broadband technologies to enable and empower people with disabilities in their home environment ?"
We replied: "We are very interested in the question of products and services that leverage broadband technologies in the home, although we have focused less on people with disabilities and more on the questions of the elderly and aging in place and home health care.
I believe there is actually much more work going on in Europe than in the US on leveraging broadband for societal benefits such as empowering people with disabilities. Someone recently pointed me to the EU site e-Accessibility: Design for all which seems to have some relevant information. I also noted an interesting article from the US Department of Veterans Affairs."
Many of the technologies discussed in the AAHSA/CAST article elsewhere in this issue would be applicable to people with disabilities.
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