In This Issue
Joining Ranks To Win
"Changing the World" -
The Changing Face of Entertainment -
Integrating the Missing Piece
Your Voice -
Gennadiy Mark Borisov was promoted to VP, Advanced Products, at MTV Networks. ( www.mtv.com )
John Caulfield was appointed VP of sales for North America at 2Wire; he was previously with Vertical Networks. Ted Fagenson was named VP of sales for Latin America and Asia Pacific; he was formerly international sales director for 2Wire. ( www.2wire.com )
Jim Elliot has been named VP of marketing at STSN; he was previously with Lighthouse Communications. ( www.stsn.com )
Matthew Goldman has been hired as Director of Technology at TANDBERG Television. He was previously a technology consultant. ( www.tandbergtv.com )
Ian Jefferson has been appointed VP of Sales at Entone Technologies, and Mark Stalica was appointed VP of Worldwide Sales. Both were previously with Terayon. ( www.entone.com )
Amos Kohn has joined ICTV as VP of Network Modeling; he was most recently with Aviva Communications. ( www.ictv.com )
Benoit (Ben) Legault has joined Ellacoya Networks as VP of technology; he was formerly with ADC. ( www.ellacoya.com )
Oleg Logvinov was named president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, and Pete Griffin was named chairman of the board. Logvinov has been President and COO of Enikia. Griffin is Director of Technology at RadioShack. ( www.homeplug.org )
Eric Miller has been promoted to CTO at Vidiom Systems and Rob Beaver to VP of Engineering. ( www.vidiom.com )
Jeff Paine has been named VP of strategic marketing at UTStarcom; he was previously with Syndeo. ( www.utstar.com )
Bob Weissburg was named President of Sales and Marketing, North America for D&M Holdings; he was previously with Sony North America. ( www.dm-holdings.com )
Company News --Acquisitions
Broadcom is acquiring Widcomm, a provider of Bluetooth software, for approximately $49 million. Broadcom has also acquired advanced video compression provider Sand Video for $77.5 million. ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.widcomm.com ) ( www.sandvideo.com )
Industry sources report that Intel has bought Envara, a fabless wireless chipset company, for $40 million. The acquisition has not been confirmed by company announcements. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.envara.com )
Intellon has acquired the engineering team and intellectual property of Cogency Semiconductor. Financial details were not disclosed. [See below for our interview with the CEO of Intellon and former CEO of Cogency.] ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.cogency.com )
Kabel Deutschland GmbH, Germany's largest cable operator, is acquiring three smaller companies, Ish, KabelBW and iesy, for about $3.3 billion. ( www.kabeldeutschland.de )
Cedar Point Communications, a provider of integrated packet-based voice and multimedia technologies for cable, has secured $20 million in additional funding. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )
Firetide, a mesh networking provider, has closed its Series B Preferred Stock financing round of $13.6 million. ( www.firetide.com )
Intel Capital has invested in four companies associated with the digital home: consumer electronics networking company Digital 5, ultrawideband software developer Staccato Communications, secure services provider Trymedia Systems and ultrawideband chip maker Wisair. Terms of the investments were not released. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.digital5.com ) ( www.staccatocommunications.com ) ( www.trymedia.com ) ( www.wisair.com )
Intellon, a supplier of integrated circuits for high-speed powerline networking, has raised $23.5 million in new equity financing. ( www.intellon.com )
MetroFi, a wireless broadband provider, has received $9 million in Series A funding. ( www.metrofi.com )
Modulus Video, a provider of video compression solutions for digital television, closed an $8.5 million Series A financing. ( www.modulusvideo.com )
NetStreams, a provider of IP-based Networked Audio/Video distribution/control solutions, received a capital infusion from Austin Ventures. The amount was not disclosed. ( www.netstreams.com ) ( www.austinventures.com )
WiDeFi, which makes chips to increase wireless network range, has raised $6.8 million in venture capital. ( www.widefi.com )
Cablelabs recently completed Certification Wave 28, resulting in two new milestones:
Gotuit Media, a provider of on-demand television, announced a trial agreement with Universal Music Group (UMG), to bring cable subscribers music videos on demand. A test of Gotuit Music OnDemand is currently underway with a major U.S. cable MSO. Additional operator deployments are expected to be announced shortly. ( www.gotuit.com )
Intel released its new processor family designed for full-motion videoconferencing and DVD-quality video playback on mobile devices. Intel VP Sean Maloney said: "Advances in wireless broadband demand a new kind of wireless device." ( www.intel.com )
Navini Networks has joined the WiMAX Forum and plans to add WiMAX-certified broadband wireless systems to its product portfolio and deliver their adaptive phased array antenna technology in IEEE 802.16 standards-based products. Navini believes that Revision e to the IEEE 802.16 standard--which supports mobility--is a key operator requirement. ( www.navini.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org )
Nextel has doubled the coverage area of its Flarion-based wireless broadband trial, and has begun accepting paying customers. However, David Haskin in MobilePipeline reports that Nextel is also evaluating products from at least one other vendor, IPWireless. ( www.nextel.com ) ( www.flarion.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com )
Personal Broadband Australia (PBA) has launched its iBurst commercial service, using Arraycomm technology in Sydney. The follow-on plan calls for Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane later this year and a full national rollout in 2005. They expect this will provide a fully mobile 1Mbps service to approximately 75 per cent of the Australian population and 95 per cent of Australian businesses. ( www.pba.com.au ) ( www.arraycomm.com )
Skype Technologies has introduced PocketSkype, free software which enables Microsoft PocketPC-based handhelds to connect to Wi-Fi access points to make free VoIP calls. Skype is using the excellent voice processing software from Global IP Sound, as they did in their original PC based client. ( www.skype.com ) ( www.globalipsound.com )
US: The FCC has voted to allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate at higher power in the 3650 MHz band. It is seen as a way to help spread wireless broadband deployment across rural regions. The spectrum, located in the 3650-3700 MHz band, can be used for both fixed and mobile commercial wireless services. ( www.fcc.gov )
Big Macs and broadband--do they go together? McDonald's selected Wayport to roll out Wi-Fi access in McDonald's restaurants around the US. McDonald's has dropped pilot programs from both Cometa Networks and Toshiba. Subsequently, Cometa announced they have formed a strategic alliance with Toshiba, and will incorporate some or all of Toshiba's SurfHere hot spots. ( www.wayport.com ) ( www.toshiba.com )
US--Universal Broadband? US President George W. Bush said the US should make it a goal to offer every American access to broadband Internet connections by 2007. However, Bush didn't offer any specifics on how this would happen. His opponent, Senator John F. Kerry, has also spoken about broadband and released an economic plan that called for "spurring the growth of new industries like the broadband technology that will dominate the future." However much those of us in the industry would like to see it happen, however, voters don't cast ballots for candidates because of their position on broadband, even when it is clear that the US is falling farther behind other countries.
The US is far from universal broadband at the moment. US broadband penetration correlates with higher income: A recently released Nielsen/NetRatings study indicates that 69% of US Internet users with incomes of $150K or more are using broadband connections, compared to only 36% of those with earnings between $25K-$50K. ( www.nielsen-netratings.com )
Your car--an extension of your broadband home? The MIT Technology Review reports that "The number of North American car models with wireless devices in the dashboard--collectively known as “telematics“--has doubled since 2001, according to a report today from the Telematics Research Group, an industry forecasting firm. While GM’s OnStar is still the leading provider of telematics services, 25 manufacturers of vehicles sold in North America now offer some form of telematics--ranging from GPS navigation systems to satellite radio and integrated cell phones--on 101 vehicle models." It's hard enough to get all the devices inside the home to communicate, but in addition we'd like compatibility and sometimes interoperability with those in the car. This is a new area of convergence--the one in which the fixed and mobile worlds are meeting. ( www.technologyreview.com ) ( www.telematicsresearch.com )
When Intellon announced it had acquired the engineering team and intellectual property of Cogency Semiconductor, a competing developer of powerline integrated circuits, it seemed like a great time to get an update on the rationale for the acquisition. We recently had the opportunity to speak on the telephone with both Charlie Harris, Intellon's Chairman and CEO, and Ron Glibbery, now Intellon's President (whom we had met when he was Cogency's CEO). We wanted to hear not only why and how the assets were being combined, but also what plans Intellon has to make their chipsets and the products based on them much more successful in the marketplace.
Since our first tests of HomePlug two years ago, we've found the concept of networking home devices using the electrical wiring already in the walls to be very appealing. After all, someone is likely to ask you "Is it plugged in?" when something isn't working. Plugging a new device into a power outlet and having it become connected is intuitive. It has great coverage, because power outlets are already distributed all around a house--unlike the more limited number of telephone or coax connection points.
Of course, being intuitively right does not necessarily make a technology work well or win in the market.
When we ran our initial tests on HomePlug in 2002, we verified that the products did indeed work and since that time, many improvements have made them work even better. Our tests of HomePlug products from ST&T built on both Intellon and Cogency chips showed that both worked very well.
What didn't seem to work well, however, was the effort of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance--the industry consortium formed to certify and promote HomePlug products--to get their message to the market. Wi-Fi had all the air time (no pun intended). Although Wi-Fi is a terrific solution for portable devices, the natural tendency of wireless to be subject to interference and "dead-spots" seemed to suggest HomePlug--which avoids these problems--as the natural complement for stationary devices.
In addition to facing the formidable task of competing for shelf space and mindshare with Wi-Fi, HomePlug faces the reality that wireless has moved more quickly toward higher speeds. 802.11g products are sweeping the market and the wireless push is now on toward 100 Mbps, the new bar against which home networking is measured. More than a year ago, HomePlug announced the start of work on HomePlug AV, a new standard with the same goals.
With those thoughts in mind, we first asked Charlie and Ron to explain the "whys" of the acquisition. Charlie explained that both companies had reduced staff during the difficult period the market encountered. However, with work now gearing up on HomePlug AV, Intellon clearly needed to add more resources. With their goal being to have "the best high-speed powerline team in the world" it was a natural to combine forces with another competent but understaffed team, so that together they could "have the best technology and engineering teams". This was made possible since Intellon had gotten new financing (see "Funding" above). “With this acquisition, we have over 95% of the growing world market for HomePlug 1.0 integrated circuits. We intend to continue that leadership with our next-generation PowerAV™ integrated circuits that will support video streaming over existing home powerlines.”
With the engineering resources now integrated, Intellon's goal for IC chip samples for HomePlug AV is the end of this year; that depends on when the HomePlug AV spec is finally locked in. If all goes as expected, products should reach the market in the first half of 2005. Intellon's goal for their next-generation product is to support two "bulletproof" high-definition video streams, along with some Web surfing and VoIP.
The next stage for HomePlug chips is that they won't be just in adapters, but embedded directly into PC and CE products; that will be the step that really delivers on the whole intuitive, easy, ubiquitous promise. Learning from Intel's involvement in Wi-Fi, Intellon expects to be more active than before in direct market development.
Of course, Intellon is not alone in going after the market for HomePlug AV chips. Other contenders include Panasonic, Conexant and Barcelona-based DS2 (which has been more focused on the access market). Each of these has contributed some of the baseline technology, as announced by the HomePlug association at CES in January: "The HomePlug AV specification will be based upon Panasonic's innovative powerline AV communications technology, along with the proven market performance of Intellon's powerline home networking technology and DS2's powerline access technology. The baseline technology includes quality of service and AV management technology provided by Sharp. Conexant will contribute its advanced signal processing capabilities to improve overall system performance and robustness."
Whoever it is that delivers on the promise, we're eager to have what Oleg Logvinov, new President of the HomePlug alliance, says it will deliver: the "bandwidth to stream high definition video, the Quality-of-Service required for audio/visual applications and services, and reliable coverage of the entire house.”
In case you've lost track of how quickly the telephony world has changed, let's take a short trip back in history:
With that as backdrop, Jeff Pulver's opening talk for VON rang true. Jeff's message was that "we can change the world" with voice over IP (VoIP) and "nothing is impossible". In fact, the telecom world has been forever changed by VoIP. For example, with the ability for users to obtain a phone number that is independent of where they live, a British expat living in Hong Hong could buy a UK phone number and have their UK relatives call them in Hong Kong on a local number. Of course, Jeff has evidence you can change the world: he did so with the FCC's recent "Pulver decision".
Our observation from this year's VON is that we are in the third stage of VoIP. In stage one, it was limited to hobbyists and techies and addressed by the very early efforts of pioneering companies like VocalTec. In stage two, some companies used VoIP in their backbone to reduce transmission costs for internal phone calls; some other companies offered calls routed over VoIP to reduce end-user costs for international calls.
In the third (current) stage, businesses and consumers with broadband access can use VoIP as an alternative or complement to their traditional phone services. Consumers do so by subscribing to a service and installing an "analog terminal adapter" between their broadband modem and their standard analog phones.
Vonage was the first US example of such a company. Since Vonage's introduction, it has been joined by a number of other competitors and at VON still more threw their hats into the ring. Perhaps most notable of these was AT&T with their new CallVantage offering: AT&T is charging $39.95 per month (with an introductory offer of $19.95 for the first three months) for unlimited US calls, and provides a pretty user interface with additional "eFeatures". BroadVoice, one of the less-known newcomers, provides an unlimited $19.95 per month plan for US calls.
The fourth stage of VoIP is just in its infancy. In it, customers will use new SIP phones and will take advantage of a set of features that are not possible using today's analog phones and services which support only terminal adapters. Although some of these features are on the drawing boards, what Jeff challenged the audience to invent is tomorrow's phone, which is as easy to use and appealing as Apple's iPod. "We need an Apple to create the iPhone" he said.
To see what progress is being made toward VoIP's future, we visited with some of the exhibitors at VON. We report on only a few of them, since we divided our time between VON and FastNet Futures, which occurred simultaneously.
On the VON exhibit floor, we met with Bill Zhang, Director of Technical Operations at Grandstream Networks. In our article on last Spring's VON show, we wrote about Grandstream's "$75 SIP phones and MTAs". This year, both devices are on the market.
Grandstream's newest analog telephone adaptor (ATA), the HandyTone 486 is an example of what cable operators call a "multimedia terminal adaptor" (MTA) and telephone companies call an "integrated access device" (IAD). These devices convert VoIP services from a broadband connection for use by conventional analog telephones and therefore provide a bridge between the old world of analog telephony and the new world of IP-based digital telephony. The second-generation 486 adds a router and DHCP/NAT services as well as a "PSTN life line port" for fallback, and has a suggested retail price of $85.
The BudgeTone-100 series IP phones are fully-featured SIP-based devices aimed at the advanced consumer market. These firmware-based telephones plug into an Ethernet network.
Grandstream's phones and ATAs support many voice codecs, and have recently added support for the iLBC low-bit-rate codec (see below).
Global IP Sound
We met with Global IP Sound at VON. GIPS announced their newest software product, a set of modules for developers of software applications for real-time communications over the Internet. These can be used separately, or as part of a software framework designed to handle all voice-related tasks for VoIP soft clients in PC or PDA environments.
Gary Hermansen, President and CEO, and Roar Hagen, CTO and Co-Founder, gave us a demonstration of the new modules in operation on a standard PDA connected with Wi-Fi. We walked around (and outside) the show floor talking through a headset, the PDA, Wi-Fi and the Internet to the GIPS office in San Francisco.
The demo was based on GIPS' iPCM-wb wideband codec designed to provide "better than PSTN" quality while being very immune from packet delay or loss. Our impression was that the voice quality was very good -- considerably better than our cellphones and probably better than our regular phones.
GIPS also provides the iLBC low-bit-rate narrowband codec, specifically designed for Internet telephony and providing PSTN voice quality even with packet delay or loss. This codec is available on a royalty-free basis and has been submitted to the IETF for standardization.
John Starkweather and Balz Wyse of the Embedded Devices Group at Microsoft briefed us on VoIP support in the latest release of Windows CE. Windows CE is used in an increasing variety of devices, and the 5.0 release includes an extensive VoIP solution for these devices. CE has built-in support for SIP (to establish VoIP connections) and RTP (to move voice "data" between devices). 5.0 adds two more layers of support: a Telephony User Interface (TUI) and a VoIP Application Interface Layer (VAIL), all provided as source code.
The TUI provides a sample user interface with a set of core telephony features such as call dialing, holding and forwarding; and incoming call screening and missed call notification. Manufacturers and service providers can use the TUI as-is, or can customize it for a specific product.
VAIL provides a suite of components for call handling and logging. The VoIP Manager is the "engine" for VoIP, including SIP server registration, response to network events (such as playing ring tones on an incoming call) and handling caller ID and conferencing. Other components include speed dial, call logging and a repertoire of standardized codecs.
Microsoft has announced many partners for the CE 5.0 VoIP support, including chip companies such as Broadcom, Conexant and TI. At VON, they announced that Vonage was adopting CE 5.0 VoIP for a "soft phone".
While we were at the VON conference, we spent some time discussing ENUM with Richard Shockey of Neustar. Rich is the Co-Chair of the IETF ENUM Work Group, and volunteered to brief us on ENUM. While ENUM has been around for some time, it is just starting to move from trials to full-scale implementations.
Rich said that ENUM is trying to solve two problems on the path to "end to end IP":
A call made from an IP phone to a regular phone on the PSTN can't be free -- at some point, the call must be converted from IP to PSTN formats, and someone has to pay transaction fees to connect the call to the dialed number. Services like Vonage -- although based on IP telephony -- can't be free: while Vonage uses the Internet to carry calls around the world, it has to pay the traditional telephony companies to terminate the calls, and someone has to pay Vonage.
By contrast, any "end-to-end" IP call should be free. It is a standard Internet application like email and IM. IP calls made PC to PC are free with IM services from AOL, Yahoo and MSN.
But there's a problem when people use familiar-style phones to make end-to-end IP calls: IP phone numbers are difficult if not impossible to dial from standard keypads. My business card has both my cellphone number and my email address; if my email address is mailto:email@example.com, I would probably want my SIP "phone number" to be sip:firstname.lastname@example.org so anyone who knows my email address would also know my sip address.
If someone wants to reach me from a PC, it's easy to enter "sip:email@example.com" on a PC keyboard. But if they want to use a phone to reach me, it's very hard to enter "sip:firstname.lastname@example.org" on a traditional numeric telephone keypad. It would be a lot easier if people could use my cellphone number, which identifies me uniquely the same way as my email address.
So it would really be convenient if someone who wants to call me could just dial 1-973-123-4567 and have it automatically (and invisibly) converted to "sip:email@example.com". That's what ENUM does.
ENUM translates standard phone numbers into SIP addresses using standard Internet mechanisms. It takes any telephone number including the country code, and converts it into a SIP address.
What makes ENUM rather unusual is that is "neither fish nor fowl": it bridges the new world of the Internet where standards are set by the IETF, and the old world of telephony where standards are set by the ITU. In the ITU world, almost everything to do with how phone numbers are assigned, formatted (for example, how many digits are in each phone number and how many of these are used for city codes or area codes), and maintained differs from country to country and therefore from country code to country code. Since ENUM is designed to be a universal mechanism for mapping phone numbers to SIP addresses, it needs to handle these differences.
The "international numbering plan" is defined in ITU-T Recommendation E.164. This describes how a unique phone number is composed of a country code (1 to 3 digits), an optional "national destination code" (area code or city code), and a subscriber number. ITU-T maintains a list of assigned country codes.
How ENUM Works
As described in RFC 2916, ENUM takes any telephone number and turns it into a unique domain name. This is accomplished by taking the phone number, removing all non-digit characters, reversing the digits, putting a "dot" between each digit, and appending the string ".e164.arpa". Here are a few examples:
(There's a nice picture of this in this article from the Washington Post three years ago.)
This new domain name is then looked up through the standard DNS (domain name service) mechanism used throughout the Internet, and returns the user's SIP address. It can also return the user's email address, one or more phone numbers, domain name, and other information which that user wants to provide.
ENUM provides a bridge into the ITU world by processing country codes as subdomains, then delegating the further processing for these subdomains to an appropriate authority - typically the numbering plan administrator for that country code. Neustar currently plays this role for country code "1"; government agencies often play this role for other country codes.
For those interested in more details, RFC 2916 provides some examples.
ENUM and SS7
In the PSTN, number translation is one of the main services provided by SS7 ("signaling system 7"), the system by which traditional central office switches communicate with one another.
While SS7 is a closed world, ENUM provides an open mechanism for public number translation. The same ENUM mechanism can be used for private number translation -- say between PBX extensions at different offices of a company, or for direct company-to-company calls.
Thus ENUM, while a fairly simple application of existing DNS mechanisms, represents somewhat of a challenge to the private infrastructure of the long-established (and mostly not-so-long-ago monopoly) carriers.
Many national ENUM trials are under way, including many European countries, Korea and Japan.
The ENUM Forum has been created to develop policy and steps to implement ENUM in the United States. The US government supports RFC 2916 and endorses moving forward with ENUM; see this press release from NTIA which supports "the ENUM Forum’s consideration of a limited liability company (LLC) to select at least one Tier 1 provider."
Pending the establishment of a national ENUM administrator, Neustar is operating an ENUM Public Trial "for carriers, telephone service providers, and telecom equipment manufacturers who wish to test features and functionalities of products under RFC 2916."
( www.neustar.biz )
New technologies like broadband and home networking are changing how consumers experience audio and video entertainment. Every week, there are multiple announcements of new products and services that promise to improve our home entertainment experience. These include new digital media adapters, entertainment PCs, broadband movie and music services and portable flat screen TVs. At FastNet Futures last month, we assembled industry experts to explore what new entertainment experiences broadband and networking make possible for consumers; what new technologies are key to this transformation; and the efforts underway to conquer the remaining problems. These efforts are sorely needed--without them, our homes will continue to fragment into multiple "islands" of technology which remain isolated from one another and confound users with their inability to interoperate seamlessly.
Sandy Teger, Broadband Home Central
Sandy led off the session by describing what users desire: "To get the entertainment content I want, anytime and anywhere in my home." If this were true today, we would all be able to do things like:
Although broadband data is increasingly networked, we are just at the beginning of the process for entertainment. Professionally-generated entertainment comes to the home in three ways today: broadcast (radio, cable TV, satellite TV), packaged media (like CDs and DVDs) and digitally over broadband.
In the worlds of broadcast and packaged media, households have multiple TVs, audio systems, CD and DVD players and set-top boxes. Although they may be "wired" to one another, they are not "networked".
By contrast, broadband content is increasingly carried to PCs and other devices over home networks, wired and wireless.
To progress toward the goal of networking home entertainment, many stakeholders--including content owners, consumer electronics manufacturers, PC manufacturers, Broadband Service Providers, Broadcasters, and consumers--are all looking for their needs to be addressed. There's no end of thorny questions which must be answered, including what networking capabilities are required, how to protect content owners while not taking away the capabilities users expect, what media formats are supported, and who supports the end user.
Jason Ziller, DHWG and Intel
Jason Ziller of Intel, who is Chairman of the Certification & Logo Subcommittee of the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG) spoke about the group's efforts toward enabling consumers' devices to work together and share content. Jason described the group's vision, framework and media strategy.
Jason said that the target for first products using the DHWG Guidelines is late 2004. Since Jason's committee is focused on certification and logoing, it looks like he will be pretty busy for the rest of the year!
We've written previously on the important role we think DHWG is playing. See our January article for more detail.
Neil Hamady, Bermai Networks
The growing number of flat screen TVs and the growing penetration of HDTV create another set of needs--for wireless video networking. The ideal is for home networks to carry multiple channels of high-quality video plus other data and voice traffic wirelessly, not just within rooms but around the home.
Neil Hamady, Director of Products at Bermai Networks, described how we'll be able to move around the house and still receive high definition TV on our flat panel portable TV. Bermai uses two approaches to do this. The first is MIMO: using multiple antennas at both the base station and the subscriber station to increase the performance of the wireless link. The second is implementing the 802.11e draft standard for QoS to assign higher priorities to video streams. Neil described the technical basis for both approaches, both implemented in Bermai’s 802.11a+e QoS chipset for wireless multimedia.
He also reviewed the impressive demonstration we had seen at CES: two simultaneous high-definition video streams, a standard-definition stream and file transfer between two PCs--all running in the same 802.11a channel. The base station was at one end of a hotel room, and several of the subscriber stations--including a high-definition station--were in another room with two walls in-between. For more detail about the Bermai technology and demonstration see our January newsletter.
John Gildred, VP of Engineering at Pioneer Research Center USA, a division of Pioneer Electronics, spoke on two major technical issues in implementing networked digital entertainment: synchronous Ethernet and DRM. Neither of these is covered in the initial version of DHWG since these standards do not yet exist.
Although Ethernet operates at very high speed--most of today's PCs are equipped with 100 Mbps Ethernet, and many now come with 1 Gbps--Ethernet is "best efforts" only. Video transfers can "break up" when other applications, such as a PC-to-PC file transfer, run on the same Ethernet network at the same time.
"Synchronous Ethernet" or "Sync-E" is a proposed approach to extend Ethernet to support isochronous communications for applications such as digital video transfer between a PVR in one room and a high-definition TV set in another room. An IEEE group is working toward extending the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standard to support synchronous Ethernet at 1 Gpbs and higher speeds.
Digital rights management (DRM) is a critical issue in the networked distribution of home entertainment. Owners of premium content are reluctant to permit networked distribution of digital content for fear that unprotected content will be copied and distributed without their permission. There is currently no open standard for DRM.
John observed that "vendors are waiting for standards and publishers are waiting for vendors." He described work on Protected Entertainment Rights Management (PERM), an open DRM standard originally proposed by the DENi Alliance.
PERM divides DRM into two parts: Part 1 defines an open standard protocol, Part 2 defines a mechanism for key licensing and product certification; the two parts are independent. PERM is currently a "work in process" Internet draft -- the draft specification is available for review and comment.
In the first issue of this report, we wrote about 2Wire in an article called Big Aspirations From a Small Company. Four years have passed and 2Wire can point to a track record of having gone from a pioneer in residential gateways to having passed the one million mark of gateways sold. Along the way 2Wire responded to the emerging shape of the market by changing from their early vision of self-installs and embedded applications to the position of worldwide DSL broadband provider partner.
Now that they have established their position with telcos like SBC, BellSouth, Telmex and British Telecom, they have expanded their domain inside the home from data and voice and have added video. The move was sparked by their observation of the quandary of telephone companies (especially in the US) trying to compete with cable operators on the "triple play" of video, voice and data. With cable going after their residential voice market, the RBOCs needed a way to compete quickly in video, and most formed satellite partnerships for video services. But satellite alone does not provide the customer with services equivalent to cable's video-on-demand and interactive TV, which require robust upstream (from home to service provider) capabilities and personalized (as opposed to mass) distribution downstream.
The telcos' needs became 2Wire's opportunity: 2Wire is responding with the MediaPortal set-top platform and an enhanced Component Management System (CMS) for service management and provisioning. MediaPortal will allow telcos to integrate satellite TV, DSL and a range of entertainment services through one set-top box and back-end management system. This takes two separate systems, with capabilities from both DSL and DBS, and delivers an integrated experience for the customer. The MediaPortal will be available early next year and is currently in some early technical trials.
Part of the solution for doing this came from 2Wire's purchase last October of Sugar Media, whose founder and CEO Brian Sugar joined 2Wire as Vice President, Marketing. We met with Brian recently at 2Wire's headquarters in San Jose.
2Wire combined Sugar Media's digital media technology with 2Wire's assets to fill the RBOC gap for broadband-enabled video services. Brian described the MediaPortal box: "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."
According to Brian, the MediaPortal product contains four tuners and supports HD plus media distribution. A "thin client" MediaPoint supports additional TVs; up to three TVs with MediaPoints can be connected to a single MediaPortal.
2Wire's role with the MediaPortal is not just as a product provider, but also as a service integrator. In this role, they will have agreements with multiple services which provide streamed content, such as CinemaNow and Movielink (for movies) and Rhapsody (for music). 2Wire's telco customers will select which of these they would like and 2Wire will act as the service integrator, customizing the interface to the needs of the service provider and their end-user customers. In such a scenario, the telephone company would be taking another step toward a cable model, in which they are bundling more services, not just providing a conduit.
It is not clear to what extent big telephone companies will be willing to be dependent on a relatively-small company like 2Wire for key services they provide to their customers. However, 2Wire already does provide customer care via their Phoenix center so, in a sense, the carriers have demonstrated a level of trust in 2Wire. And 2Wire is continuing to grow, as seen from their Web site list of departments with open positions.
Over time, telcos will be able to use their own facilities to compete widely in video, using FTTH or using VDSL or ADSL2+ to deliver IP-TV. On the way there, MediaPortal seems like a clever tactic to bridge the video gap between their current DSL offerings and the cable companies' triple play. We'll look forward to watching the reality as MediaPortal comes to market and telephone companies adopt MediaPortal (or similar devices) and the market has a chance to vote with its dollars on the new video capabilities.
( www.2wire.com )
FastNet Futures included a session on VDSL2. VDSL was supposed to be "very-high-speed" DSL, but ADSL2+, the most-recent ADSL standard issued more than a year ago, is already faster than some versions of VDSL. Now many companies are working to develop technologies and establish standards for the next generation of "ultra-high-speed" DSL.
In the FastNet session, we heard a presentation by Behvooz Resvani, CTO of Ikanos Communications, on the work Ikanos is doing to extend VDSL with the goal of providing symmetric 100 Mbps service. We were intrigued enough to arrange to visit Ikanos and meet with Piyush Sevalia, Director of Product Marketing.
Ikanos specializes in developing "silicon solutions that are focused on delivering fiber-fast broadband access over existing copper wiring" -- that is, the chips to power very-high-speed DSL. Other companies use Ikanos chips to produce DSL products sold to service providers and end users. Piyush told us that Ikanos has to date "shipped over 2 million ports capable of 50 Mbps or more" -- enough chips to provision one million high-speed DSL lines.
In Japan, both NTT and KDDI are deploying VDSL based on Ikanos chips integrated in products supplied by Sumitomo Electric and NEC. In Korea, KT and Hanaro Telecom are deploying Ikanos-based VDSL products from Samsung and others.
Piyush told us that today's VDSL deployments are based on the Ikanos Fx 7030 chip, designed for 70 Mbps downstream and 30 Mbps upstream. The next generation of products will be based on the latest Fx 10050 chip, with 100 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up (or symmetric 50 Mbps). The "trick" for getting these high speeds is to extend the upper end of the frequency range used by VDSL, currently limited to 12 MHz. Ikanos' Fx chips operate up to 17.6 MHz to gain higher speeds. This is currently non-standard; regulators in Japan and Korea are allowing operation at higher frequencies to enable super-high-speed DSL operation. The final step will be to further extend the frequency band to reach 100 Mbps symmetric.
We asked about the reach of products based on Ikanos chips. Piyush said the highest speeds are based on short subscriber loops, typically 1000 feet in Japan and 2000 feet in Korea. At 1 kilometer (about 3300 feet), speeds would be 50 Mbps downstream and 7 to 10 Mbps upstream; at 2 km, speeds would be 30 Mbps down and 3-4 up. Piyush said that 80% of subscriber loops fed from digital loop carrier (DLC) terminals are 2 kilometers or less.
With these new technologies, telephone companies will have several ways to obtain much higher speeds. One would be to deploy fiber all the way to the home (FTH). The other would be to extend fiber to within 1 or 2 kilometers of homes in those areas where they don't already have DLC cabinets, and then use advanced VDSL technologies such as those from Ikanos to reach the last kilometer or two.
( www.ikanos.com )
Meet us at NCTA in New Orleans
The National Show run by the NCTA (National Cable & Telecommunications Association) is the biggest cable show of the year. We'll be in New Orleans next week to attend the show and catch up with the latest industry news. Please let us know if you will be there and would like to meet with us.
In response to our article about updating firmware, Bruce H. Miller wrote us saying "Although for the most part I agree with you, I would encourage you to urge your readers to keep a copy of the previous firmware, and or download both before updating. I have attempted to update routers with the firmware only to find the firmware had a flaw. Luckily I could roll back, get back on line, research, and then try again at a later date. Without the older version I would have been dead. Just some advice from having learned the hard way!"
Dave responded "Very good point, Bruce. I'm a strong believer in having a 'roll-back' strategy. The only problem is that most vendor websites have only the current firmware. For example, if I go to the SMC support site and look for the 2804WBRP-G, it has only the 1.002 firmware. The router came with 1.000. I didn't see any way to save 1.000. Perhaps it was on the CD-ROM that came with the router."
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