In This Issue
Moving Forward with the "Third Wire"
BPL Part 2
BPL Part 3
BPL Part 4
The 2004 National Show -
Your Voice -
Susan Bratton has joined Maven Networks as Senior VP of Sales and Marketing. Previously, Ms. Bratton was with Mailblocks. ( www.maven.net )
Jim Chiddix has become CEO of OpenTV after joining the company's Board last month. Chiddix was previously CTO at Time Warner Cable. ( www.opentv.com )
Robert Clasen has been named president and COO of Starz Encore. ( www.starz.com )
Rich Higgins has joined Stargus as VP of Advanced Technology. He was previously with Time Warner Cable. ( www.stargus.com )
David Juliano was promoted to president of Comcast Online. Juliano was previously the division's senior VP and GM. ( www.comcast.com )
Andreas Melder was appointed Senior VP of Sales, Marketing and Business Development at Intellon. He was previously COO at Clarisay. ( www.intellon.com )
Ed Ogonek has been named president and CEO of Bridgewater Systems. He was previously with Ciena. ( www.bridgewatersystems.com )
M. Douglas Parse has been named VP of Engineering at NetStreams. Parse was previously with Intrinsity. ( www.netstreams.com )
John Wind was named Senior Director of Marketing at Volo Communications. He was previously with Epicus. Lew Brownfield and Sterling Winn have also joined the Volo market development team. ( www.volocommunications.com )
(Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to report a change in your position.)
Company News --Acquisitions
C-COR.net is purchasing Alopa Networks for $15 million in cash and the assumption of liabilities. Separately, C-COR.net is also acquiring Lantern Communications, for approximately $20 million. ( www.c-cor.net ) ( www.alopa.com )
Cable and Wireless plc announced the £18.6 million purchase of Bulldog Communications Limited, a UK company specializing in the provision of broadband services. Bulldog offers a wide range of high-speed broadband services using DSL technology, based on both BT wholesale tariffs and, increasingly, installing its own equipment in BT exchanges under "Local Loop Unbundling" regulation. ( www.cw.com ) ( www.bulldogdsl.com )
Thomson is acquiring set-top box manufacturing assets from Hughes Network Systems (HNS) for $250 million cash. The DIRECTV Group, HNS parent company, and Thomson also announced a long-term agreement for the development and supply of digital satellite set-top boxes. ( www.thomson.net/EN/home ) ( www.hns.com ) ( www.directv.com )
Vyyo is acquiring Xtend Networks Ltd., a provider of bandwidth-enhancing solutions for cable TV networks. The deal includes cash payments not to exceed $10.7 million, and the total consideration is not expected to exceed $19.6 million. ( www.vyyo.com ) ( www.xtendnetworks.com )
Copper Mountain Networks closed an $11.25 million private placement of common stock. ( www.coppermountain.com )
The FeedRoom, which builds and operates broadband websites for clients, raised over $5 million from both new and existing investors. ( www.feedroom.com )
Ingate Systems AB of Sweden, which produces SIP-capable enterprise firewalls, received approximately $5.8 million in funding. ( www.ingate.com )
Motorola is taking a major stake in DVN (Holdings) Ltd., a Hong Kong-based digital cable television equipment maker. According to a release from DVN, Motorola will spend up to $33 million dollars to buy new DVN shares over two years. The agreement calls for reciprocal technology sharing and for DVN to assist Motorola in the Chinese market. ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.irasia.com/listco/hk/dvn )
Pulse~LINK Inc. announced closing its Series D stock offering for more than $30 Million. The funding is targeted at commercial release of its Software Defined Cognitive Radio Ultra Wideband solution. ( www.pulselink.net )
WaveRider Communications, a non line-of-sight wireless broadband company, completed a private placement of $2.125 million. ( www.waverider.com )
Broadcom announced two improvements to their 54g™-based wireless LAN devices. SecureEZSetup™ is an intelligent software tool that simplifies wireless LAN network installation and configures security settings. The second is a hardware module claimed to increase the range of 54g™-based wireless LAN devices by up to 50 percent. ( www.broadcom.com )
Cablelabs discussed two new DOCSIS initiatives at a media briefing. DOCSIS 2.X will generate cable-modem specs for video telephony and compatibility with mobile devices. DOCSIS 3.0 will focus on producing standards for delivering IP video for the TV and PC. ( www.cablelabs.com )
Comcast is planning to put Microsoft's TV Foundation Edition digital television software in set-top boxes for up to 5 million of its customers. Comcast will continue to have multiple vendors for this software. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.microsoft.com )
The DSL Forum announced approval of its new Technical Report (TR)-067 "ADSL Interoperability Testing Plan" defining the technical criteria for ADSL interoperability and providing the foundation for the DSL Forum's global Interoperability Program in North America, Europe and Asia. TR-067 specifies ADSL bit-rate and distance requirements beyond those previously specified for ADSL recommendations, and reflects the recent improvements in ADSL modem performance. ( www.dslforum.org )
Ellacoya Networks demonstrated its new Multimedia Services Manager (MSM). Based on CableLabs PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) specification, it enables broadband operators to provide tiered multimedia applications at various levels of guaranteed bandwidth and with QoS. ( www.ellacoya.com )
Gossiptel has launched their SIP-based consumer broadband telephony service in the UK. It provides free global calls to broadband households; calls to ordinary telephones in 22 countries are priced at 2.5p. ( www.gossiptel.com )
Jupiter VOD Co., Ltd. (J-VOD ) is being established as a national aggregator for video-on-demand content for Japan. It is being formed by four companies with the following percentages interest: Jupiter Programming Co., Ltd. (JPC) 48%; Jupiter Telecommunications Co., Ltd. (J-COM Broadband) 32%; Sumitomo 10%; and Liberty Media International, Inc., 10%. J-VOD will conduct a technical trial with J-COM Broadband this summer with full-scale service launch targeted for January 2005. ( www.jpc.co.jp )
PCCW subsidiary UK Broadband has launched a UMTS TDD-based wireless broadband network in the U.K. The network uses the 3.4GHz spectrum PCCW acquired last year. The technology is developed by IPWireless. Rates start at £18 per month for the 512k service and £28 a month for 1Mb service. PCCW is considering a nationwide U.K. and Northern Ireland rollout following completion of the London-area launch. ( www.pccw.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com )
ProSyst Software AG is a key player in the GST consortium, a European-funded telematics project which aims to define a standardized telematics system. The project began in March 2004 and is creating an open framework architecture for end-to-end in-vehicle telematics that can provide two-way data and voice communication between a service provider and an end-user subscriber. Participants include BMW, Ford, Opel/OnStar, Renault, Fiat, Volvo, Daimler Chrysler and Siemens VDO. ( www.prosyst.com )
Pulse~LINK has developed the first integrated circuit for a media- diverse UWB Software Defined Cognitive Radio (SDCR) solution. The test silicon unveils an architecture that supports Pulse~LINK's UWB wireless, UWB power line, and UWB cable communications technologies simultaneously on the same chipset. ( www.pulselink.net )
Skype's co-founder Niklas Zennstrom announced that agreements will soon be made public with two telecommunications carriers that allow Skype calls to be made to standard phones anywhere in the US, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Millions of people have downloaded Skype's software to place free phone calls on their computers and PDAs. This basic service will remain free, but premium services will include one that lets Skype users place calls to anyone outside the network. ( www.skype.com )
US: The FCC issued specifics of the proposed rules to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the broadcast television spectrum at locations where the spectrum is not in use by television stations. These proposals are intended to allow the development of innovative types of unlicensed broadband devices and services in vacant spectrum. The FCC's proposal would require that those wireless devices not interfere with existing broadcast signals. To ensure that no interference is caused to TV stations and their viewers, the FCC proposed to require unlicensed devices to incorporate "smart radio" features that detect and avoid used spectrum. ( www.fcc.gov )
Record 1Q04 US broadband adds: Leichtman Research Group (LRG) found that the twenty largest cable and DSL providers in the US – representing about 98% of the market – added a combined total of over 2.34 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2004. Net broadband additions for the quarter were the largest ever, bringing the total number of high-speed Internet subscribers for the leading US cable and DSL providers to over 26.9 million at the end of the first quarter of 2004. DSL providers had their best quarter ever with about 1.17 million net additions. The gain in DSL subscriber additions brought DSL to a virtual tie with cable in terms of market share of net additions for the quarter. However, the top cable companies maintained a 6.4 million subscriber advantage over DSL, with cable now accounting for 16.67 million high-speed Internet subscribers compared to 10.26 million for DSL The top cable broadband providers now have a 62% share of the total market versus 38% for DSL. ( www.leichtmanresearch.com )
DVRs finally taking off: In-Stat/MDR reports that US digital video recorder (DVR) shipments tripled in 2003, rising from 1.5 million in 2002 to 4.6 million 2003. They project that unit shipments will spike to 11 million this year. One driver for the surge is the combination of DVR and DVD functions and a second is the rising demand from satellite and cable TV operators for DVR-enabled set-top boxes. ( www.instat.com )
Faster, faster! Rogers Cable continued the broadband speed escalation game by announcing its new "Hi-Speed Internet Extreme" service, with a speed of 5 Mbps download, and 800kbps upload; the monthly fee is unchanged from the current Rogers Hi-Speed Internet service. Although this is fast for North America, it pales in comparison to cable systems in Japan, described by Tony Werner in a session at the National show, with a 30 Mbps tier and users seeing 25-26 Mbps in the busy hour. And in Korea and Japan, DSL services are both faster and much cheaper than in North America. ( www.rogers.ca )
Wireless Firewire: A new Protocol Adaptation Layer (PAL) for IEEE 1394 over IEEE 802.15.3 has been approved by the 1394 Trade Association. "The PAL is designed as a standard convergence layer between the 802.15.3 MAC and applications developed for wired 1394. It builds upon the 1394 infrastructure--for example, data formats, connection-management schemes, and time synchronization procedures--and takes advantage of the excellent quality of service available in 802.15.3.”
Moving Forward with the "Third Wire" - BPL Part 1
The Federal Communications Commission has enthusiastically embraced broadband over power line (BPL) as a competitor to cable modem and DSL service. In a BPL inquiry more than a year ago, FCC Chairman Michael Powell wrote: "Broadband over Power Line has the potential to provide consumers with a ubiquitous third broadband pipe to the home. The development of multiple broadband-capable platforms ... will transform the competitive broadband landscape and reap dramatic windfalls for American consumers and the economy. ... Broadband over power lines can offer consumers freedom to access broadband services from any room in their home without need to pay for additional wiring, by simply plugging an adaptor into an existing electrical outlet."
The words sound good. We understand the potential. We wanted to see if the reality can match it.
We describe what we learned in a four-part survey:
Overview of BPL
We wrote about BPL more than a year ago after attending a conference at Columbia University. In Power Line Communications: Third Wire To the Home?, we concluded that "PLC access works, but big hurdles remain to make it a major business."
We learned more about BPL in Europe during a visit last year, and six months ago we published a guest article Spain Plugs Into Broadband about a BPL rollout in Spain.
Many North American electric utility companies have run BPL trials and several are now moving toward deployment. In the absence of BPL standards, utilities are deploying several different technologies, with different ways of carrying data over the electrical grid and different ways of delivering data to the home.
Other utilities, particularly municipally-owned ones, have been running pilots of broadband services over fiber to the home (FTTH), and some have moved to full deployment. We wondered why some utilities would choose one approach over the other. See Putting Jackson, Tennessee on the Fiber Map on Jackson Energy Authority's FTTH service rollout in Jackson, Tennessee.
We have been researching the current status of broadband provided by electric utility companies, using both BPL and FTTH. To learn more about BPL technologies and service offerings, we attended several BPL conferences and visited several electric utility companies; we will make additional visits over the next few months.
Our tentative conclusion is that BPL has come a long way in the past year. While the issues we raised then--especially the lack of standards for "Access BPL"--remain unresolved, the technologies appear to work well enough to provide commercial service. In fact, the state of BPL today strikes us as having many resemblances to what cable modem service was like in 1997. There are several proprietary technologies that work, standards are not yet there, and a pretty significant culture change will have to occur in utility personnel, just as it did for cable. We are told that in utilities, there is still a mindset that says: "It worked for a hundred years this way -- don't mess with it. We want to keep the lights on and not have the phones ring."
The next year or so should demonstrate whether BPL is indeed capable of being Powell's "ubiquitous third broadband pipe".
A Guide to the Jargon
Three brief explanations may clarify the terms used in the balance of this survey of BPL.
"Access BPL" and "In-House BPL"
The FCC inquiry a year ago defined two types of BPL:
The FCC inquiry--and this survey--are focused on Access BPL. We have covered HomePlug--the most common form of In-House BPL--extensively in the past; see Home Networking - HomePlug Evaluation for more information.
BPL and "Power Line Communications" (PLC)
BPL is a form of "power line communications" or PLC. Power companies have often employed low-speed PLC for their own internal use--to monitor and control equipment in the power grid.
Many people use the terms PLC and BPL interchangeably. The FCC chose to use the term "broadband over power line" for consumer applications.
"Munis", "IOUs" and "Co-ops"
Willingness of utilities to invest in new technologies and take risks is, to some extent, determined by what constituencies they serve:
We are told that munis have historically been quicker to embrace new technology, since they do not have to produce results for shareholders.
( www.fcc.gov )
As we started researching the current state of BPL, we learned about two upcoming conferences and quickly decided to attend both. These conferences proved to be quite complementary.
UTC Telecom 2004
The United Telecom Council (UTC) is a telecommunications and IT association for utilities and energy companies. The United Power Line Council (UPLC) under UTC is "an alliance of electric utilities and technology companies working together to drive the development of broadband over power line (BPL) - broadband services over the existing distribution electrical grid and in-home electrical wiring." Most of the BPL technology companies are members of UPLC, as are many larger utilities.
UTC held its annual conference in Nashville in mid-May. It included nine parallel symposiums with one devoted to BPL.
David Shpigler, UTC's Director of Research, talked about the business case for BPL. He described several architectures used for BPL services based on different vendor's technologies and the design of the electric grids.
To paraphrase David's presentation, each of these BPL approaches is comprised of three pieces:
The business rationale for BPL is a combination of utility and retail applications. The retail applications include all the "traditional" and emerging broadband applications--ranging from high-speed data and VoIP to telemedicine and video conferencing--plus applications of particular interest to electrical utilities such as home energy management and appliance monitoring. The utility applications include meter reading, demand prediction, and outage localization. Some utilities believe they can justify BPL expenditures for utility applications alone, with consumer applications as an added value; others are primarily focused on added income from consumer applications with utility applications as an added benefit.
David presented three business models for utility participation in BPL:
Regulatory Issues - Interference
Bruce Franca, Deputy Chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology said the FCC's sees Access BPL as a way to provide "added competition in the broadband market" especially to "rural and underserved areas." It also sees BPL as providing an "effective management tool for utility distribution networks." The FCC regulates BPL because it has the potential to radiate signals and BPL must comply with the "non-interference guidelines" of the FCC's Part 15 rules for unlicensed services.
Radio amateurs have strongly complained that unlicensed BPL services interfere with the licensed ham bands, and have asked the FCC to delay deployment of BPL until these issues are resolved. In an effort to address interference concerns by hams and others, the FCC issued an NPRM earlier this year proposing specific rules for BPL, with specific measurement guidelines. The FCC feels that these rules will "remove regulatory uncertainty" and "promote development of Access BPL technology".
Brett Kilbourne and Prudence Parks presented the UTC/UPLC views on regulatory issues. They said the FCC and Congress are generally supportive of BPL especially for its potential to provide broadband services to rural and underserved communities. UTC/UPLC generally supports the FCC's positions in the current NPRM, but takes exception to the NPRM's proposal for a public database of BPL deployment, preferring restrictions on disclosures for competitive reasons.
John Kneuer presented the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) views on the interference debate-NTIA is an agency of the US Department of Commerce responsible for the government's use of spectrum and the formulation of telecommunications policy. He presented the results of an extensive NTIA study of BPL emissions in major trial markets. NTIA's conclusions as presented in its response to the FCC NPRM are that interference is real, and should be reduced by certain recommended techniques for measurement and mitigation. It recommended moving forward with BPL while restricting the use of certain frequency bands, limiting interference in other bands, and creating BPL "coordination areas" around the "most vulnerable radio receivers".
Al Richenbacher of PPL reported on the experience gained from its extensive BPL trial in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He said that PPL's BPL system now passes 6000 homes, and over more than a year they have received complaints from only four hams.
PPL has tested several different BPL technologies. All provide capabilities to avoid the use of ham frequencies--either by moving specific bands in the spectrum, and/or by "notching" to avoid the use of those bands. By using these techniques, PPL stopped interference on the ham bands. After PPL made these changes, two of the four hams said they were "pleased" by PPL's response to their complaints -- and three of the four signed up for the BPL trial!
He observed that an electrical utility deploying BPL could take one of two approaches to avoiding interference with ham bands: responding to complaints by moving or notching specific bands, or by notching out all of the amateur bands in advance. PPL has chosen the latter proactive approach and does not expect to receive any complaints.
PLCA 4th Annual Conference
The Power Line Communications Association (PLCA) is a trade association for utilities interested in offering BPL services. We attended the PLCA conference in Washington, DC in late April.
The conference featured presentations by utilities currently running BPL trials, with several moving toward commercial launch. The city of Manassas, Virginia, the site of one of these trials, is fairly close to Washington's Dulles Airport; the conference was held at a hotel near the airport.
City of Manassas
The first morning of the conference was devoted to three presentations covering many aspects of the Manassas project.
Alan Todd, the city's Director of Utilities, described the "big picture". Manassas is a municipal utility. It provides water, sewer, electric to all residents, and communications for all city departments. The city has about 15,000 electric meters and about 2000 transformers, so there are about 7.5 customers per transformer. 80% of the electrical distribution is underground.
The 18-month BPL pilot project provided high-speed Internet access to both residential and commercial customers using both overhead and underground wiring. Since the pilot was judged to be a success, the city has decided to move to city-wide BPL deployment to provide affordable broadband service to every citizen and business.
Todd said that Manassas has chosen to use a "developer model" in a strategic partnership with a franchisee; see the discussion of models in the above article on the UTC conference. The city "leverages its key strengths (network construction and system management) while outsourcing other parts (sales, service, content delivery)" to the franchisee. The city is now going through a bidding process to select the franchisee to provide these "other parts".
John Hewa, the Assistant Director, Electric Utility, gave a detailed description of the implementation planning and the integration of the BPL technology with the city's fiber infrastructure. He showed how the key components of the Main.net technology were deployed on both overhead and underground transformers.
Costa Apostolakis, COO of ZPLUG, a local company providing sales, service and content delivery during the trial, described the services model. The initial service is high-speed internet access at 300-500 Kbps symmetric; VoIP and video (via satellite) services are in planning for the rollout.
The second morning was an on-site visit to Manassas to see the service in action. Joe Marsilli, President and CEO of Main.net, described the system. We visited several locations to see the Main.net equipment installed on both overhead and underground transformers.
See the following article for more on Main.net technology and the Manassas trial.
Alex Pardo, Director, Cinergy Ventures, described the BPL project in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cinergy, an investor-owned utility (IOU) has been a conducting a BPL trial based on technology from Current Technologies for "one year of operations through four seasons with over 100 customers." Pardo reported that "pilot test results were excellent." It received "high marks on customer satisfaction surveys" and "75% of customers expect to convert to commercial service." It also demonstrated "the 'Digital Utility' features for power quality monitoring and outage detection."
He described the BPL technology used in the pilot test, and said that Cinergy has formed a partnership with Current Communications Services, a sister company to Current Technologies. Through this partnership, Cinergy will deploy BPL throughout its service territory in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, starting with the "first large-scale rollout in the nation" in Greater Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati commercial rollout is now under way, and is expected to "pass 250K homes in three years." Broadband Internet access is offered now, VoIP is coming this summer, and video on demand is planned as "a future service."
We visited Manassas a week after the PLCA conference to meet with Joe Marsilli of Main.net and John Hewa of the City of Manassas.
Joe Marsilli, the CEO of Main.net Communications, is an engineer with many years of experience in the power industry. He characterized himself--rather proudly--as a DOUG: "dumb old utility guy".
Joe said that most electrical utilities had long ago deployed communications technology to monitor and control their electrical grids. These early systems operated at low speed, and typically used some form of wireless or PLC technology. With the recent outages indicating the need for tighter grid control, state regulators are putting pressure on the utilities to upgrade these old systems to improve the reliability of the grid. With a projected BPL capital and installation expense of $65 to $75 per home passed, most utilities could justify the installation of BPL for internal use.
Main.net calls its BPL product the PLUS system. Joe described it as organized into a cellular structure with a backhaul network and three main BPL components:
The CuPLUS and RpPLUS units connect to the electrical grid with inductive couplers that sit on the medium voltage and low voltage wires. Main.net has couplers for both overhead and underground wiring.
Main.net has what it says is a unique MAC structure designed specifically for BPL. This is based on the concept of "smart repetition" in which signals are repeated only if necessary. Repetitions are dynamically adjusted on a "least cost routing" basis to suit the current conditions on the electrical grid.
Because of the unique nature of Main.net's technology, all components of its system, including the NtPLUS consumer home device, are proprietary.
At the network center, Main.net provides the NmPLUS network management system. This includes tools to monitor and manage all components in the PLUS system.
Main.net has deployed two generations of technology, with a third in the works. The original "G1" technology operates with Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum using a high degree of redundancy for reliability; it operates at up to 1.8 Mbps and can deliver typical end-user services at 400 kbps. The new "G2" technology uses OFDM with only a single copy of data transmitted at a time - this provides a five-time improvement in typical end-user speed.
He said that Manassas had previously deployed more than 60 miles of fiber for monitoring and to provide telecommunications services for the city. For the BPL rollout, an additional 20 miles of fiber were being deployed.
In Manassas, each Main.net Cu concentrator is co-located with a distribution switch; the technology permits an 8000 foot wire reach from each Cu with repetition as necessary. The additional fiber was planned to optimize the location of the concentrators to create cells reaching every home in the city. Medium voltage Rp repeaters are installed in every transformer. Instead of deploying low-voltage repeaters in advance, they are installed in hand boxes and meter bases upon receipt of a customer order. The pilot deployment was completed without expanding the utility workforce, and they plan to maintain the current headcount throughout the deployment.
To follow up on the "developer model" Alan Todd had described in the PLCA meeting (see above), John explained the division of responsibility between the city and the franchisee. The franchisee will provide all of the equipment. The city will install the Cu and Rp equipment on the medium and low voltage grid, and will install repeaters as needed on the bases of electric meters outside homes. The franchisee will install (or support self-install) of the Nt units in subscriber homes.
The franchisee will be responsible for marketing, sales and customer support. The pricing is expected to be $28.95/month for a 300-400 Kbps service (based on Main.net G1 equipment), with no contract and no installation fee. While the franchisee is not necessarily bound to use Main.net equipment, the expectation is that bidders will continue in the direction Manassas has used for the pilot. The service speed will be increased as they deploy Main.net G2 equipment, which has just gotten underway.
Because Manassas already had a lot of fiber in place, and expects the franchisee to bear the capital expense for the BPL equipment, the initial capital expense for the city is expected to be less than $400,000.
Their evaluation is that BPL is best suited for medium to high density areas. It works, can be deployed quickly, and doesn't cause outages of the electrical plant. Their existing staff can install and maintain the equipment in the grid. Once it is installed, the city gets the benefit of outage reporting from the network management system. In addition, the city can use the BPL infrastructure for municipal applications such as control of traffic lights.
When we were in the Washington area at the end of April, we also looked in at the BPL pilot test being run by Pepco with Current Technologies. Pepco, the electric utility serving Washington, DC and nearby Maryland, is running the trial in parts of the Potomac area in Maryland, not far from Washington. Many visitors, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell and other FCC commissioners, have seen this pilot and we wanted to see it for ourselves.
Current Technologies At the pilot demonstration home in Potomac, we met with Tom Willie, the President and COO of Current Technologies, part of the Current Communications Group; a sister company is a BPL service provider for utilities.
Current's approach is similar to Main.net's. The electrical grid is organized into cells. Each cell is connected through a concentrator to the network center using some form of backhaul, typically fiber or wireless. Tom said that each Current cell covers about 1 mile of linear electrical plant.
Current does not "pierce" the transformers, but instead uses a bridge device to carry signals around each transformer from the medium voltage to the low voltage side. Tom said the higher signal level from this approach usually avoids the need for repeaters on the low voltage side.
Current uses HomePlug to carry the BPL signals from the bridge device into subscriber homes. HomePlug adapters simply plug into any electrical outlet, and are available from many different vendors with a wide variety of computer interfaces including Ethernet, USB and Wi-Fi. He said these CPE devices now cost about $20 each, considerably less than the proprietary devices used by Main.net. A customer who wants to use BPL service in several rooms in the house can get multiple HomePlug adapters and plug them into outlets wherever they are needed.
Tom said that US electrical grids typically have anywhere from 4 to 20 homes per transformer and that Current's goal is for its system to be cost effective with one subscriber home per transformer. When we asked for an estimate of cost her home passed, he said the total cost varies substantially according the number of homes per transformer, the percentage of overhead to underground wiring, and the availability of backhaul facilities such as fiber. We believe that the deployed cost of a Current system would be roughly comparable to that of Main.net.
Pepco Potomac Trial
Tom described the Potomac trial and showed us the Current equipment installed on a pole near the demo house. There are currently 115 subscribers trialing the system. They expect to move these to paying customers this summer. PEPCO is an IOU and will likely find a service company to take on the active management of the system.
In the living room, Tom demonstrated the system simultaneously playing music using an Audiotron and playing a 1 Mbps-encoded movie. Tom believes that video will be an important BPL application; since Current uses HomePlug as the in-home delivery vehicle, its potential speed will increase as HomePlug AV becomes a reality.
On a PC in the bedroom of the demo home, Tom used the BPL service to help us map out the route to our next appointment, looking up the hotel we were heading to and finding the route to drive. He also demonstrated the Voice over IP service operating at the house.
Jackson, Tennessee is known to some as home of railroading's "Casey" Jones, to others as one of the ten largest U.S. publicly owned nongenerator electric utilities, but Jackson Energy Authority is aiming to make "fiber to the home" (FTTH) its new hallmark. We had previously interviewed Kim Kersey, Senior Vice-President of Telecommunications at JEA, We were intrigued enough that we vowed to visit Jackson as soon as their network--said to be the largest FTTH deployment in the US to date--went live. On April 27th the system went live with JEA's "EPlus Broadband" services, and we arrived a week later.
JEA provides electric, natural gas, water and wastewater services to about 38,000 residences, businesses and industry in Jackson and parts of Madison County. JEA had been a municipal utility, but about three years ago gained its current status as a public utility created under a private act passed by the Tennessee Legislature. JEA's assets and operations are paid for through its utility rates -- not tax money. Jackson Energy Authority is governed by a five-member Board of Directors appointed by Jackson's Mayor and City Council. It believes it has the best aspects of both municipal utilities and investor owned utilities (IOUs): its shareholders and its ratepayers are the same group and it has the ability to issue general obligation bonds.
Although Jackson is a relatively small city, it has a good location in western Tennessee, between Memphis and Nashville. A number of manufacturing companies have facilities in Jackson, including Maytag, Procter & Gamble, Armstrong Wood Products and Delta Faucet. The city and JEA have mutual goals of supporting economic development, but recently have felt unable to be responsive in putting together attractive telecom proposals for prospective industries. JEA President and CEO John Williams said to us "I like Jackson. I didn't think the town was being well served."
Charter Communications provides TV services, broadband and telephony to Jackson residents. The cable system in Jackson, as with many systems, has gone through multiple transitions of ownership and management. JEA says that neither Charter nor BellSouth were able to respond quickly to meeting the telecommunications needs of prospective new businesses. With the increasing importance of telecom to all kinds of companies, Jackson's business leaders felt they were losing some new businesses to more responsive communities. Now the city can put together a complete package for a prospective industry in twenty-four hours.
Providing jobs for graduating students was another factor in JEA's decision to become a telecom provider. Jackson has four colleges with nearly 10,000 students, and has had problems keeping the students after they graduate. The city believes that better telecom infrastructure will attract industries such as finance and real estate, offering more attractive jobs to college graduates.
The decision to use FTTH as the residential infrastructure resulted from the desire to provide more than a "me-too" service. A hybrid fiber coax (HFC) infrastructure was estimated to cost about $800 per home and a fiber one about $1100. They considered an all-digital approach but felt that all-digital set-tops added an additional risk element and were still too expensive to provide one for each TV set. They chose Wave 7 Optics solution since it enables easy offering of analog video over the same fiber, and supports Motorola set-top boxes similar to those used by Charter, making an easy transition for JEA video customers.
The Wave7 Optics Last Mile Link system has three main elements: the core, the tap and the gateway.
The Last Mile Core (LMC) is the main component of the system. On the upstream side, it connects to the backhaul fibers carrying video and Gigabit Ethernet to and from JEA's headend; on the downstream side, it connects to the feeder fibers carrying all services toward the homes. Each core can support 96 customer sites--homes or businesses--on a "home run" or tapped basis.
The Last Mile Tap (LMT) is a passive device. On the upstream side, it connects to the feeder fiber from the core; on the downstream side, it connects to the drop fibers toward the homes. Each tap can support eight sites.
The Last Mile Gateway (LMG) provides all services for a site. On the upstream side, it connects to the drop fiber from a tap; on the downstream side, it provides standard twisted pair, coax and Category 5 Ethernet cables for telephone, video and high-speed Internet services. The gateway is mounted outside the home near the electrical meter; a backup battery provides 8 hours of backup power for voice services.
The JEA system will include 365 cores when completely deployed. JEA expects to complete all 100 miles of underground fiber by the end of this year, and plans to have service available to 23,000 customers within a year. JEA will install all the cores and taps in each neighborhood, but will not incur the expense for the fiber drop and the gateway device until a customer orders service.
Control of the system takes place from JEA's Operations Center, a modern underground center opened in 2001 to withstand natural disasters. Such precautions are warranted since Jackson has been hit by major tornadoes in 1999 and again in 2003, when six people were killed and millions of dollars of damage incurred by homes and infrastructure in the downtown area.
JEA In The Community
The importance of local people and relationships appears to be one of the key elements in the community's reaction to JEA's fiber services rollout. JEA is part of the community and prides itself on providing services beyond just utilities. Their Web site notes that they make house calls at no charge to troubleshoot utility problems, to light gas pilot lights, and to check heating and cooling units for efficiency and safety. Customer service is available 24 hours a day and prides itself on answering 97% of calls within 30 seconds.
Kersey was a long-time employee of the cable company and has lived in Jackson for many years. When we drove around several neighborhoods and went to lunch with him, people waved and stopped him to ask how soon they would be able to sign up for JEA's services.
Part of keeping the community happy was the relatively painless way that JEA chose to install the fiber. Rather than major damage to lawns, they used a method that was minimally disruptive. Another nice touch was their choice to save a historic house from destruction and renovate it as a display of the energy saving and broadband features that their infrastructure can support.
JEA believes it provides a superior video line-up and options, including better reception of some Memphis channels by providing fiber backhaul, more HBO choices, an HD-DVR option and selections that are closer to a la carte. The price of the video services is roughly comparable with the incumbent, approximately $44 for the cable operator and $39 for JEA.
Although the original model was for JEA itself to offer the "triple play" of video, high speed data and voice services, it has not turned out that way. Aeneas, an established local ISP and CLEC, challenged the plan, and a settlement was reached whereby JEA offers only video services directly. Voice and data services are offered by ISPs and CLECs using leased bandwidth from JEA's fiber facilities.
How well the Jackson story will transfer to other electrical utilities remains to be seen. We asked about BPL, and were told they had not considered it because BPL technology was not ready at the time they made their decision. CEO Williams said municipal utilities are willing to take more risk than investor-owned utilities, and often try new technologies first; if they work, IOUs follow.
Our visit was at the start of the service going live, so we'll be sure to check back to see what the take figures actually turn out to be.
During the opening general session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's (NCTA) National Show, moderator Char Beales asked cable operators to pinpoint their biggest challenge. Cox EVP Pat Esser put his finger on the one that struck us as we viewed the wealth of solutions possibilities during our tour of the show floor. His answer was: "There are so many opportunities, which one(s) do you put the resources up against?"
US cable operators have nearly finished rebuilding their plants. Technologies they've been talking about for years--like HDTV, VOD and VoIP--are real and ready. There are many possible consumer offerings: telephony, home networking, DVRs, VOD, many forms of interactive TV, videoconferencing, services for downloading content to consumer electronics equipment, enterprise services, etc.
But resources are always finite, so priorities must somehow be set. Also, as Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons reminded the audience, "people's habits don't change overnight," so consumer interest and readiness are key. And to keep things even more interesting, competitors are hot in pursuit, with US telephone companies cutting DSL prices, boosting speeds, partnering with satellite operators to provide video, and at least one getting more serious about fiber to the premises.
A panel featuring Dick Parsons, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Charter Chairman Paul Allen had many words about the versatility and robustness of cable's platform. However, Roberts sounded an appropriate caution: "The biggest challenge over the next five years is how not to rest on your laurels. We're doing better by being pushed."
With over 200 companies on the exhibit floor, we've chosen to highlight a few of the exhibits and trends which captured our attention.
Cable's "Broadband Home" Pavilion
Back in April 2000, we started writing about what we dubbed "the broadband home" and named our conferences and newsletter with that moniker. So we were flattered that NCTA chose "broadband home" as the phrase to describe their anchor for the 2004 National Show. Its purpose was to showcase a wide variety of broadband consumer products and services now available to homes across America.
The pavilion had a purpose similar to the showhouse we worked on for the 2004 CES and the Builder's Show in Las Vegas last January: showing products and services in the rooms where they would be used. We had displayed many similar products and services at CES--including HDTV, VOD, DVRs, home networking, VoIP, and high speed data--but there were some differences too.
While our exhibits stressed affordability for mass markets, the NCTA's home included some "over the top" toys--such as the Jacuzzi tub with built-in HDTV and floating remote control, and the combination vanity mirror/HDTV for shaving and watching programs simultaneously.
In the less extravagant range, the kitchen highlighted Salton's Beyond Icebox flipscreen kitchen entertainment center. It mounts under a kitchen counter, contains a TV, DVD and CD player, is broadband ready and has a washable wireless keyboard.
Our exercise room already has a treadmill, but one of the applications we hadn't seen before was from iFIT.com, which showed a live personal training session via Internet videoconference.
In the learning/resource alcove, we had an opportunity to meet Frank Gallagher, Assistant Director for Cable in the Classroom. Frank showed us their Website which is a resource for educators and parents. If you haven't seen their Webby Award nominated "Shakespeare: Subject to Change", check it out.
Multi-room DVRs Finally Arriving
With DVRs finally taking off in the market, we saw several product demonstrations of the next logical step -- multi-room DVRs. Anyone who has only one DVR, or who has two products from different vendors (we have a TiVo and a Replay) knows why this functionality is what the user wants next.
Motorola displayed their Home Media Architecture (HMA), which provides multi-room DVR enabled by Ucentric Systems. The solution uses a DCT6208 or 6412 digital video recorder as the main set-top, which can be accessed from other rooms with legacy digital set-tops upgraded by software download. The solution uses Entropic's IP over coax technology, so the architecture leverages already deployed coax and digital set-tops.
Meanwhile, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. unveiled its own multi-room DVR, the Explorer 8300 MR-DVR. It allows three other Explorer set-tops to access the hard drive of the main box, has a built-in DOCSIS modem and is HDTV-capable. S-A said Time Warner Cable is field-testing the 8300.
Meanwhile, Moxi by Digeo, which has created media center software and services, is now available on both S-A and Motorola equipment. It provides multiple applications, including DVR, DVD, information on demand, jukebox, photos and games. To bring DVR from one room to a second one, they have created the Moxi Mate extension, a small box which connects over coax from the base Moxi Media center to extend the reach of the DVR service' this option costs $79 per TV.
Earlier this year, CableLabs held a PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) interoperability event with eight participating companies (CMTS makers Arris, Cisco and Motorola; policy server firms Camiant, Telcordia and CableMatrix; and PCMM-defined application managers Ellacoya, Syndeo and Telcordia). The goal of the PCMM specification is to enable cable's IP-based network to deliver a wide variety of graphically-rich real-time services such as video communications and interactive games. The show floor at NCTA was a good place to observe what the specs actually deliver.
Ellacoya demonstrated the Multimedia Service Manager (MSM) software module, which enables the system to automatically identify each application, and then authorize its prioritized delivery on a per-subscription basis. The MSM authenticates and authorizes client requests for application services, based on customer profiles defined by the cable operator. The Ellacoya switch has both application and subscriber awareness, allowing it to measure traffic and enforce policies on a per-application and per-subscriber basis.
Cisco demonstrated several PCMM target applications, including XBox gaming and videotelephony. The demos showed the applications both with and without PCMM and displayed the real difference that QoS provides in these cases. The demonstrations included Ellacoya's MSM solution interoperating with Cisco's Universal Broadband Router (uBR).
Arris showed two PCMM demonstrations: a SIP-based video conference and bandwidth on demand. Both take advantage of the Arris–Cadant C4 CMTS with PCMM software and work in conjunction with Ellacoya's application aware bandwidth manager. At a Business Editor’s Meeting, Arris detailed several examples of custom bandwidth management and the extra revenue-generating opportunities they provide a cable operator. One example was an Express Music Download service. Another was an Xtreme Internet Game Service, in which an MSO partners with a console or PC game developer to provide ultra-low latency bandwidth, with sub-50ms latency. In each case, premium bandwidth services can be sold to low-bandwidth subscribers without changing their basic service subscription.
The potential of PCMM-based services is great and includes the videotelephony applications we discussed above. What we're waiting for now is to see these applications fully developed and marketed to consumers.
Low-cost Digital Set-tops
Just over a year ago, we wrote an article in Communications Technology called Planning for the All-Digital Future--The End of Analog Television. It talked about the potential for creating a low-cost digital-only set-top, to help speed the transition to all-digital. At that time, the $35-40 price target that was being discussed seemed very far away.
At this year's display of Sony's Passage technology we saw two products which seem to fit the target description: the i-CAN 1000 from Advanced Digital Broadcast at $35, and the Visionetics Ultra-LYTE at $39. We applaud Sony for helping to bring open choice to the digital set-top box market!
VoIP--Its time has come!
One theme that echoed both in the sessions and on the show floor was the inexorable march forward of VoIP. On the show floor, IP telephony services were being shown by many, including Vonage, 8x8, Gallery IP telephony and the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC). Meanwhile, VoIP was discussed in many sessions.
In a session featuring most of the FCC Commissioners, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said "VoIP is the most exciting development in telephony as long as we can remember." Speaking about regulation of VoIP, Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy commented " 'Light touch' regulation means you don't want to burden new products with old regulation."
In the CEO session, Time Warner's Parsons commented "By the end of this year, Time Warner Cable will be voice-enabled in every system." Comcast's Roberts indicated their schedule calls for half of their footprint to be VoIP ready by year end, with rollout of telephone service to those customers in 2005. Subsequently, he said that 95% will be covered by the end of 2005, so that service can be offered in 2006 to more than 40 million households. In another session, Charter's COO Maggie Belville told the audience that 3 million Charter homes will be VoIP capable by the end of this year and called voice the glue that kept customers attached.
The exhibits and comments left little doubt that while cable has taken a long time to roll out IP telephony, its time has definitely come.
Consumer Videotelephony -- Continuing the Quest
NCTA's pre-show PR blurbs contained at least four consumer videophone related items, so part of our mission at the show was to check them all out. As we wrote back in February, we see some of the previous impediments to consumer video communications falling away, but are not convinced that we're "there" yet. We've waited so many years for the reality that we've now become the perfect test market: grandparents with a young grandson living 2500 miles away. We tried out several products on the show floor: Worldgate's Ojo personal video phone, SightSpeed's video messaging software, Clique Video's Messenger, and Globalstreams VibePhone. Our goal was to see which if any of these products would qualify for our real-world "grandson test".
Motorola has agreed to resell Worldgate's Ojo (pronounced O-JO), a SIP-based video phone appliance, planned for Q3 of this year. The product is said to be compliant with DOCSIS and PacketCable standards, supports 30 fps of full motion video, uses an enhanced version of H.264 digital compression and hi-fi full duplex speakerphone technology. We were impressed with what we saw in terms of picture quality and lip synchronization. This is clearly a person-to person device, unlike other devices such as the D-Link i2eye DVC-1100 which are designed for family communications. Our understanding is that although it is SIP-based and therefore compatible with other SIP video phones, Worldgate encourages putting an Ojo at each end to insure high quality.
The initial product will sell for $700 at retail, or $1400 for two. We think this cost raises serious questions: How much will customers be willing to pay? How fast will the product come down the cost curve? In the past, videophone products selling at over $500 have appealed to very narrow markets. Broadband operators are expected to follow the model of cellphones, charging a lower price for the phone bundled with video service. Worldgate CFO Joel Boyarski pointed out that in today's world, consumer devices like the iPOD seem to be getting great market reception despite their $399 price tag.
SightSpeed takes an entirely different approach, using the consumer's PC and broadband connection with SightSpeed's software and service. On the show floor, SightSpeed CTO Aron Rosenberg demontrated a video conversation with a person across the country, and we thought it performed very well. Aron offered us an opportunity to try it ourselves at home, and we've started a live trial with several members of our family. We will report later on how we like it.
We're continuing to try various solutions, but so far our best experience has been with a Mac at both ends running Apple's iChat software. Our grandson is being raised in a Mac household and we use PCs at home. We've tried AIM 5.5 which claims to be compatible with iChat, but so far we've been unable to get it to work. So we're still looking for a solution to meet our needs.
While cable operators are moving quickly to compete in telephony, telephone companies have moved cautiously to compete by entering the video services market. Manitoba Telephone Services (MTS) is an exception--it is far along in offering video services in competition with cable.
We first met Roy Sherbo of MTS four years ago when he attended our first Broadband Home conference. MTS is a full-service communications company and the primary telecommunications provider in Manitoba, offering local, long distance, wireless and data services. We've previously written about the video services trial MTS started in May 2002 with 200 participants. Their goal was to find additional ways to grow their business.
Roy was at the NCTA show, where we had the opportunity to meet with him to catch up on how MTS's video business is progressing. The MTS video license is only for the city of Winnipeg, where Manitoba's population is concentrated. MTS has progressively rolled out the coverage of the city, with 9% covered at the start of 2003 and 42% at the end of 2003. They expect 70% coverage by the end of 2004 and complete coverage in 2005. As they prepare the plant, they remove taps and load coils, and they have been pleased with the network performance. They do not run further than 900 meters over copper.
MTS TV is an all-digital television service, offering three streams of video run over the telephone line through a single set-top box in the home. They offer approximately 240 channels, but their offering, unlike typical cable packages, is "a la carte". They offer a basic package for $24.95, with individual channels mostly priced at $1.99 per month. Most customers select one or more of the multi-channel "theme groups" or a "six-pack" at significantly lower rates. See details of the theme groups and pricing at the MTS TV website.
The service includes an interactive program guide and TV-based call waiting indicator. A customer subscribing to both DSL and TV gets a $5 reduction on each. Average TV revenue is C$48 per household for their TV homes.
Roy said the consumer response to their offering was so strong that they temporarily stopped marketing last summer. They had expected 6300 customers by the end of 2003 but ended up with 8700. This year so far they have doubled the number of subscribers and expect about 28,000 by year-end. The large take rate has been their biggest surprise. He said that customers do not switch from the incumbent cable operator to get a lower price; in fact, they often end up paying a little more. However, their level of satisfaction is very high, presumably because of the strong element of choice.
( www.mts.ca )
We'll be attending the Wireless Communications Association (WCA) show this week in Washington, DC to check on the progress of WiMAX and the overall broadband wireless marketplace. For details see the WCA website.
As a follow-up to our articles on the role residential broadband can play in healthcare we'll be attending a conference and exhibit called Healthcare Unbound in Cambridge, MA on July 8th and 9th. Its focus is the convergence of consumer and healthcare technologies. We're participating in an optional post-conference workshop on the afternoon of July 9th, to talk about "the broadband home--how healthcare ready?"
PC Magazine "Top 100"
In 2004 Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without, PC Magazine lists Broadband Home Central in the "Internet, Wireless and Security" category and comments on its "up-to-the-minute reporting on all things related to the broadband abode."
The "Top 100" article starts: "What is a top Web site? It's a site you rely on—-one you just have to tell your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors about. It is surprisingly useful, funny, informative, addictive. It does something cool you've never seen before."
Thanks, PC Magazine!
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Setting up a notebook PC for wireless networking
Cliff wrote: "You have a lot of information here and after a glass of wine I have found it may be easier to ask instead of keep up the reading. We have a Dell Dimension hooked up to insightbb cable modem. I would like to add a Dell Inspiron via some sort of wireless connection, networked to this modem. I have looked but can not quite get there from here. Can you please help with where I should look on your site or tell me, bluntly, what might work best to be able to use this notebook wireless."
We answered: "The quick answer is that you need two pieces of equipment -- a "wireless router" and a wireless card for your notebook computer if it doesn't already have one.
Many companies make wireless routers - today the proper technology to buy uses the "Wireless G" standard. You should buy a router that conforms to the Wi-Fi standards. Many companies make these.
If you don't already have a wireless card for your notebook, you'll want to get a a Wireless G card."
Connecting Vonage service to existing analog phone wiring:
Richard wrote: "I have a cable broadband network, and am considering using this with Vonage VOIP for my home telephone system. One issue however is how will I be able to connect the Vonage modem to my home phone network system, so I can plug in my phones directly to the phone outlets, and be connected through Vonage. I think VOIP is very promising, and Vonage appears to give a lot of cost savings over regular phone system."
We answered: "It depends a lot on what kind of phones you have and how your house is wired for phones. Do you have multi-line phones? How are the lines from the phone company connected to the phones in the house? Are you going to keep your present phone service?
We have multi-line phones in our house, and they're all connected to a structured wiring patch panel. So I disconnected one of our analog lines from the patch panel, and ran a wire from the RJ-11 phone jack on the Vonage ATA to the patch panel. That way, one of the lines on all of our phones had the Vonage service. You need to know what you're doing to do this -- Vonage discourages it because it's quite easy to damage the ATA or your phones if you connect it wrong.
A simpler approach would be to connect one portable phone to the ATA and simply carry it around the house."
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