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The June 22, 2004 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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In This Issue

Heard on the Net

WCA 2004
Broadband Wireless Gets Some Respect

Arraycomm
Two Tricks in Their Bag

UWB Moving Ahead -
Interview with Pulse~Link

More on Metadata -
A Dialog with Gracenote

Meet us at Healthcare Unbound

Your Voice -
Readers' Comments


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home

People News

Rafael Fonseca was promoted to VP, Product Evolution and System Engineering at Cedar Point Communications. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )

Jeff Gardner has been named VP of Sales at Xtend Networks. He was previously with ADC. ( www.xtendnetworks.com )

Hunt Norment has joined 2Wire as VP of business development. He was formerly with BroadJump. ( www.2wire.com )

Ron da Silva was appointed Director of Broadband Network Technology for Time Warner Cable's Broadband Division. He was previously with America Online. ( www.timewarnercable.com )

Jeremy Toeman will be joining Sling Media to head product management, starting in August, after his honeymoon. He was previously with Mediabolic. ( www.slingmedia.com )

(Please email people@bb-home.com to report a change in your position.)


Company News

--Acquisitions

Broadcom agreed to buy Zyray Wireless, a provider of co-processors for 3G wireless for $96 million in stock. ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.zyraywireless.com )

C-COR is acquiring network and service management provider Stargus for approximately $17 million. ( www.c-cor.net ) ( www.stargus.com )

Cable and Wireless plc is purchasing Vivendi Universal's 55% stake in Monaco Telecom for €169 million. ( www.cw.com ) ( www.vivendiuniversal.com ) ( www.monaco-telecom.mc )

Cisco will acquire intellectual property, engineering staff and select assets from Procket Networks, a manufacturer of concurrent services routers, for $89 million. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.procket.com )

Intec Telecom Systems PLC is buying ADCs retail billing software division for $74.5 million. ( www.intec-telecom-systems.com ) ( www.adc.com )

--Funding

Eagle Broadband has secured $4.9 million in new financing. ( www.eaglebroadband.com )

Kineto Wireless, a start-up that bridges cellular and WLAN VoIP, has raised $35 million in Series C financing. ( www.kinetowireless.com )

SyChip, a developer of RF integrated circuits and modules for wireless Internet appliances, raised $20 million in a fourth funding round. ( www.sychip.com )

Tropos Networks, a provider of systems for building metro-scale Wi-Fi networks, raised $15 million in round D funding. ( www.tropos.com )


Other News

2Wire announced that the DSL Forum has introduced a new standard based on a protocol 2Wire developed. The CPE WAN Management Protocol, known as 'TR-069,' creates an industry standard for the management of devices such as gateways and modems. ( www.2wire.com ) ( www.dslforum.org )

Agere Systems announced technology called Unbreakable Access™, which allows service providers to protect only those applications or services selected-and paid for-by end customers. The new chip set enables delivery of time-sensitive services, such as voice, over a protected path through existing networks. Agere is working with BT, Fujitsu, Marconi and others targeting converged broadband services. ( www.agere.com )

Bell Canada and Microsoft have launched a super portal which combines assets of both companies. For an additional $4.95, Bell Sympatico's high-speed customers can get MSN Premium, which includes many extras such as anti-virus protection, ad blocking, spam filtering and the ability to create a custom home "dashboard" that can be accessed through any Internet connection. ( www.bell.ca ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.sympatico.msn.ca )

Intel continued its WiMAX thrust by signing agreements with Chinese officials in Dalian and Chengdu provinces to develop wireless broadband networks based on WiMAX and separately announcing a collaboration with Proxim to develop and deliver WiMAX solutions. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org ) ( www.proxim.com )

Intel announced three new chipsets and new Pentium 4 processors designed to power the new generation of entertainment PCs, enabling such capabilities as High Definition (HD) video and 7.1 surround sound. They also announced Intel Wireless Connect Technology, which enables consumers "to set up and configure a wireless home network in four steps". ( www.intel.com )

KT Corp. is launching Home N its TV-based home networking service. Published reports indicate that the service includes PVR functions; a "home viewer" wireless home security system, which provides real-time images from inside the home via mobile phones; a short-message service, for sending text messages to mobile phones via the TV; and a system for simultaneously watching TV and getting the latest news. It requires a separate gateway device which will be sold by KT. ( www.koreatelecom.com ) ( www.homen.co.kr )

RADVISION announced that its advanced video communications platform has been ported to the Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (ATCA) and is powering a a Korea Telecom demonstration of its ATCA-based service offering of multimedia caller ID, ring-back services and video conferencing, using RADVISION media servers powered by Intel Architecture and optimized for Linux. This solution will be ready for carrier lab trials later this year. ( www.radvision.com )

RealNetworks and Starz Encore Group launched a $12.95 a month movie subscription service for broadband users, called Starz Ticket on Real Movies. The service offers 100 movies at a time, with 25 changing each week; they can be downloaded to up to three computers. The subscription model differs from that used by competitor Movielink, which charges on a per-movie basis. ( www.realnetworks.com ) ( www.starz.com ) ( www.real.com/partners/starz ) ( www.movielink.com )

Texas Instruments announced their new high-bandwidth DSL technology that is backwards compatible with operators´ current infrastructure and will make it possible to add competitive video service revenue to their existing data and voice services. Uni-DSL (UDSL) technology raises the bandwidth of DSL to enable residential delivery of HDTV and other advanced video services, as well as voice and data, with limited fiber deployment. UDSL-based equipment is expected to begin rolling-out in 2006.( www.ti.com/udsl )

Wave7 Optics, whose initial products are based on Ethernet and IP standards, has co-developed a FTTH product with Hitachi Telecom based on Hitachi's FSAN-compliant, BPON technology. Hitachi's AMN1200 family supports the “triple play” of video, very high-speed data and voice services, and is now shipping to customers. ( www.wave7optics.com ) ( www.hitel.com )

--Regulatory

US: The FCC adopted a Report and Order to restructure the 2495-2690 MHz band used by Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS) and Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) operators. The new rules are designed to continue supporting educational uses (for ITFS) and to encourage more advanced broadband services in the MMDS band--renamed Broadband Radio Service (BRS). ( www.fcc.gov )

Canada: Bell Canada filed two applications to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to deliver television to 11 urban centers in Ontario and Quebec. The service is to be delivered via VDSL. Other Canadian phone companies including NBTel, SaskTel, Manitoba Telecom Services and Telus Corp. have already received such licenses. ( www.bell.ca ) ( www.crtc.gc.ca )

--Briefly noted

DSL Forum Update

The DSL Forum sent a recent update on the status of DSL deployments. A few of the interesting facts:

  • North America added 1.3 million subscribers in 1Q042004
  • Broadband DSL has 73.4 million subscribers globally
  • Three countries represented more than half of the new subscribers: China added 2.85 million in the quarter and now has almost 14 million subscribers; the US added 1.18 million - a growth of 13% - significantly closing the gap on Japan, the second largest DSL country; France was the fastest growing of the major DSL countries in the quarter adding 1.07 million, a growth rate of 35%. ( www.dslforum.org/pressroom.htm )

Becoming Blasé about Broadband

It's easy to lose sight of what an amazing world broadband brings to our doorstep. On June 16 we sat at our PCs and watched streaming video in real time as Jeff Pulver and others testified before the US Senate Commerce Committee on The VOIP Regulatory Freedom Act, S. 2281. You may say: "What's so special about that? I do similar things all the time". That we have started to take this for granted is what's so amazing! ( commerce.senate.gov/hearings/witnesslist.cfm?id=1230 )

Meeting Customer Needs--but which customer?

A recent announcement from video-on-demand equipment provider Concurrent seems like a great example of conflict between the needs of a service provider and what the end user wants. Concurrent's new patent-pending ad insertion technology will prevent VOD customers from fast-forwarding through commercials. Advertisers may be breaking out the champagne, and the service provider gets revenue from the advertisers, but we wonder how happy the end user (who also pays) will be when they find they can't escape the commercials. Concurrent bills the technology as maintaining "Advertisement Integrity" but we think that end users will have other phrases in mind if service providers adopt it. And it will certainly spur the sale of DVRs! ( www.ccur.com )

The next "must have" broadband feature

Whether it's coming soon from BellSouth or BT or a cable operator, it appears that the next "must have" feature in the escalating broadband competition may be (to use BellSouth's name) the "turbo button". Its function? Bandwidth-on-demand. It's good for the customer who can subscribe to and pay for a lower level of service which meets their needs most of the time, but can put their foot on the broadband gas for applications that would struggle with their normal bandwidth. And it's good for the service provider, who charges for the bandwidth boost. Multiple technology vendors are supporting such capabilities. Next, we'll see if customers use it the way service providers expect.


WCA 2004: Broadband Wireless Gets Some Respect


Bigger fish in the pond

Changes in the broadband wireless industry are most evident from who was speaking at the recent Wireless Communications Association International's WCA 2004 conference in early June in Washington, D.C. From the US perspective, speakers included a "who's who" in government, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Commissioners Abernathy and Adelstein, Wireless Communications Bureau Chief Muleta, NTIA Administrator Gallagher, plus various legal advisers, technology chiefs, etc. Senior-level speakers came from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Great Britain, Israel, Korea, South Africa and probably other countries we missed.

The smaller companies who have been around broadband wireless for a while--including Alvarion, Aperto, IPWireless, Navini--were there. But so were Alcatel, Intel and Motorola.

Chairman Powell gave a keynote address --> Click for larger pictureMore reporters were there too--partly due to the increased interest in broadband wireless and partly because of big name speakers like Chairman Powell and Craig McCaw.

Powell spoke supportively about broadband wireless, but also mentioned broadband over power line (BPL) as another potential spur to broadband competition. He said: "I think the continued proliferation of broadband technologies--with wireless playing a critical part--is the key to that solution."

Craig McCaw

Craig McCaw's keynote started by observing that "every company that has gotten into this space in a broad way has failed". He raised the obvious question of what has gone wrong in the past: "As we're walking over the bodies of our brethren - all of whom have arrows in their backs - we're asking, How can we avoid this?" He said the solution is to provide "simple, cheap, consumer friendly, high quality" service "respectful for our customers". McCaw's presence, his ownership of supplier NextNet Wireless, his spectrum purchases and his purchase of Clearwire--which has a significant leasing agreement with ITFS spectrum holders--all speak to his intent to be a contender in broadband wireless.

At the end of his talk, actual plans for his new venture still remained vague. What is known is that McCaw's Clearwire will offer broadband wireless service in Jacksonville, Florida and St. Cloud, Minnesota this summer. They will use technology from NextNet, whose equipment has been in service for some time in Mexico. The equipment requires no truck roll and the customer pitch is an easy, self-installed high-speed Internet connection. Its differentiation from DSL and cable is that can be used anywhere in the service area.

McCaw founded McCaw Cellular and sold it to AT&T in 1994 for $11.5 billion. He is now setting out to become a major player in broadband wireless. He has a mixed track record, but McCaw is certainly a contender who should be taken seriously.


"Spectrum Is the Lifeblood"

Old and new MMDS/ITFS band plans --> Click for larger pictureRegulatory agencies around the world hold the keys to broadband wireless, since they are the ones that control spectrum. Spectrum was a particular key focus of this meeting, since it was shortly before the FCC was to issue its order restructuring the MDS/MMDS and ITFS bands (see news, above).

FCC Commissioner Adelstein was eloquent on the subject, saying "Spectrum is the lifeblood for broadband wireless" and "We need to get spectrum into the hands of people who can use it." Because he comes from South Dakota, a fairly rural state, his attitudes are very influenced by the needs of underserved rural constituents. He believes that unlicensed spectrum is an effective business model in rural areas. He made an important point when he said: "VoIP is only as good as its broadband connection."

The FCC has formed a Wireless Broadband Access Task Force, several of whose members spoke at the conference. Their role is to form "spectrum policy for the 21st century."

Commissioner Abernathy explained a common thread in many recent proceedings: the "smart radio" proceeding, the "interference temperature" model, the "secondary spectrum" market, and using the "white spaces" in the broadcast TV spectrum. Each was about "finding out if this approach allows more intensive use of spectrum".

John Muleta, Chief of the FCC's WTB --> Click for larger pictureJohn Muleta, Chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), said it another way when talking about the MMDS/ITFS reworking: "It's about making the highest and best use of the spectrum" while still preserving the rights of incumbent licensees.

Several speakers referred in various ways to what they believe is the underlying set of equations at stake here:

  • Spectrum = Capacity for Broadband Wireless
  • Broadband Wireless = Promise of a third pipe to the home
  • Third pipe to the home = more broadband competition
  • More broadband competition = better, cheaper and more innovative services
  • Better cheaper and more innovative services = economic development and personal fulfillment.

The WiMAX Drumbeat

WiMAX Forum logo --> Click for larger pictureYou've got to hand it to Intel. They certainly know how to get behind a technology and promote it. When we last attended WCA in January 2003, broadband wireless outside the home was struggling toward non line-of-sight technology. There were one or two technical meetings about WiMAX (the emerging 802.16 wireless metropolitan area network standard), but it was so low key that the term didn't even make it into our article. Fast forward to the present and WiMAX was almost everywhere at the show. The WiMAX Forum™, which in April 2003 had 10 members, now has 104 announced and more imminent.

The level of coverage and hype around WiMAX has created an interesting problem for the group. On the one hand, the more the drum is beat, the more people join the parade--we noticed someone whose title at Intel is "WiMAX Campaign Manager". On the other hand, several WiMAX Working Group chairs pointed out that some recent articles are setting unrealistic expectations. That is their challenge.

We met with the Chairs of most WiMAX Working Groups, including technical, marketing and regulatory. The WiMAX technical work seems to be proceeding quite well. They expect to have products built to the spec but not yet certified by the end of this year. Those products will be built against the upcoming IEEE 802.16d standard, which enables operation with an indoor unit (as opposed to an outside antenna). Interoperability testing is expected to start in 2005 with certified interoperable products in the second half.

The first mobility version of WiMAX, 802.16e, is not expected until about a year after the "d" products, with volume probably in 2007. Of course this is where Intel comes in. The goal for .16e is to reduce prices for broadband wireless CPE from the current $300+ mark to sub $100 levels and then incorporate it into laptop PCs. As a logical extension to Intel's Centrino campaign for Wi-Fi, Intel will put WiMAX on cards and build it into PC chips, enabling the PC owner to become a WiMAX customer. WiMAX will complement Wi-Fi, not replace it.

David Reeder of Airspan showing WiMAX evolution plan --> Click for larger pictureTom Ferris of Redline with "pre-WiMAX" product --> Click for larger pictureMany of the vendors on the WCA exhibit floor have previously supported proprietary approaches, and are now embracing WiMAX. For example, Alvarion announced its new "BreezeMAX" product. Airspan, Alvarion and Redline have announced pre-“WiMAX” products. Motorola's announcement was about significantly lowering the price of their proprietary Canopy product (to sub $250 levels in volume); they have joined the WiMAX Forum and we expect to see them announce support for WiMAX soon.

Two other WiMAX Forum developments were particularly noteworthy. The first is the formation of a Regulatory Working Group, headed by Margaret LaBrecque of Intel. Its purpose is to help create an environment favorable to widespread deployment of WiMAX systems, and to ensure availability and global harmonization of WiMAX-friendly spectrum worldwide.

Qwest showed their WiMAX strategy --> Click for larger pictureThe second development is equally important and concerns the growth in WiMAX service provider members: there are now 26, a huge increase, representing a quarter of the members. New members include British Telecom, France Telecom and Qwest. Since these are the people who will ultimately need to purchase the equipment and implement the service, their presence and voice in the process is essential. The WiMAX Forum has created a Service Provider Working Group to formalize their input to WiMAX planning.


Mobile Broadband Wireless Today -- UMTS TDD Alliance

Jon Hambidge of IPWireless with UMTS TDD gateway --> Click for larger pictureEven with all the buzz about WiMAX, there were other stories to be heard at WCA. Jon Hambidge and Madelyn Smith of IPWireless made sure we heard their view that there's no need to wait for WiMAX, because their technology already accomplishes its goal today. Their system uses UMTS TDD technology: UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) is a mobile network technology for broadband delivery over 3G systems; TDD (time division duplex) is one variant of UMTS - most 3G systems use the more common FDD (frequency division duplex) approach.

This February IP Wireless helped to launch the Global UMTS TDD Alliance. It includes many service operators, plus such vendors as Samsung and UTStarcom, for a total of 40 members. It's important to note where it was launched -- at the 3GSM World Congress. This provides an interesting perspective on the two different ways the industry is approaching mobile broadband wireless: The UMTS TTD camp comes from the mobile phone side (as is obvious from the 3G in the event name) and expands into broadband; the WiMAX camp starts from broadband and moves into mobility in the second phase.

Hambidge made several key points about the Global UMTS TDD Alliance:

  • Service providers are using it today (e.g., Airdata in Germany, IP Mobile in Japan, IQ Networks in Australia, etc.) because they think time to market is critical;
  • Commercial products have been in the market since 2003; and
  • Mobility is a distinguishing feature which their products have today, but is still on the drawing board for WiMAX.

UMTS TDD products are finding success largely with non-traditional operators who want to provide ubiquitous broadband services. The Alliance's success stories to date sound good, but they are battling momentum on the one hand from 3G FDD advocates deploying WCDMA, and on the other from the steam behind WiMAX.


What's Next?--From "Broadband Home" to "Broadband Anywhere"

Why are Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband in hotels gaining in importance? Why are operators rolling out networks with UMTS TDD and similar technologies from Arraycomm, Flarion and others? Its all about "personal broadband": broadband to the person, not to the place. The broadband home is only part of the journey; these emerging technologies support the user anywhere.

Korea, already the leader in broadband penetration and uses, is moving in this direction. Its "WiBro" strategy is all about "portable broadband Internet," spurred by the Ministry of Information and Communications. We'll learn more and revisit this in a future article.

We've run out of room to write about additional topics like interference temperature, the coordination of license exempt spectrum, why people think the 700 MHZ band should be watched, and lots more. WCA President Andrew Krieg did a terrific job of pulling together a very meaty program.

( www.wcai.com ) ( www.nextnetwireless.com ) ( www.clearwire.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org ) ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.umtstdd.org )


Arraycomm: Two Tricks in Their Bag

Where are we on the road to personal broadband? And what is the likely future for personal broadband provider Arraycomm, when the WiMAX camp has so much momentum behind it? Those are the questions we wanted answered when we set up an interview with Arraycomm's Director of Marketing Steven Glapa. We wrote about Arraycomm's iBurst technology a year and a half ago - see ArrayComm -- Another Approach to Ubiquitous Wireless.

Glapa's answer was surprising, given that we saw WiMAX and iBurst as competitors. He believes that whoever "wins" in the long term, Arraycomm stands to benefit either way.

Smart Antennas

Arraycomm shows the advantage of adaptive antennas --> Click for larger pictureArraycomm's core business is its IntelliCell adaptive antenna processing technology. Using sophisticated signal processing to detect where a user is transmitting from, it directs the antenna array to focus the return signal there rather than broadcasting widely. This results in efficient transmission and low power consumption by the user's modem. Arraycomm says this technology is helping to serve 15 million mobile subscribers today in China, Ethiopia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. ArrayComm benefits through technology licensing.

Arraycomm says service providers working with early broadband wireless systems are finding they will need "smart antenna" technology to achieve their goals. Arraycomm thinks WiMAX will need it to optimize the range and capacity served by broadband wireless base stations, with fewer needed to serve an area. That translates to CapEx savings--and perhaps the difference between a viable business case or not. We don't know whether WiMAX vendors agree with this, but we have seen references to "smart antennas" so we suspect they do.

iBurst

That's not to say that Arraycomm is writing off the sales potential of iBurst--far from it. If you visit their Web site you'll see that iBurst is front and center, while antennas are buried in a section called "products and services". The natural next questions are: "Who is Arraycomm's target market for iBurst?" and "Why would service providers buy it rather than other solutions?"

Glapa's answer is that some providers in developing countries and CLECs in the developed world believe in the vision of personal broadband--service which does for data communications what the mobile phone does for voice. Some of these providers believe "the clock is ticking very quickly" and can't wait for what's promised in the future. WiMAX is not available today, and "pre-WiMAX" products won't support mobility. So it comes down to the products available now and the economics of the business case using each. When that work is done, Arraycomm believes they come out ahead.

Personal Broadband Australia

To see iBurst technology in action, Glapa points to the experience thus far in Australia. Personal Broadband Australia (PBA) has built out infrastructure which covers 300-400 square km with 12 base stations. When Glapa was in Sydney, he said he got 1 Megabit/sec while being driven in a taxi.

The business structure is quite interesting. PBA's consortium partners include Arraycomm, Crown Castle Australia, ozEmail, UTStarcom, Vodaphone Australia and TCI, a specialist management group. PBA builds the network and acts as the wholesale distributor for wireless services; multiple retail distributor/service providers sell services and have the relationship with the end user.

Australia is turning out to be an interesting testbed for wireless broadband, since iBurst is not without broadband wireless competitors. Unwired, another company owning Australian spectrum, is using Navini's technology to construct a similar network in Sydney. However, Navini's current technology does not provide for mobility (use in a moving vehicle) but only provides portability within the service area (use at any served fixed point outside the home).

The availability of multiple types of broadband wireless should provide a living lab for seeing what segments of customers sign up for each of the services and investigating how customers decide what choice to make. There are lots of variables: what needs they have, how much they are willing to pay, coverage area and lots more. Your editors have no choice but to schedule a trip to Australia soon to investigate in person how this is turning out.

( www.arraycomm.com ) ( www.pbba.com.au ) ( www.crowncastle.com ) ( www.ozemail.com.au ) ( www.utstar.com ) ( www.vodaphone.com.au ) ( www.tcipl.com ) ( www.unwired.com.au ) ( www.navini.com )


UWB Moving Ahead -- Interview with Pulse~Link

Pulse~Link invited us to meet with them a few weeks ago in Boston, where they were sponsoring and exhibiting at an ITU Ultra Wideband task group meeting. We spent several hours with John Santhoff (founder and CTO), Bruce Watkins (President and COO) and Tom Kovanic (VP of Marketing).

We have written previously about ultra wideband (UWB) and Pulse~Link - see What's Next for Wireless Networking. Founded four years ago, they have announced many applications for high-speed UWB: over hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks; over home power lines; and wireless in the home.

In Boston, Tom showed us all of these in operation using early versions of their technology.

  • The HFC demonstration showed a small simulated cable network built from off-the-shelf CATV equipment running high-definition video over UWB along with multiple standard video channels.
  • The power line demonstration showed HD video running across an active power line through a power strip to an HD set.
  • The wireless demo showed two HD video streams running over the air through a single UWB stream to two HD sets.

Pulse~Link has developed an integrated circuit it calls a "media-diverse UWB Software Defined Cognitive Radio (SDCR) solution." They say it will support all three media types--cable, power line and wireless--simultaneously on the same chipset, and project very impressive "target data rates":

  • HFC: 1 Gbps downstream, 480 Mbps upstream
  • Cable in home: 2 Gbps
  • Power line: 200 Mbps over short range (through a power strip)
  • Wireless: 500 Mbps to 1 Gpbs short range, 125 Mbps at 20 meters

Like other UWB approaches, all of these share the spectrum without interfering with existing services--video over cable, Wi-Fi networks in the home--carried over the same system.

John explained the technical approach Pulse~Link uses to achieve these speeds: the data is coded by the different times between very narrow pulses -- they call this a "pulse recurrent frequency" approach. Other "flavors" of UWB use different means to encode data.

With many different approaches to UWB, the IEEE 802.15.3a Task Group for high-rate wireless personal area networks has so far been unable to agree on a single approach. To break the impasse, John is leading a drive to adopt a "common signalling mode" (CSM) to provide an "etiquette" for UWB devices based on different approaches to coexist, coordinate their actions and interoperate in the same wireless network.

( www.pulselink.net ) ( uraxs.com/ITU-R_Boston_2004/TG_1-8_Boston.htm ) ( www.ieee802.org/15/pub/TG3a.html )


More on Metadata -- A Dialog with Gracenote

Several months ago, we wrote about our experience with GetDigital -- see Get Digital Part 2: It's The Metadata, Stupid!. We compared GetDigital with CDDB, the online database used by most PC programs to obtain metadata when playing CDs and recording or "ripping" them to hard drives.

We first wrote about Gracenote more than two years ago -- see CDDB - Gracenote. At that time, their CDDB database was maintained almost entirely by end users, leading to inconsistency in data entry and classification.

Shortly after we published the GetDigital article, we received a nice note from Kathryn Shantz of Gracenote, pointing out CDDB improvements that we were not aware of. That led to an exchange of email with Kathryn and a telephone interview with Ross Blanchard (Director of Marketing and Business Development).

CDDB

In her email, Kathryn said "it's great that you're writing about metadata - while relatively hidden, this is one of the most important aspects of the digital music revolution! Gracenote's business was built around serving this need -- with the goal of making digital music easier to use." She described "some of the things we've changed to improve and extend the service since you last wrote about us:

  • In-house team of database editors who add new content and manually review and approve incoming content
  • International editors who check and add content in many different languages
  • Over 15,000 automated rules, filters & heuristics check over 20 data fields for consistency, accuracy and completeness
  • Improved genre categories so that it's easier for people to find exactly the right music for that moment, and editorial oversight of genre classifications"

In our telephone discussion with Kathryn and Ross, we learned that the CDDB database now includes nearly 3 million CDs and more than 36 million songs. Each day, users from ninety countries submit about ten thousand new albums to CDDB. In the US, Korea and Japan, Gracenote has editorial staff to "vet" the entries and "lock them down" to prevent modification by users. Because of the volume of entries, the editors are focused on the most popular content; of the most popular CDs, "the high 90% are locked down."

For the smaller labels, Gracenote has a "content partner program" so that they can directly submit album and track metadata for their own CDs and lock them down.

Gracenote does not lock down the genre metadata, which is highly subjective. They allow for two different genres for each album, artist and song.

Access to the CDDB catalog varies a great deal by country. For example, in Germany, access is 30% local (German CDs) and 70% international, while in Japan and Korea it's 70% local and 30% international.

Gracenote licenses a CDDB Software Development Kit (SDK) to software developers. Most PC-based CD players and recorders use this kit, which is also available for Apple and Linux-based systems. Gracenote also provides an "Embedded CDDB" solution; for portable devices and others without an active Internet connection, this provides a copy of CDDB for storage on a hard drive.

MusicID

Gracenote has a new system called MusicID which uses waveform analysis to create a "fingerprint" of each track; the track can come from any source: records, cassettes, CDs or even radio. (This is very different from the original CDDB recognition, which is based on track-length information specific to CDs.) Once the track is identified, the CDDB database provides all the metadata. Gracenote now has waveform fingerprints for over 3.6 million tracks, and says it is adding "over 25,000 a week."

Gracenote has patents pending on the recognition technique, and offers a MusicID SDK for license to device developers. We asked whether any products were available yet, and Ross said "it has been licensed to half a dozen folks - there's an Onkyo product but it's for the Japanese market only."

We have a large collection of LP records, and we've started recording them to a hard drive so we can play them through our network. We've been doing it with what's available, and it's a pretty tedious process; since nothing we've seen includes a link to CDDB, we have to enter the metadata ourselves. We're hoping to see someone bring out an LP recording system using MusicID to make it a lot easier; maybe it's not so far away.

( www.get-digital.net ) ( www.gracenote.com )


Meet us at Healthcare Unbound

We were pleased when the latest promotional mailing from our local hospital contained not one, but two mentions of broadband. It seems there is growing recognition of the real-world benefits broadband can bring to home health care.

If you're as intrigued as we are by the potential, join us at 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?".


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

Reader and colleague Vladimir Prodanovic sent us a note from the Netherlands: "I have become a member of FTTH Council Europe. It is maybe interesting for you and your people to know that last week there was a meeting in Brussels and presentations are available online. Go to Events and Day 1 and Day 2 (interesting presentation from Ministry of Telecom from Japan with some number of FTTH)."


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