IN THIS ISSUE:
Making Things Connect
The Power of Powerline
Choice vs. Simplicity
Upcoming Conferences -
Your Voice -
Terry Denson has joined Verizon as VP of video programming and content marketing and strategy. Dennson was previously VP of programming for Insight Communications. ( www.verizon.com )
Chris Dinallo has been promoted to VP of Technology at Pace Micro Technology, and Steve Payne has joined as Director of Operations & Finance. ( www.pacemicro.com )
David Eng has joined Tandberg Television as Director of Cable Business Development. He most recently was with C-COR. ( www.tandbergtv.com )
Miguel Angel Sánchez Fornié, Director de Sistemas de Control y Telecomunicaciones at Iberdrola, headquartered in Madrid, has been appointed the first Chairman of the European Board of Directors of the United Telecom Council (UTC). Peter Moray, formerly of Mason Communications, has been appointed UTC's Director of European Services. ( www.utc.org )
Ted Malone has joined Imeem as VP of Marketing. He was previously with TiVo. ( www.imeem.com )
William Muscato has accepted a new position as Field Marketing Manager for Axalto North America. Bill was previously with Motorola's Multimedia Systems Division. ( www.axalto.com )
Steven Ross has been named editor-in-chief of Broadband Properties Magazine. Ross taught for 19 years at Columbia University. ( www.bbpmag.com )
Barry Schliesmann has accepted a position as Director, Business Operations, Interactive Media at Motorola's Personal Communications Sector. Barry was previously with Ignite Sports Media. ( www.motorola.com )
Simon Teppett was appointed Chief Technology Officer of Two Way TV. Teppett was previously with Chello Broadband. ( www.twowaytv.com )
(Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to report a change in your position.)
UK cable operator NTL has bought out Virgin Media Group’s stake in the companies’ joint venture, Virgin.net, the fifth largest ISP in the UK. The unit will keep its management and Virgin.net brand. The move extends NTL's network by enabling offering services over DSL. ( www.ntl.com ) ( www.virgin.net )
A Sony-led group of investors is buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for nearly $5 billion. Comcast is investing $300 million to gain access to MGM's huge content library. ( www.sony.com ) ( www.mgm.com ) ( www.comcast.com )
8x8 raised $12 million in the sale of common stock to an institutional investor. ( www.8x8.com )
Airspan Networks has successfully completed a $29.2 million private placement of Preferred Stock. ( www.airspan.com )
Azaire Networks, a provider of Cellular/Wi-Fi convergence solutions, has closed $9 million in Series B financing. ( www.azairenet.com )
BridgePort Networks, a mobile and VoIP convergence startup, raised $25 million in second round financing. ( www.bridgeport-networks.com )
Clearwire announced a partnership with Intel to help accelerate WiMAX networks. As a part of the agreement, Intel Capital has made a significant investment in Clearwire. Specific details were not announced. ( www.clearwire.com )
Ellacoya Networks has secured $7 million in venture capital financing. ( www.ellacoya.com )
Ember Corp., a startup developer of ZigBee wireless chips, has closed a $25 million round of funding. ( www.ember.com )
Intel Capital has made five additional investments from the $200 million Intel Digital Home Fund including Cablematrix, Mediabolic, Pure Networks, BridgeCo AG and Envivio. Financial details were not disclosed. ( www.intel.com/capital/ ) ( www.cablematrix.com ) ( www.mediabolic.com ) ( www.purenetworks.com ) ( www.bridgeco.net ) ( www.envivio.com )
Propagate Networks, which makes cognitive radio software for wireless LANs, has raised $8 million in Series C venture funding. Motorola participated in the funding. ( www.propagatenetworks.com ) ( www.motorola.com )
Provigent Inc., a system-on-a-chip (SoC) solutions provider for broadband wireless, closed a third round of financing for $8 million. ( www.provigent.com )
Vocera Communications secured $6 million in mezzanine round financing. ( www.vocera.com )
Wavesat, a developer of OFDM Broadband Wireless silicon solutions, announced completion of $8 million in third round financing. ( www.wavesat.com )
Editor's Note: We have not generally written about start-ups that didn't survive or acquisitions that didn't close. Some recent announcements caused us to revisit this, particularly for companies which we covered in this newsletter.
Alvarion had previously announced its plan to acquire InterWave Communications International for $56 million. News reports indicate the company "under current terms" is canceling the deal. ( www.alvarion.com )
We have written about Bermai several times--we were impressed with their technology and leadership. However, those attribures were not sufficient to close their next round of funding. We interviewed them on September 24th, and were surprised to hear they shut their doors on September 30th.
Broadcom introduced a two-chip VoIP chipset, directed at consumer Wi-Fi phones. The chips include integrated support for advanced security and QoS. ( www.broadcom.com )
BT is beginning field trials of a new service, called "BT Freeview Plus". It is enabled by a hybrid DTV and broadband box, which will provide customers with digital TV through a conventional TV aerial and the ability to pay to download films and other programs (VOD) through a broadband internet connection. The service will leverage BT’s ability to temporarily boost download speeds over broadband. BT Freeview Plus reportedly will not have a hard disk, so will not include PVR capabilities. ( www.bt.com )
CableLabs and Samsung Electronics entered into agreements allowing Samsung to implement OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP™) compliant middleware on its interactive digital TVs and set-top boxes. Samsung already offers certified one-way digital cable-ready DTVs, so this agreement enables transition to two-way products. ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.samsung.com )
Intellon announced introduction of its next generation 85Mbps powerline networking chipset. It is compliant with the 14 Mbps HomePlug 1.0 specification and offers the higher bandwidth for carrying home entertainment applications such as standard definition video and whole house audio. (See more below.) ( www.intellon.com )
Netflix and TiVo confirmed their deal to supply DVD-quality movies over broadband to their mutual subscribers. The planned VOD service will allow owners of TiVo's digital video recorders to download movies. The companies plan to bring this service online by the end of 2005, but first need to negotiate film distribution rights. ( www.netflix.com ) ( www.tivo.com )
Microsoft introduced Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 and a host of related products and services, aimed at the digital entertainment market. Computer manufacturers including Dell, Gateway, H-P, Sony and Toshiba have created multimedia PCs based on MCE 2005, which serve as the hub of the digital entertainment experience. Other announcements included Media Center Extender devices from H-P and Linksys; and Digital Audio Receivers (based on Windows Media Connect)--which enable playback of a consumer's digital music in other rooms of the house--from D-Link, Roku and OmniFi. Also included were Windows Media 10 and MSN music. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.dell.com ) ( www.gateway.com ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.sony.com ) ( www.toshiba.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.dlink.com ) ( www.rokulabs.com ) ( www.omnifimedia.com )
SBC has upped the ante in the bundling game by announcing it will offer high-speed wireless access for $1.99 a month to customers of the company's DSL service. SBC has also discussed its plans to offer dual cellular/Wi-Fi handsets in tandem with Cingular Wireless by as early as next year. The connection would switch automatically from the Cingular network to a (higher speed) hot spot whenever a customer was within its range. Separately, they announced an introductory bundled price for DSL service (with All Distance phone service) at $19.95 for 1 year. ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.cingular.com )
Texas Instruments announced development of digital TV on a single chip for cell phones. Code-named "Hollywood," the chip will support newly established and open digital TV broadcast standards for the wireless industry, including Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld (DVB-H) and Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting - Terrestrial (ISDB-T). ( www.ti.com )
UnitedGlobalCom has launched VoIP services in Hungary and announced similar plans for the Netherlands through its European broadband division UPC. UPC is following the trend of increasing the speed across a range of its chello Internet products in the Netherlands. In the city of Almere, UPC will start a 30 Mbps broadband chello Internet trial to be followed by commercial deployment of new high-end broadband products. ( www.unitedglobal.com ) ( www.chello.com )
--Standards & Alliances
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced that its R7 Home Networking Standards Committee has approved CEA-2027 for publication. This standard details mechanisms to allow audio/video (A/V) devices connected via a home network to present a status and control user interface (UI) on a network-attached rendering device, such as a digital television. The initial release of the standard is for DTV-Link on an IEEE-1394 connection, but work is underway on adding Ethernet. CEA-2027 is available online at IHS ( global.ihs.com ). ( www.ce.org/standards ).
The Wi-Fi Alliance has reacted to companies using terms like "pre-802.11n" and issued a statement strongly discouraging "use of the term 'IEEE 802.11n' in association with any Wi-Fi certified product". 802.11n isn't expected to be standardized until 2006. "To help assure that Wi-Fi technology users continue to have a positive experience, the Wi-Fi Alliance will revoke the Wi-Fi certification of any product with claims of IEEE 802.11n capabilities if that product is proven to adversely impact the interoperability of other Wi-Fi certified products". ( www.wi-fi.org )
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to allow broadband over power lines (BPL) to be deployed. The rules will require the equipment to mitigate interference. ( www.fcc.gov )
Separately, the FCC will not require incumbent telephone companies (ILECs) to unbundle fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC) loops, in which fiber is extended within 500 feet of a customer's premises. Previous actions allowed ILECs to not lease their networks to competitors when fiber is installed directly to the home. ( www.fcc.gov )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations that you might have missed. This month’s tidbits include an update on broadband deployment, a look at HDTV in the US, price wars in VoIP and some thoughts on how complicated "telephone service" is becoming.
Point Topic reports that the number of broadband lines worldwide rose by 55% to 123 million in the 12 months prior to 30 June 2004. Of these, the number of DSL lines worldwide increased by two-thirds to 78 million and cable modem and other broadband lines grew by 39 per cent to 45 million. "Other broadband" was comprised of FTTx, which had 9 million lines (7.3 percent of the total) by June 30; and other technologies, primarily fixed wireless access and satellite, which accounted for less than 0.3 percent of the total.
In terms of per capita penetration, Hong Kong with 21 high-speed lines per 100 people is edging closer to top-ranked South Korea's 24.4. If the metric used is absolute number of broadband lines, the US is in the lead with over 29 million lines. ( www.point-topic.com )
The rate of broadband penetration varies greatly from country to country in Latin America, but Pyramid Research predicts that broadband will be the fastest growing telecom service in the Latin American region between 2004 and 2009. Broadband subscriber lines are expected to grow at a CAGR of 22%, compared to 2% for landline telephony and 6% for mobile phones.
The largest broadband markets in Latin America are Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, which together account for 83% of the region's broadband subscribers. In terms of growth, the Venezuelan, Mexican and Ecuadorian broadband markets are predicted to grow by a CAGR of 25% or more. In terms of technology used, Pyramid reports that cable is the preferred means in El Salvador, Paraguay and Colombia, but elsewhere DSL is dominant. ( www.pyramidresearch.com )
HDTV Is On the Upswing (Finally)
In long-ago times (the late 1980s and early 1990s), US pundits and politicians were frantic that Japan (and Europe to a lesser extent) was going to gain a Great Technological Advantage over the US through high-definition television (HDTV). Broadcasters asked the FCC to look at the HDTV question, cause an HDTV transmission system to be created, and ensure that spectrum was allocated to broadcast it, if more was needed. The combination of rapid Internet growth and a new administration in Washington caused HDTV to fade to the background for years.
Fast forward and today the HDTV era is finally arriving in the US, albeit slowly. This can be seen from the number of digital televisions being sold; the number of stations broadcasting in HD; the carriage of these stations by cable (and to some extent satellite providers); and increasing publicity and promotion by the FCC.
According to electronics analysts at iSuppli, shipments of digital televisions increased 113 percent from 2002 to 2003--from 1.7 million units to 3.7 million units. Sales estimates predict faster growth this year and will accelerate as prices drop and volumes increase.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently reported that 1,445 DTV stations were on the air, compared to fewer than 200 just three years ago. HDTV adoption is also being spurred by the availability of high-quality HD programming on DVD. The NCTA reports that as many as 90 million of the 108 million U.S. TV homes (83%) are passed by a cable system that offers HDTV programming. But systems offering HDTV is not the same as people subscribing. One (unverified) report indicated that only 600,000 homes use the high-definition service at Comcast, the leading cable provider with 21.8 million basic subscribers of which 8.1 million have digital cable.
Meanwhile the transition from analog broadcasting to digital television is slowly moving forward. The FCC phase-in plan for digital tuners requires TV makers to include digital TV tuners in half of all sets 36-inches and above sold after July 1, 2004. All TV receivers between 13 inches and 24 inches and all TV interface devices must include digital tuners after July 1, 2007.
On another front, the FCC unveiled a new Web site to serve as a source of information on the DTV transition and available high-definition programming ( www.dtv.gov ). It allows consumers to find high-definition programming options available in their home, answers to frequently asked questions about the DTV transition and a guide for DTV shoppers.
We're not very up to speed on other markets, but our understanding is that Europe, which pioneered the Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) standard, has focused to date only on standard definition digital TV. Meanwhile in Japan, according to quotes from the International Broadcasting conference, "NHK broadcasts more HD programming to a larger installed base of HD TV sets than any other country." It is "all in the 1080/50 interlaced matrix it has been refining since the first analog HDTV broadcast in 1986."
We'd love to hear from readers in other countries who can update us on the reality of HDTV in their regions.
IP Telephony Prices: Where's the Bottom?
Vonage has reduced the price for their unlimited plan by $5, to $25. AT&T has lowered the price of its CallVantage service by $5.00 to $29.99. Packet8 and Lingo charge $19.95 a month for their unlimited plan. All of those include the US and Canada. Broadvoice goes them one better by offering their "Unlimited World" at $19.95, including unlimited calling to 21 countries including the United States.
The way this is going, there are probably some at an even lower price, although we haven't come across them. How low can they go?
We've written many times about the need for ways that many kinds of media devices in the home can "talk" with each other over home networks. The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) has been working on this for some time, and we will soon see the first devices based on their work.
We recently interviewed Scott Smyers, Chairman of the DLNA Board of Directors and a Vice President at Sony Electronics to find out how they were doing with the specifications and what kinds of products we would see.
We first wrote about the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG) a year ago--see Intel's Digital Home: Corporate Initiatives That Work ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0310_6.html )--and followed up a few months later in Setting Standards for Digital Media: DENi and DHWG ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0401_4.html#link4d ). Those articles described how leading companies from the PC, consumer electronics and mobile industries were working together to establish specifications for interoperable products in the digital home. They had established a goal of publishing their first set of guidelines during the first half of 2004, with products expected to reach the market in 2005.
In June, the group published its first guidelines, and changed its name to the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), reflecting the change from a "working group" to an industry alliance. They say "Digital living encompasses the home and beyond".
Scott told us that the group had grown from its original membership of a few dozen companies to nearly 200. Its members include just about everybody in microelectronics, computers, consumer electronics and mobile. Companies are developing and starting to show products based on the initial guidelines, and we expect to see products at CES in January.
When we interviewed DLNA last January, we were struck by the absence of broadband. When we asked Scott about the role of broadband in DLNA, he said "Two devices should be able to interoperate, and be useful and usable -- even if you don't have broadband."
DLNA published its initial guidelines--DLNA Home Networked Device Interoperability Guidelines v1.0--in June. Scott told us about the rigorous process for formulating these guidelines: "Fifty to sixty engineers meet face-to-face once a month and teleconference every week."
The DLNA 1.0 guidelines ( www.dlna.org/news/DLNA_Presentation_June04.pps ) establish an initial framework for interoperability between devices:
The next set of guidelines (1.1) will define optional media formats such as GIF, MP3 and MPEG4 Part 10, and will add "smart remote" capabilities.
Scott said that several "plugfests" have already taken place to test products against these guidelines, and more are planned this year. He said the tools and the program for certification are in process, and we should see certified products with the DLNA logo by the second half of 2005.
Next Steps: DRM and "End-to-End QoS"
While the initial guidelines are a fine start, two critical pieces of the puzzle are still missing: digital rights management (DRM) and quality of service (QoS). Scott pointed out that by its rules "DLNA is constrained to take only already developed international standards" and these didn't yet exist for DRM and QoS.
DRM is very difficult since the content owners (especially the film studios) are reluctant to permit their content to move across a home network, for fear that it will get out of the home and into wide circulation--as has happened to music with "peer to peer" networking. QoS is less controversial, but DLNA requires standards to be set by other bodies before it can embrace them in its guidelines.
All home networking technology groups recognize the need for QoS standards. While data can be carried over a home network without QoS, media content such as voice, audio and video require QoS to preserve full quality, especially in a network used for multiple applications. Video will not work well on a network also used for data transfers and VoIP.
While everyone sees the need for QoS, engineers find it difficult to agree on how best to provide it. There are two main approaches:
The IEEE has been working on wireless QoS standards for more than four years, considering both QoS approaches. The Wi-Fi Alliance recently adopted the "prioritized QoS" part of the draft 802.11e standard into the Wi-Fi specs as "Wi-Fi Multimedia" (WMM), and says it will include the full standard when it is completed. New technologies for home networking over existing power lines and phone lines also include QoS, as do emerging standards for high-speed personal area networking.
Cable and telephone companies have a strong interest in delivering streaming video content from their networks to home TVs. This requires "end-to-end QoS" starting from servers in their networks, delivered over cable or phone lines to a home gateway through cable or DSL modems, and carried from the gateway over a home network to a TV display.
Both CableLabs and the DSL Forum have worked to define appropriate QoS mechanisms for their networks. CableLabs defined QoS approaches for cable modems in its DOCSIS and PacketCable specifications, and for home networks in its CableHome 1.1 specifications. DSL Forum defined its QoS approach in TR059--see DSL Forum -- New Specs to Beat Cable ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0409_5.html ) for a description of its approach.
DLNA would appear to be the most promising forum to resolve the issue of end-to-end QoS. While the cable and telephone companies are unlikely to talk with each other about QoS issues, they are both likely to be willing to work with the PC and consumer electronics companies in the context of DLNA. Cablelabs is a member of DLNA. DSL Forum is not a member (its rules apparently don't provide a mechanism for membership), but Bell Canada--one of DSL Forum's key members--is.
We look forward to seeing agreement on common mechanisms for end-to-end QoS.
At the CEATEC Japan conference held near Tokyo in early October, fifteen DLNA member companies showed prototypes and products designed to the DLNA guidelines. These included media servers, audio and video digital media adapters, networked DVD recorders and players, and many more. Atheros showed a wireless video networking solution based on its new AR5005VA chip, which we had seen when we visited Atheros in August - see 802.11a for Consumers: An Interview with Atheros Communications ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0408_7.html ).
Fujitsu, Kenwood, NEC, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba all showed multiple prototypes and products at CEATEC. We take this as a good indication that the major consumer electronics companies are really committed to work toward common standards.
We expect to see these products and many more at CES in January. We'll have a full report in the January issue of our report.
More than two years ago, we tested several HomePlug products and were impressed with the powerline networking technology. We wrote several articles on our tests ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet_powerline.html ) and created a HomePlug section on our website ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/bbhl/homeplug.html ). HomePlug products are selling well in Europe; they have not done nearly as well in the US marketplace, where they have been overwhelmed by Wi-Fi.
The HomePlug Powerline Alliance is nearing completion of its next-generation HomePlug AV, and recently started working on specs for broadband over powerline (BPL). Intellon--the largest producer of HomePlug chips--has announced a higher-speed version of its first-generation chips. Corinex has done very well with HomePlug in Europe. So we thought it a good time to catch up with key people at all three to get an update.
HomePlug AV and BPL
We recently interviewed three officers of the HomePlug Alliance: Oleg Logvinov is the Alliance President, and also President and CEO of Arkados, a subsidiary of CDKNet.com. Jim Reeber is Director of Marketing at Arkados and chairs the HomePlug Marketing Working Group. Brian Wenger is a Principal Research Engineer at Earthlink and chairs the HomePlug BPL group. We met with Oleg and Brian and talked several times on the phone with all three.
The Alliance has been working on HomePlug AV for a long time. Its announcement two years ago said AV would be "designed to support distribution of data and multi-stream entertainment including High Definition television (HDTV) and Standard Definition television (SDTV) throughout the home." AV would provide the "best solution for high quality video distribution, with secure connectivity at the highest quality of service possible, at a cost that is competitive with other home networking alternatives" and "will also coexist with HomePlug 1.0." The AV spec was "expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months, with integrated circuits and consumer products available thereafter."
Oleg said that the AV spec is nearing internal release and he expects public release "early in the first quarter of 2005." AV operates at 200 Mbps using OFDM (like current Wi-Fi) and "advanced FEC". It includes a mechanism for "guaranteed QoS" (see the accompanying article on DLNA) using TDMA to provide "contention free" transport for multiple streams of high-definition television.
Jim said several companies are working on AV chips, including Arkados, Conexant and Intellon, and "we'll see these chips not long after the specs." Although the specs will not have been released in time for CES (the first week of January), Jim thought we'd see some early AV products on the show floor, and we'll be watching for them.
Oleg said one of the main applications for AV will be "whole home PVR": "It's a huge driver to move the AV system from one part of the house to another, especially as the number of TVs in the home increases." MovieLink and CinemaNow already make it possible to download movies to a PC, and HomePlug AV will make it possible to move it from the PC to a TV anywhere in the house.
Next-generation wireless networking such as ultra wideband and IEEE 802.11n ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0311_6.html )--the next generation of Wi-Fi--have the same goals as AV: speeds of 100 Mbps or higher, QoS, support for HDTV. We asked Oleg to compare wireless and powerline for video: "802.11n will have better security and QoS than 802.11g, but will it go through walls any better? UWB is designed for a single room. HomePlug will go throughout a house."
The Alliance recently started a new initiative to develop HomePlug specifications for BPL. This is a new direction for the Alliance, which has until now focused on powerline networking in the home--what the FCC calls "in-home BPL". Now it is seeking to establish standards for "access BPL": powerline networking used to carry broadband to the home, in competition with cable and DSL.
In our earlier articles on BPL--see Moving Forward with the "Third Wire" ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0405_3.html )--we discussed several competing proprietary technologies being used today. These are based on several different chips and are mutually incompatible--devices made by one company don't work with systems made by another.
Power companies have already started deploying systems based on proprietary technologies, so we asked how HomePlug BPL could succeed in establishing a new standard. Brian said "Service providers want a low-cost CPE"--the device used in the home--and they understand that they'll only get that from interoperable standards such as those HomePlug is trying to create. He said DSL and cable had followed the same path: service providers deployed broadband on a small scale with proprietary technologies, but waited for interoperable standards--and low-cost CPE--for full-scale national rollouts.
We attended an IEEE BPL organizational meeting in July--as it happened, sitting next to Oleg and Brian--and learned about another compatibility problem: most of the access BPL technologies being deployed today will interfere with existing HomePlug systems installed in homes.
There is no electrical isolation between the "medium voltage" electrical wiring outside the home, and the electrical wiring inside. Broadband over cable and phone lines use different technologies outside and inside the home; the cable or DSL modem acts as an interface between the two, isolating them from each other. But BPL systems are designed to deliver the signal directly to electrical outlets in the home, and will interfere with HomePlug if it is installed. This is not much of a problem in the US, where HomePlug is installed in very few homes and power companies are moving rather slowly to deploy BPL. It is a serious problem in Europe, where HomePlug is in many more homes, and where power companies have started deploying access BPL systems.
Oleg and Brian made it clear that HomePlug's AV and BPL efforts are closely linked: "They're not two technologies separated by a brick wall. AV will be a good starting point for BPL, and we think that AV has the low-level ability to support BPL requirements." The HomePlug BPL effort will look at the higher-level requirements such as network management and control, which are quite different than those for AV. "AV is the lower layers and BPL will build on it."
AV and BPL will be designed to coexist with each other. Brian said that he expected that there would be "a year or two before large rollouts" and that HomePlug was "committed to ensure that BPL and AV will coexist and be interoperable."
We observed that CableLabs had succeeded in creating the DOCSIS standard for cable modems by having the cable operators--the bulk purchasers of modems--calling the shots. By contrast, HomePlug seems to be dominated by vendors, especially by semiconductor companies. Brian and Oleg said "We're trying to get the power companies more involved with BPL and we're talking with them. We'd like to see HomePlug involved with the utility applications" such as automated meter ready and plant monitoring, which many of the utilities see as very important application in justifying the expense of a BPL infrastructure. We note that Electricité de France (EDF)--one of Europe's biggest power utilities--is now a HomePLug member, and we assume we'll see more.
Intellon -- 85 Mbps HomePlug
Just as we started talking with the HomePlug folks about AV, we received a press release from Intellon--the biggest maker of HomePlug chips--announcing a "next-generation chipset" operating at 85 Mbps. This seemed odd, since the current generation of HomePlug 1.0 chips and devices operate at 14 Mbps, and HomePlug AV is specified for 200 Mbps. We talked with both the HomePlug team and Intellon about the new chipset to understand where it fits in the HomePlug evolution.
Oleg said that he views the 85 Mbps as "very positive. It's completely back compatible with HomePlug 1.0 and proves that HomePlug can operate at much higher speed."
We later talked on the phone with Andreas Melder, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Intellon. We asked why Intellon is bringing out a new chip that's well beyond the capabilities of HomePlug 1.0 but not compatible with HomePlug AV. Andy said "Technology is driven by the applications. Our customers are demanding more throughput. We can provide a more robust solution than HomePlug 1.0 but it's not a replacement for AV."
We asked Andy about throughput and applications. He said Intellon expects devices based on the new chip to have throughput "in the 20 to 25 Mbps range" compared with the 5 Mbps range of HomePlug 1.0. The new chip uses the HomePlug 1.0 QoS scheme which has four priority levels.
He said the main applications for the new chip would be whole home networking with standard-definition TV and VoIP telephony combined with data: "It's for media applications, not just for data. It will be simple to set up and use--plug it in and it's done. We are seeing a robust demand for this type of functionality. Our customers see the need for this--it will be a strong product offering."
Products based on the new chip should reach the market "by the end of Q1 or early Q2 next year." At CES, we may see it used to carry video from PVRs to flat-screen displays.
HomePlug AV will be the next step in the roadmap. Next-generation networks including high-definition television will require both higher speeds and more rigorous QoS--and this is the target market for AV. While Intellon's new chip operates at 85 Mbps, has four QoS priority levels and is based on CSMA multiplexing, AV will operate at 200 Mbps, has eight priority levels and uses TDMA for guaranteed access. "AV will take it down to the embedded market" and will be embedded in wall-mounted flat screen displays.
Corinex Communications -- Succeeding with HomePlug in Europe
A recent email from Brian Donnelly, Director of Strategic Accounts at Corinex Communications, led to an email exchange and a telephone interview.
Brian said "HomePlug is our bread and butter" and that Corinex is the HomePlug global leader - an In-Stat/MDR survey shows Corinex with a 48% market share. The company was started in Bratislava, Slovakia in 1989 and worldwide headquarters is now in Vancouver, Canada.
Brian said 80% of Corinex sales are in Europe. "Europe has taken to HomePlug more than the US. That's due to the structure of buildings: there's more concrete and less wood. It's hard to pull cables, and wireless doesn't go through the walls well."
He said "distribution is not a retail play. We work with integrators and distributors, and they use our Open Powerline Management software as a tool to manage their customer's networks. Corinex is not the price leader, but our products work a little better than the competitors. We have the broadest product line, with a dozen HomePlug products."
Corinex makes a complete range of HomePlug 1.0 products, including desktop and wallmount Ethernet and USB adapters. These are very similar to the products we tested and reported on in Home Networking - HomePlug Evaluation ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/bbhl/homeplug.html ) two years ago. Brian says Corinex products have performed better than others in independent tests, but we have not (yet) had a chance to evaluate them for ourselves.
Corinex makes a router combining Ethernet and HomePlug, and also makes a "Wireless to Powerline Access Point". The latter uses the home's powerline wiring to provide a "backbone" for home networking, and 802.11b wireless to reach devices that are not normally plugged in to wall outlets.
Corinex recently announced a "Wireless to Powerline Router G" combining the router and access point. It incorporates three forms of home networking: Ethernet, HomePlug and 54 Mbps 802.11g wireless. The new router is designed for managed networks, with full support for 802.1x, 802.11i and RADIUS server. It has an SPI firewall, 802.1Q VLAN support and 802.1P QoS. While this will be installed in consumer homes, it's clearly designed to be managed by a service provider.
In addition to its HomePlug products, Corinex has also started making VoIP products. It is shipping a USB phone -- a VoIP handset which includes software support for many different VoIP systems including Skype and Free World Dialup.
Many more products are in the works. Brian has promised to ship us some samples, and we're looking forward to playing with them in our home and reporting on them.
The positioning of the W-Fi alphabet is about to get a makeover as more home users start networking their entertainment devices. The product positioning to date, especially in North America and Europe, has been "802.11b/g is for consumers and 802.11a is for enterprise." Although the cost gap between .11b/g and .11a chipsets has been narrowing, vendor positioning has priced .11a devices much higher than .11b/g. (The exception to this is the Japanese market.)
In an article in our August issue ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0408_7.html ) we described Atheros chips that could underlie consumer "tri-mode" devices (a/b/g). Now we're starting to see the products based on such chips.
Linksys recently announced a line of 802.11a/b/g routers and clients which embody the new mindset: "802.11b/g is for data and 802.11a is for entertainment." The consumer who wants it all should get tri-mode devices supporting both data and the more demanding entertainment applications such as video.
Numerous sources have told us that we'll see a multitude of tri-mode wireless consumer entertainment devices at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January. There are multiple reasons for this. The 5 GHz spectrum used for 11a has many more channels than 11b/g and does not suffer the overcrowding problems in the 2.4 GHz band: interference from microwaves, portable phones and neighbors. New chip developments have improved the range of 11a devices.
One of the key influencers is that player from Redmond. In Media Center 2005, Microsoft is promoting the use of 802.11a to carry video from your Media Center PC to your TV. Their FAQs page makes this explicit. In answer to the question "“How do I connect my Media Center Extender to my Media Center PC?” Microsoft provides a very clear answer: "There are two main ways—via an Ethernet wired or a wireless connection. The wireless connection works best on 802.11a home networks.”
It's usually pretty safe to bet on what Microsoft has decided to do.
Too Many Choices
In “the old days” we all knew what a telephone looked like and how to get service for it; there weren’t a lot of choices. As the number of ways to make telephone calls and to buy telephones continues to multiply, consumers may be facing too many choices.
In many places, consumers already have many ways to buy telephone services. They can
But that's only the start. If they subscribe to high-speed Internet service, they can cancel their "fixed line" local and long-distance service and
Some upcoming phones are designed to work thru voice over IP--at home with your wireless network, at a hotspot, or in your office. Some of the newest ones will work part of the time with VoIP over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi), and with your mobile carrier the rest of the time.
Then there's the question of "What is a phone anyway?". Is your BlackBerry 7270 handheld with VoIP and WLAN support, delivering both voice and data, a phone? How about Vonage's XPRO SoftPhone--software to make calls over broadband connections from notebooks and PCs? You can buy it from the hotspot network Boingo as well as from Vonage. And there are more.
Time for Simplicity
Although the goal is to make much of this complexity transparent to the end user and seamless, it sounds like there's a big job ahead for our industry. It requires designing for usability, educating consumers and finding ways to support them. They are going to need it!
We've written several articles on this theme beginning with our very first issue and were pleased to note that our concerns are shared by The Economist, a publication we greatly respect. Their October 30-November 5, 2004 issue focused its information technology survey section--called "Make It Simple"--on "the conquest of complexity".
We can't go backwards--our lives depend on these devices. We wish we saw more progress with the very difficult task of making technologies simple for the user. The Economist article concludes on a hopeful note: "Like other technologies, IT and telecommunications seem destined to gradually recede into the background of human activity, leaving more time and energy to get on with the infinite complexities of business, and of life in general."
We haven't seen it yet, and we only hope it happens soon enough for us to enjoy it.
TelcoTV Conference & Expo is the annual event where Independent Operating Companies, Telcos, LECs and CLECs gather information about offering "Triple Play" services over broadband networks. The event takes place November 16-18 in Orlando, Florida.
US telcos are approaching the video services market with a new seriousness and new ingredients at their disposal. MPEG 4, new types of set tops and movie-download services are just a few of the assets they can use this time around. Verizon's recent actions show the reality of this thrust: they advertise video-related job openings on their Web site, have hired an experienced VP of programming, and recently awarded a contract for Motorola to provide video network infrastructure and video consumer premises equipment.
The action is underway and we'll be attending to learn more of the details.
Fiber in Massachusetts
An observant reader from Belmont, MA wrote to say: "There have been an unusually large number of Verizon trucks in my town (Belmont, MA) lately, and two friends report that Verizon techs they have talked to say they are setting up for FTTH." We were intrigued and asked for more details. The writer pointed out that "Keller, TX, where Verizon has announced their rollout, and Belmont, MA are similarly sized, and have similar median household incomes" Upon closer inspection he noted: "Our neighborhood is now wired with Sumitomo Pureband 48 fiber optical cable. At each pole, the fiber runs through a Corning Optitect LCA Local Convergence Point."
His neighbors are probably still trying to figure out what he was looking at on the poles using his binoculars!
Fixing Broken Links
Observant readers have written to complain about "broken links" on our site--links that point to pages that no longer exist. Companies go out of business or are sold, their websites disappear, and the links don't work anymore.
We've started a new procedure to edit our newsletter archive to redirect or remove links that no longer work. We've done this for the past year's reports and will do it later for the older ones.
If you come across any broken links we've missed, please let us know.