BBH Report Home Page
January 24, 2005 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home

People News

Ihab Abu-Hakima has been named chief executive and president of Meru Networks Inc. Abu-Hakima most recently was with Proxim. ( www.merunetworks.com )

Olivier Baujard has been appointed new CTO at Alcatel Corp. The company said current CTO Niel Ransom is leaving "to pursue new opportunities outside of Alcatel." Baujard was previously Alcatel's VP of Corporate Strategy. ( www.alcatel.com )

Thomas Harvey has been named Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Norcent. Harvey joins Norcent after spending the past seven years at Faroudja Laboratories. ( www.norcent.net )

Craig Kugler has joined ICTV in the newly created position of Senior VP, Customer Service and Operations. Kugler joins ICTV after a 26-year career with DST Innovis. ( www.ictv.com )

Fraser Park has taken the position of CFO at TANDBERG Television. Park is a former strategy consultant at McKinsey & Co, Inc. ( www.tandbergtv.com )

Mark Rooney was named sales director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Entone Technologies Inc. Rooney was previously chief executive of VDSL Systems Ltd. ( www.entone.com )

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


Company News

--Acquisitions

Cablevision Systems Rainbow DBS Company LLC agreed to sell its voom direct broadcast satellite assets to a subsidiary of EchoStar Communications for $200 million. ( www.cablevision.com ) ( www.echostar.com )

Cisco Systems, Inc. is acquiring privately-held Airespace, Inc., a provider of wireless local area networking systems. Cisco will pay approximately $450 million in stock and assumed options for Airespace. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.airespace.com )

Double C Technologies, LLC, a joint venture majority owned and controlled by Comcast Corporation with a minority investment by Cox Communications, Inc. is buying the North American business assets of Liberate Technologies. Liberate will receive cash consideration of approximately $82 million. Liberate, a maker of software for television set-top boxes, is keeping its European business. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.cox.com ) ( www.liberate.com )

Liberty Media International will pay about $3.65 billion in stock to buy the remaining shares of Denver-based UnitedGlobalCom. Separately, LMI paid $23m for a controlling interest in Cable Partners Europe; as a result of the transaction, LMI will be the control shareholder of Cable Associates Holdings Belgium, which will hold an approximate 14% indirect interest in Telenet, the largest cable operator in Belgium. ( www.libertymediainternational.com ) ( www.unitedglobal.com ) ( www.telenet.be )

Motorola, Inc. has acquired privately-held Ucentric Systems, Inc., a provider of home media networking software for the connected home. Financial details were not disclosed. ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.ucentric.com )

Tut Systems has signed a definitive merger agreement to acquire all of the outstanding shares of common stock of Cosine Communications in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at approximately $24.1 million. The transaction is expected to result in net cash to Tut Systems of approximately $22.75 million. at ( www.tutsystems.com ) ( www.cosinecom.com )

--Funding

Antenova Ltd, an integrated RF solutions company, has closed a $12 million Series C funding round. ( www.antenova.com )

Barrett Xplore Inc., a Canadian wireless broadband services company and subsidiary of closely held Barrett Corp., has received C$30 million (US $24.3 million) in private equity. ( www.barrettxplore.com ) ( www.barrettcorp.com )

Irish Broadband has secured 18 million Euros in funding to help the company expand its nationwide broadband wireless network in Ireland. ( www.irishbroadband.ie )

Magnolia Broadband Inc., a wireless chip company, has added at least $1.5 million of strategic funding to its Series C round. ( www.magnoliabroadband.com )

NTT DoCoMo is taking a $4 million stake in Emcore Technology, which owns position information service firm Beijing Lingtu Spacecom Technology and a $4.2 million stake in Digital Media Group, which offers digital advertisement services. DoCoMo is using such investments to increase its presence in China's mobile telecommunications industry, such as in businesses combining digital media and wireless technologies. ( www.nttdocomo.com )

RGB Networks, which provides video processing and bandwidth management products, closed its Series B round of funding totaling more than $12 million. Investors include Comcast Interactive Capital (CIC). ( www.rgbnetworks.com )


Other News

2Wire and SBC Communications have launched SBC Media Solutions, a joint venture to deliver entertainment services to the home. The joint venture represents the integration of satellite TV programming, DVR capabilities, video on demand, and digital content management via 2Wire's set top box technology. At SBC Media Solutions, Ed Cholerton, VP of SBC DSL, will be CEOl Brian Hinman, CEO of 2Wire, will also take on the role of president. ( www.2wire.com ) ( www.sbc.com )

Airgo Networks, a pioneer in MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology, announced it has shipped over one million True MIMO™ chips in less than one quarter of retail market availability. MIMO OFDM is the key technology in proposals for the future IEEE 802.11n standard. [See our article on Airgo later in this issue.] ( www.airgonetworks.com )

Comcast announced it is upgrading its two residential speed tiers at no additional charge. The current 3Mbps downstream/256kbps upstream tier will be upgraded to 4Mbps/384kbps, and its 4Mbps downstream/384kbps upstream tier will jump to a faster 6Mbps/768kbps. The company is also adding more services, such as a free subscription to RealNetworks' music service, Rhapsody RadioPlus. The service, which normally costs $4.95 per month, will be introduced shortly. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.realnetworks.com )

CopperGate and Ucentric announced a joint IP network solution for delivering whole-home entertainment applications using existing coaxial cable and phone lines. The integrated solution enables distribution of high-definition and standard definition broadcast quality video sessions and is well suited to Ucentric's Whole-Home DVR™ (digital video recording) application. ( www.copper-gate.com ) ( www.ucentric.com )

DIRECTV has selected Ucentric Systems to power its new Home Media Center. The DIRECTV Home Media Center is designed to be a whole-home entertainment solution which will enable its customers to access content, such as digitally recorded video, photos and music from all the TV sets throughout the home. ( www.directv.com ) ( www.ucentric.com )

Linksys and Intel announced a new Linksys digital media adapter with support for DTCP-IP (Digital Transmission Content Protection over IP), an industry standard framework for media adapters to move Internet-based premium content from the PC to other devices on a wired or wireless home network. With this standard, the new Linksys WMLV54G unit will help consumers to receive premium movie and music services from such companies as Movielink and RealNetworks Inc. on TV and stereos around their home. ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.intel.com )

Matsushita, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung and Sony formed the Marlin Joint Development Association, with the goal of developing a standard that will let manufacturers build devices that can share copy-protected material. The group also includes digital-rights management company Intertrust Technologies. The Marlin group draws from the work of the Coral Consortium, a previously formed coalition with similar membership. Currently, Apple Computer and Microsoft each use their proprietary digital-rights management (DRM) technologies for content distributed in their own media formats. That situation makes some content incompatible with some hardware. ( www.coral-interop.org )

Verizon Wireless will be launching a new service called VCAST that delivers entertainment, music and 3-D games to broadband-enabled phones. Separately, Verizon Communications Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. announced a multi-year alliance to deliver a fully integrated co-branded broadband offering to subscribers to Verizon Online's DSL and new fiber-based FiOS services. ( www.verizonwireless.com ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.yahoo.com )

Video54 Technologies has introduced a home wireless networking technology designed to beam quality video, including high-definition, over Wi-Fi networks. NETGEAR will be the first company to integrate it with its Wi-Fi home networking gear. ( www.video54.com ) ( www.netgear.com )

Vonage released several announcements in conjunction with the CES show. These include:

  • reaching 400,000 customers using their broadband phone service
  • partnering with UTStarcom to introduce a portable Wi-Fi handset
  • partnering with phone supplier VTech to develop a broadband cordless phone system configured with Vonage's service. The phone plugs directly into a customer's broadband connection or router, eliminating the need for a stand alone adapter and telephone.
  • the extension of their relationship with Texas Instruments to include TI VoIP software and semiconductors in new Vonage-compatible communications products available from partners VTech and Viseon. The Viseon videophone will be available from Vonage along with their videophone service. ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.utstar.com ) ( www.vtech.com ) ( www.ti.com ) ( www.viseon.com )

ZTE, one of China’s largest telecommunications manufacturers, announced a partnership with Intel to develop and promote WiMAX. The two companies will cooperate on product and standards development and will also jointly lobby regulatory agencies for securing adequate radio spectrum for WiMAX. ( www.zte.com.cn/English/ ) ( www.intel.com )

-- Standards

The IEEE 802.22 working group on Wireless Regional Area Networks ("WRANs") began developing a standard for devices in the US analog TV band (UHF/VHF spectrum below 900 MHz, to be vacated by broadcasters moving to digital TV). The group was told that the PHY must incorporate a cognitive radio (CR) to allow detection and avoid signals from incumbent services. Observers are concerned about the overlap between 802.22 and 802.16 (WiMAX).


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations that you might have missed. This month’s tidbits include our "You Made It" awards, a new home networking paper, updated broadband statistics, the battles between US Telcos and municipalities over broadband, a motion recognition phone, our discovery of Picasa and a non-traditional approach to security.

Our "You made it!" Awards: 2Wire and Ucentric

We're always delighted when companies we've been tracking and writing about for a long time make it to the big leagues. There are two of those this month -- 2Wire and Ucentric -- to whom we want to offer our hearty congratulations!

We wrote about 2Wire in the very first issue of this newsletter almost five years ago [see A View From The Valley (BBHR 4/9/2000) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0004.html#link4 )]. At that time we wrote that CEO Brian Hinman's impressive track record made this a company worth tracking. As a result of 2Wire's joint venture with SBC, Brian is now not only CEO of 2Wire but has also assumed the role of president, SBC Media Solutions. ( www.2wire.com )

We wrote about our first visit and interview with Ucentric somewhat later [see Fulfilling the Vision of the Broadband Home -- A Visit with Ucentric Systems (BBHR 11/14/2001) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0111_5.html )]. Ucentric has gone thru some changes in the interim, including having Michael Collette assume the CEO position, but the essence of their direction has remained on whole home converged services and the personal video recorder which makes audio and video available on demand at any stereo or TV in the home. Congratulations Ucentric, on your acquisition by Motorola. ( www.ucentric.com )

Home Networking White Paper

The DSL Forum has released a new white paper which is designed to be used by consumers. It can be downloaded at The ABC’s of Home Networking ( www.dslforum.org/PressRoom/ABCs_home_networking_final.pdf ). Promotional materials say "it provides a simple, clear overview of the options and components of today’s home network." ( www.dslforum.com )

New Online and Broadband Statistics

China now has over 94 million Internet users according to a January 20, 2005 release from the Associated Press. It indicates that, as in the US, "Teenagers are rapidly turning off the television, and firing up their computers."

33% of U.S. homes will have high speed Internet by the end of 2005, according to Broadband Daily. This is up from a figure of 29% at the end of 2004. Cable will lead telcos in net high-speed subscriber gains, while alternative broadband technologies such as satellite and Wi-Fi will continue to make inroads. ( www.broadband-daily.com )

In the UK, broadband has overtaken dial-up. The BBC News online edition carried a story about how broadband in the UK ( news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4099457.stm ) "really took off in 2004". The article indicated that enthusiasm for broadband is unlikely to dampen any time soon and that experts predict that by the end of 2005 the numbers will have risen to more than eight million users, or more than 30% of homes. The key factors cited in generating the enthusiastic growth were falling prices and a huge marketing push. In December 2004, BT announced that it was making a new broadband connection every 10 seconds.

US Telcos vs. Municipalities Over Broadband

Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana have all passed legislation which strictly limits the ability of municipalities to offer free broadband service to their residents. While we haven't followed all the ins and outs of this legislation, something seems amiss in a law that prevents a municipality from offering broadband service simply by having a carrier tell the state authorities that, within nine months, it would be offering a similar service. If an entity simply states that they plan to offer service within 9 months of the formal request for feedback, then the municipality is required to wait until the end of that 9 months before they determine that the telecom company did not provide the service. There appear to be no repercussions if the carrier fails to deliver on their promise nor are there any minimum coverage requirements.

Someone's Waving Their Phone Around In The Air? It's must be a Samsung!

This one belongs in the "I couldn't have made this up" category. Samsung announced that they have developed a motion recognition wireless phone. "The SCH-S310 allows users to dial a phone number by waving the handset in the air in the shape of digits and symbols instead of pressing a keypad and can delete unwanted text messages by simply shaking the handset up and down. The handset is expected to launch in March 2005."

Picasa Nirvana

It has been quite a while since we have raved about an application, but Google's Picasa 2.0 software really does what it promises. It is intuitive and "makes it easy and fun to view, organize, edit and share the digital photos on your PC." And best of all Picasa is free and easily downloadable ( www.picasa.com ) from Google. We had missed Google's July 2004 acquisition of Picasa. Picasa has had a technology partnership with Google's Blogger service since last May, to make publishing digital photos with Blogger faster and easier. It's not clear yet what the business proposition will be with Picasa -- but leave it to Google to figure it out.

Security Solutions -- Paintbrush Not Included

In all we've written about Wi-Fi networking, we had not yet come across the unique security solution mentioned in the December 28, 2004 issue of Information Week. They wrote about the latest anti-intrusion tool from a company called Force Field Wireless. The company says its DefendAir Radio Shield latex paint can dramatically reduce wireless signal leakage from a room or building. The paint contains copper filings and an aluminum compound, which, when spread evenly on a wall, reflects signals in frequencies from 100 MHz to 5 GHz. The product is not without drawbacks, however: in addition to blocking Wi-Fi radio signals, it also blocks mobile-phone signals. Definitely not the solution for any home that has discontinued wireline phone service!


Consumer Electronics Show 2005

There are only two ways to explain why 140,000 people came to Las Vegas in early January to walk interminable miles across crowded exhibit floors, stand in cab and bus lines that seem to go on for miles, wait for hours to hear a forgettable Bill Gates keynote and contend with snow, rain and wind. The first is that we're all masochists. The other is that, despite the downsides, there's no place like it and we wouldn't miss it. Maybe both are true.

At a show with over 2500 exhibitors, perceptions of was important is all in the eyes of the beholder. This year we chose to single out the following topics:

  • Video on the go (Vidi-Go) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_5.html ) -- the next big thing
  • SBC's two pronged thrust at video (again) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_6.html )
  • The new chips that will provide the underpinning for tomorrow's cool new toys ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_7.html )
  • Some musings on emerging technologies and the timing of standards ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_8.html )
  • A quick look at the conference session Dave organized on advanced wireless ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_9.html ) (802.11n, WiMAX and Wireless USB).

A few things not mentioned later stuck in our minds from CES--one substantive and two on the lighter side.

Voice over IP has come of age. We saw many VoIP offerings and new phones to go with them. Vonage continues to lead the way, having achieved over 400,000 customers. One of their new introductions is a portable Wi-Fi handset through their partnership with UTStarcom. Among other attractions of the device is its ability to let you take your home phone number with you, find a Wi-Fi hotspot and start making calls on your Vonage account. ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.utstarcom.com )

The parking lot outside the convention halls this year were filled with more exhibition tents than ever. But if you wanted to chill out (literally!) you could stop and watch the snowboarding performances of experts heading down snow-covered Moto Mountain.

One other thing we came across in our wanderings was Global Pet Finder. The service uses GPS and 2-way wireless technologies to help you keep track of your pet. After attaching a small device to your pet's collar, you are immediately alerted "and sent the continuously updated exact location of your pet, sent to your cell phone, PDA or computer." Can you see the scenario? Middle of a meeting. Mobile phone rings. "Excuse me, but my pet is calling to tell me he is lost." The price is $349 for the device and $17.99/month for the "Peace of Mind" plan. ( www.globalpetfinder.com )


CES 2005--The Next Big Thing: Video-on-the-Go ("Vidi-Go")

New things start small. Some are a "flash in the pan"-- these are the "hula hoops" and "pet rocks" of our culture. Others seem to have fundamental human appeal, which gets communicated from one person or group to the next and eventually take on a life of their own. PVRs are clearly part of the latter group.

The idea of personal video recorders (PVRs) took some time to spread and catch on. The user value proposition is "the video you want WHEN you want it". There are additional ways of doing this, notably through video on demand. Put PVRs and VOD together and the user has an arsenal of tools for being able to watch "the video you want WHEN you want it". With PVRs large amounts of storage and some forethought are required, while VOD comes to the viewer when she requests it, without need for previous action or purchasing extra equipment; the two are complementary.

This year what was big at CES were products offering another dimension of freedom for the user. This dimension offers the user "what you want, WHERE you want it" -- for video. We've termed it "video on the go"--"Vidi-Go" for short. We believe it is at the early stages of something that will be as big as PVRs and VOD.

The emergence of Vidi-Go shouldn't be a surprise. After all, "audio on the go" is what portable radios, satellite radio from Sirius or XM, and MP3 players are all about. And if audio entertainment has value when users are at the beach, riding the subway or being driven to the airport, it's likely that video entertainment has value there too.

Let's look at some examples from CES. We'll separate these video applications into three groups: "anywhere the person happens to be"; "in the car"; and "anywhere in your home". Of course those things which are in the "anywhere in the world" category are also, by definition, part of those "anywhere in your home".


Vidi-Go Anywhere

Here are some of the products and services that were introduced for video anywhere in the world.

  • Archos Pocket Media Assistant PMA 400: This is a Linux-based portable-entertainment/Internet device with a 30 GB hard disk drive. It can be used to record directly from TV, and playback video, browse the Internet, record and listen to music, play games, store and view photos, manage your agenda, contacts, tasks list and read PDF files. It comes with Wi-Fi and Ethernet LAN connections, a touch screen, supports Windows Media DRM protected files and synchronizes with Microsoft applications. Archos touts this as their fourth-generation portable video player (PVP) and the refinements of multiple iterations really show up. ( www.archos.com )
  • Orb Networks: This company offers a service which "takes the home out of home entertainment." Their promise is "access your media anywhere". Orb provides access to digital media on your home PC through a simple web interface and streams your content to virtually any internet-connected device. It offers multiple levels of security including user authentication, advanced encryption and does not require any firewall changes. The limitations? Orb software currently runs on PCs with Windows XP Media Center 2004 or 2005, and is currently available in the U.S only. Pricing is $9.99/month or $79.99/year. ( www.orb.com )
  • TiVoToGo™: This is a TiVo service enhancement, available as a software update to standalone TiVo® Series2™ boxes, at no extra charge as part of the TiVo service. It allows subscribers to transfer programs from their TiVo box to a laptop to enjoy their favorite shows anywhere, anytime. The TiVoToGo service enhancement securely encrypts programming during the transfer to the laptop; once transferred, subscribers enter a password they created during software installation to allow decryption of the file and playback. The limitations? Programs protected with Macrovision copy protection (including PPV, VOD and commercial DVDs) are not transferable to a laptop. Transferring a show to a desktop or laptop over a home network can be slow -- with some networks it could take as much time as it does to view the show. This is clearly not something you can do just before you run to the airport. ( www.tivo.com )
  • TV2Me: This company has captured the Vidi-Go concept in a memorable way. They talk about "Space Shifting™", their ability to move the entire media environment of any one place to any other place. It is to location what "time shifting" (when TV viewers record programs for later viewing) is to time. The TV2Me unit consists of a proprietary video processor/server that sends television from your home to anywhere in the world. The server must be located in the city or country whose content you wish to view. The video is sent over a broadband connection. They use the following analogy to convey how it works: "TV2Me acts as a long extension cord between your cable box at home and your PC or TV display device" which can be located anywhere else you happen to be (as long as you have a broadband connection there). The limitations? One big one is the price -- it costs US $4,750. At that rate you REALLY have to want this. Also it requires an Internet connection with an upstream speed of 384 kb/s or higher and a static IP address. ( www.spaceshift.net )
  • Sling Media: The Slingbox™ Personal Broadcaster works by redirecting, or "placeshifting," the TV signal from any cable box, satellite receiver, or personal video recorder (PVR) to a viewer's location and device of choice, whether in is in another room in the house or anywhere in the world with a high-speed Internet connection. The product is due to ship in the first half of 2005 and will retail for $249 with no additional monthly service fees. The Slingbox is powered by a high-performance DSP from Texas Instruments and the live TV streaming system uses Microsoft's Windows Media technologies. The company has implemented a proprietary stream optimization technology (code-named "Lebowski") which detects the quality and throughput of your connection and the size of your screen and sends a compressed, digital stream optimized for the available network and user device. Founder Blake Krikorian describes it as working "like a long-distance remote control". The company plans to provide downloadable software for PDAs and smart cellphones once faster wireless networks become available for these. ( www.slingmedia.com )
  • Microsoft: Microsoft made several announcements about increasing the flow of digital video to Windows Mobile-based devices, such as Portable Media Centers, Smartphones and Pocket PCs. These included a collaboration with TiVo to deliver recorded television to Portable Media Centers and Smartphones and Pocket PCs equipped with Windows Media® Player 10 Mobile; an alliance with MTV Networks to deliver digital programming; and the unveiling of MSN® Video Downloads--a portable TV service that will make TV shows and video clips available to Windows Mobile-based portable devices from sources including FOX Sports, CNBC, MSNBC and Food Network. ( www.microsoft.com )
  • VCAST: Verizon Wireless announced a new service called VCAST that delivers entertainment, music and 3-D games to broadband-enabled phones using 3G EV-DO technology. The service will be available February 1, 2005 in 32 cities and will cost $15/month for the basic service in addition to the price of existing voice plans. It also requires a new EV-DO phone or an EV-DO PC Card. Content will include a variety of video clips: news from CNN and NBC, weather from AccuWeather, and entertainment from channels including VH1 and Comedy Central. Fox will produce exclusive serials for the VCAST video service, including one based on the TV show "24". Verizon Wireless has indicated that about 300 video clips per day will be available, averaging 2-5 minutes in length. Premium content like music downloads, 3D games, NBA, NASCAR and some exclusive video content will cost extra. ( www.verizonwireless.com )

Vidi-Go In The Car

Rear-seat video sales for cars have been growing in the US. In 2004 1.66 million (9.9%) new cars came equipped with video. In 2005 that is estimated by the Telematics Research Group to grow to 13% and in 2010 to 24%. Today three quarters of the units are DVD-based and one quarter are based on hard disk drives. ( www.telematicsresearch.com )

There are a number of other potential ways of getting video to cars. Here are a few announced at CES; the first two are not available yet.

  • Delphi and Comcast have formed a partnership to develop Wi-Fi networking and hard disk drive hardware that lets enabled cars connect and wirelessly upload Comcast-provided entertainment media to the car from the home. Engineers were quoted as saying that it will take between six and 18 months to complete the system development. ( www.delphi.com ) ( www.comcast.com )
  • Sirius Satellite Radio announced a partnership with Microsoft for mobile video content. This service will be dedicated to children's programming, using Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 to display the programs. The service is slated for the second half of 2006. ( www.sirius.com ) ( www.microsoft.com )
  • DIRECTV introduced its new TOTAL CHOICE(R) Mobile programming package. This is DIRECTV's first subscription package developed specifically for use in passenger vehicles equipped with in-vehicle video screens; the package provides access to over 125 channels of digital-quality video and commercial-free audio programming for customers using the TracVision A5 automotive satellite TV antenna from KVH Industries, Inc. (which costs about $2000). The company also announced it will offer the STARZ premium movie channel package for the automotive marketplace. The Mobile package will be available to existing DIRECTV residential customers for $4.99 per month; the monthly price is $39.99 for customers subscribing only to the mobile programming package. ( www.directv.com ) ( www.kvh.com )

Vidi-Go Around the House

Many of the devices mentioned in the Vidi-Go Anywhere section are equally at home in your home (pun intended). But the big news for getting video anywhere in your home is all the flavors of home networking targeting AV content. We've talked about many of these in the past, such as HomePlug AV, Entropic's cable networking technology, and emerging wireless technologies with higher speed and QoS for video. There's lots more about networking technologies in the following article on chips at CES.

  • VIXS provides some of the underlying technologies we've mentioned in the past. This year ViXS has made it into innovative video products from Sony and Japanese maker Funai, in a design for wireless TVs. ViXS's specialty is the ability to send video over wired and wireless networks by quickly encoding and decoding video files and moving them around efficiently. The ViXS Xcode II chip manages multiple video streams dynamically, examining the current network bandwidth and constantly adjusting how each frame is sent over the network based on that bandwidth. It can provide a level of wireless video quality that is virtually indistinguishable from hardwired TVs. ( www.vixs.com )

What's Under the Covers?

It is not a coincidence that so many portable/mobile video products and services are becoming available. We see it as a confluence between two factors: the recognition of a latent (not previously recognized) user need and the availability of enabling technologies.

We've talked about many of these technologies in the past, but let's zip through a quick review of some of them. They include:

  • Higher capacity, low priced storage mechanisms
  • Compression technologies that get more video quality into fewer bits
  • More affordable and available broadband transmission, including wireless broadband, MIMO, UWB, etc.
  • Affordable screen technologies for laptops and cell phones
  • New chip technologies that get ever more capability into a smaller footprint
  • Battery technologies with a longer life
  • And the software that drives it all.

Since we're at the beginning of something new, we don't expect to see mobile video take off overnight. But it will be interesting to come to CES a year from now and see where this trend has taken us.

In the interim, one of the things we always do is try out some of these systems and see for ourselves how well they work. We already have TiVo Series 2 so it should be easy to try TiVoToGo. Hopefully we'll get the opportunity to try some of the others as well.

Meanwhile, if any of you already have used some of these products/services, drop us a note (to editor@bb-home.com ) and tell us what you think.


CES 2005--SBC Goes Big for Video

SBC's Chairman Ed Whitacre must have taken some really strong medicine to get over his long-time allergy to SBC's offering video. From his keynote speech and SBCs announcments at CES, it's hard to believe that this is the company that discontinued every video deployment it ever encountered (including ones acquired through the purchases of Ameritech, SNET and Pacific Telesis).

While it is difficult to predict how a telephone company will prove successful in the very different world of video entertainment, we're taking SBC quite seriously because of the two simultaneous and apparently well-planned fronts they are attacking on.


The 2Wire/Echostar Play

For customers not yet served by SBC's rebuilt fiber plant, SBC is leveraging its existing relationships to provide a service offering the best of satellite and the Internet combined in a way that looks seamless to the customer. That's where SBC's relationships with both Echostar and 2Wire come in. SBC formed a joint venture with 2Wire Inc. to deliver a home entertainment service that integrates satellite TV programming, digital video recording, video on demand, and Internet content via a new set-top box using the SBC Yahoo! user interface. This box is based on the 2Wire Media Portal, which we first wrote about in Integrating the Missing Piece: 2Wire Does Video (BBHR 4/26/2004) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0404_7.html ).

Customers will be able to schedule their digital video recorder (DVR) remotely from any Web-connected computer through the SBC Yahoo! user interface. A future enhancement will allow remote access through Cingular Wireless phones.


SBC U-verse: The Fiber Story

Over the next 3 years SBC plans to spend over $4B to build a fiber to the neighborhood structure. At CES, Whitacre announced SBC U-verse as the brand for its suite of IP-based products and services set to launch in 2005, including integrated next-generation television, super high-speed Internet access and Voice over IP services. U-verse will ride on SBC's Project Lightspeed fiber initiative to deploy fiber to 18 million households across 13 states by the end of 2007.

The U-verse suite includes Unified Communications, combining wireline and wireless voice mail, e-mail and faxes into one mailbox. It will also include a consumer-based VoIP service that the company plans to unveil in the first quarter of 2005.

In his opening speech Bill Gates shared the stage with Lee Anne Champion, SBC's VP of IP Services, who highlighted IPTV as a new way to watch television. SBC's IPTV uses Microsoft TV's IPTV Edition software. The audience was especially impressed with Champion's demonstration of IPTV's instant channel changing capability--which appears instantaneous--unlike the time delays with satellite or digital cable.

SBC demonstrated their new technology and services in a specially designed area set up to mimic real-world settings--including a living room, bedroom, home office, gaming station, coffee bar and golfing green. In the IPTV demo, Microsoft's Hemang Mehta demonstrated a variety of video features such as multiple, viewer-defined camera angles for events like baseball games, and the ability to show several games from various channels in multiple separate windows. The service included such basics as a program guide, Video on demand, and digital media adapter functions for showing digital pictures on your TV screen.

Although the major story of SBC's demonstration area was video services, an underlying story focused on the integration of multiple SBC voice, data, video and wireless services. SBC showed interactions of wired and wireless voice mail, home networking of PCs and TVs, caller ID on the TV screen and programming a DVR through a wireless phone from Cingular. Through their demonstrations, SBC showed that future plans to converge TV, phone, wireless, and the Internet are much more than rhetoric in a CEO's speech.

( www.sbc.com ) ( www.dishnetwork.com ) ( www.2wire.com )


CES 2005--Tomorrow's Cool Toys Need Today's Cool Chips

Most people visit CES to look at the cool new toys. We stayed off the show floor and spent most of our time talking with more than a dozen semiconductor companies.

The best way to get a sense for tomorrow's cool toys is by understanding the features of new chips and the timing for their development and integration into consumer products. The chip developer's "road map" shows how further integration will reduce the size, weight and power consumption of new chips -- leading the way to new applications and lower prices.

This year, we focused on chips in four areas:

  • powerline networking (both to and in the home);
  • ultra wideband (UWB);
  • next-generation Wi-Fi based on MIMO; and
  • networking over coaxial cable.

Powerline Networking

We've written many articles about powerline networking, both for broadband access (often called BPL) and for home networking. See our Topical Index for Broadband Access to the Home: Powerline (BPL) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_access_powerline.html ) and Home Networking: Powerline ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet_powerline.html ).

At CES, we met with Jorge Blasco, President and CEO of DS2 [see Faster Powerline: An Interview with DS2 (BBHR 12/20/04) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0412_6.html ) and with Brian Donnelly, Director of Strategic Accounts at Corinex Communications [see Corinex Communications -- Succeeding with HomePlug in Europe (BBHR 10/31/04) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0410_5.html#link5c )]. At DS2's booth, we saw several new products based on DS2's new 200 Mbps chips, including the Corinex AV Powerline Ethernet adapter designed for networking video and data throughout the home.

Universal Powerline Association (UPA)

Jorge and Brian told us about the newly started Universal Powerline Association (UPA), formed to create coexistence and interoperability standards and announced at CES. Along with DS2 and Corinex, UPA includes many PLC system integrators including Ambient (US), Ascom (Switzerland), Schneider Electric (France) and Itochu, Sumitomo and Toyocom (Japan).

To learn more about UPA, we met with Eric Morel, board chairman of the UPA and CEO of Ilevo, the broadband powerline subsidiary of Schneider Electric. Eric said the founders of UPA believe the first priority is to create coexistence standards, enabling different broadband access and home networking technologies to operate on the same power lines without interfering with each other. Interoperability is a second priority.

We observed that UPA seemed to be in conflict with the HomePlug Powerline Alliance which--as we have written ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0410_5.html )--is nearing completion of its next-generation HomePlug AV and recently started working on interoperability specs for broadband over powerline. Eric said HomePlug was welcome to join UPA--"the door is open for everybody".

Eric said UPA feels the market is ready for products now--"Start from the market, start from the need"--and needs an assurance of coexistence. The HomePlug President, Oleg Logvinov, spoke at the UPA press conference and told us the HomePlug goal "is to have interoperable products inside and outside the home. If it helps coexistence, we're glad to help. Our goal is to create interoperability - whatever makes the market an integrated place."

There's clearly a disagreement as to which needs to come first. Eric thinks service providers will start deploying PLC-based broadband access once they have assurance of coexistence; Oleg thinks they'll wait until they can buy interoperable products that include coexistence as one of their features. We should know who's right by the end of this year.

( www.ds2.es ) ( www.corinex.com ) ( www.upaplc.org ) ( www.ilevo.com ) ( www.homeplug.org )


Ultra Wideband (UWB): An end to all those cables!

We have been watching ultra wideband (UWB) for some time. UWB advocates agree on the goals: to create "personal area networks" connecting many devices together at very high speed. These goals are similar to Bluetooth--standardized as IEEE 802.15.1--but operating at a much higher speed. Picture a PC and its peripherals (keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner) plus digital cameras and camcorders all connecting together automatically whenever they come in range of each other.

UWB operates by sending a very low level signal across a very wide range of frequencies. Since many licensed services already operate in the same bands as UWB, the FCC considered and approved specific rules for UWB in 2002.

Standards for UWB are being developed by the IEEE 802.15.3a Task Group for high-rate wireless personal area networks. This group has been in a deadlock for some time. Two factions have proposed mutually-incompatible approaches; each has enough adherents to prevent the other from achieving the 75% vote required for passage.

The key advocates of the two approaches have formed competing organizations aimed at bringing products to market;

  • The Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) is based on the OFDM approach to UWB. Members include most major semiconductor companies (including Texas Instruments and Intel) and many consumer electronics companies (including Sony, Samsung, Philips and Panasonic).
  • The UWB Forum is based on the DS (Direct Sequence) UWB approach developed by XtremeSpectrum, now part of Freescale Semiconductor (Motorola's recently spun-off semiconductor subsidiary). Members include many universities and several consumer electronics companies (including Heier and Samsung).

WiMedia Alliance: the "Wi-Fi Alliance" of UWB

The WiMedia Alliance focuses on "high data-rate, wireless multimedia networking applications operating in a wireless personal area network (WPAN)." It "promotes WPAN connectivity and interoperability" based on UWB.

When it was formed in 2002, WiMedia served as a bridge between the competing technologies, with promoter members and senior officers coming from both groups. In mid-2004, apparently tired of the IEEE impasse, WiMedia announced its decision to move forward with the MBOA specifications and not wait for the IEEE. Soon thereafter, the supporters of the DS-UWB approach resigned from WiMedia and vacated their leadership positions.

At CES, MBOA sponsored an area in the "Innovations Plus" exhibit area. In the WiMedia Alliance booth we met with Glyn Roberts, President of WiMedia and Manager, Business R&D, Advanced System Technology at STMicroelectronics. Glyn told us that WiMedia is "the Wi-Fi of UWB" focused on interoperability testing, certification and branding (referring to the same role played by the Wi-Fi Alliance for wireless local area networks based on the 802.11 standards).

Glyn explained that the essense of the WiMedia approach is "decentralized control - every device is a peer, there's no master." He described the WiMedia role in the UWB ecosystem architecture and showed us a diagram that made it very clear: WiMedia provides a "convergence platform" between the MBOA radio technology and higher level applications, including Wireless USB, Wireless 1394 and UNnP/IP. [A version of this diagram is shown in slides 3-5 of Jeff Ravencraft's CES presentation Wireless USB Initiative: First Hi-Speed WPAN Interconnect ( www.usb.org/wusb/docs/presentations/WUSBOverview_CES1.0__122804b.pdf ) (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 4.7 MB)]

The WiMedia approach is designed to allow all of these wireless applications to run on a common platform, replacing the confusing tangle of wires now used to connect PCs to peripherals, and to interconnect consumer electronics devices.

Glyn told us MBOA and WiMedia are moving along well in completing the specifications and member companies are working on chips and software. Finished products should be available "by the end of 2005 -- maybe early 2006."

Alereon

We met with Jim Lansford, CTO of Alereon, a fabless semiconductor company and a founding member of WiMedia. We saw a working demonstration of an MBOA system based on Alereon's evaluation boards.

By its nature, "ultra wideband" operates across a very wide band of frequencies, and would seem to have a high potential for interference with other wireless technologies. Jim had been chair of the IEEE 802.19 Coexistence Technical Advisory Group, and we asked about the coexistence of UWB and Wi-Fi. He said that Alereon had paid "aggressive attention to interference and coexistence with 802.11a and 802.11b".

Alereon's current implementation operates in the 3.1 to 4.7 band, in-between the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands used for 802.11b/g and 802.11a. Jim said Alereon uses "spectral sculpting" to control the power of individual tones in the spectrum, and had worked hard to keep out-of-band noise levels very low to avoid interference.

Jim told us Alereon's current implementation was FPGA based and production chips would ship in the second half of this year.

Wireless USB Promoter Group

The Wireless USB Promoter Group is working to create a wireless extension to the very successful USB interface. This would interconnect PCs with peripherals like keyboards, printers, scanners, digital cameras, camcorders and disk drives. It is likely to be the first large-scale application of the MBOA/WiMedia approach to UWB.

Jeff Ravencraft, Technology Strategist, Intel Corporation and Chairman of the Wireless USB Promoter Group spoke in the session on advanced wireless technologies we organized and moderated at CES a few weeks ago. He discussed UWB technology and its application to Wireless USB.

Jeff said that end-user products would appear by the end of 2005. These would start as "add-on modules" and then as mini-PCI cards for installation inside notebook PCs, with a combined Wi-Fi/W-USB card by 2006 or 2007. See our web site ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/events_CES05.html ) for a description of the session and a link to Jeff's talk.

Freescale Semiconductor

Motorola was an early believer in UWB and an investor in XtremeSpectrum, a semiconductor startup and pioneer in UWB. Motorola and XtremeSpectrum together provided the leadership for the DS faction in the UWB standards debate. In late 2003, Motorola acquired Xtreme's UWB assets and folded them into Freescale Semiconductor, its semiconductor division, which was spun off in 2004. Now Freescale and Motorola are leading the charge for DS-UWB.

At CES, we met with Martin Rofheart, a UWB pioneer, founder and CEO of XtremeSpectrum and now Director of UWB Operations at Freescale. Martin presented a very different view of UWB, focused on markets and products and meeting customer needs now.

Freescale and its UWB Forum partners showed several demonstrations of working systems based on their UWB chips:

  • UWB-enabled HDTVs from Haier, a Chinese consumer electronics giant
  • A UWB-enabled prototype cell phone from Motorola and Freescale, showing the downloading of MP3 files from a laptop over UWB
  • A working demonstration of a "wireless hybrid home network" combining prototype HomePlug AV technology from Intellon, an HD video media server and HD TVs from Samsung and UWB technology from Freescale. This system carries multi-stream HD content from the server throughout the home over the electrical wiring, and transmits wirelessly with UWB within a room to portable TVs. We found this a particularly interesting demonstration, showing how a hybrid solution has the potential to outperform a single-technology solution.

Martin showed us the Freescale UWB chips packaged by Samsung into mini-PCI cards. Samsung is one of the few companies that is a senior member of both UWB camps. As one of the leaders in consumer electronics, Samsung is clearly willing to put its resources into and its name behind the DS-UWB products.

MBOA advocates claim a 480 Mbps speed for the OFDM version of UWB compared with 110 Mbps for Freescale's current DS-UWB chips. But this is comparing chips still in development to ones already in production and starting to be incorporated into real products. Martin told us that Freescale would launch a much higher speed version of DS-UWB later this year.

Martin feels Freescale is well ahead of the MBOA/WiMedia grouping in getting UWB into the market, and will soon find out about consumer acceptance. In spite of the forces arrayed on the other side, the UWB battle is far from over.

( www.ieee802.org/15/pub/TG3a.html ) ( www.multibandofdm.org ) ( www.uwbforum.org ) ( www.wimedia.org ) ( www.st.com ) ( www.wi-fi.org ) ( www.alereon.com ) ( www.usb.org/wusb ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.freescale.com ) ( www.haier.com/english/ ) ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.samsung.com )


MIMO/802.11n -- An Interview with Airgo

In December, we interviewed Greg Raleigh, President and CEO of Airgo Networks. Airgo is a pioneer in the design of wireless networks based on MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) "smart antenna" technology. MIMO takes advantage of multiple reflections of a radio signal, and Airgo claims it can substantially improve both the speed and the range of wireless systems.

Following several years of development, Airgo recently released its AGN100 "True MIMO&tm;" Wi-Fi chipset to add MIMO to existing 802.11g and 802.11a networks. Unlike some other "acceleration" technologies, Airgo's chipset operates in the current 20 MHz channels.

The AGN100 is included in several new wireless networking products, including a "Wireless PreN" router and adapter card from Belkin and a similar "Wireless-G with SRX Series" from Linksys. These are being marketed as premium products, with large improvements in speed and range.

Airgo is a participant in the upcoming IEEE 802.11n standard group developing the next generation of Wi-Fi. Greg said that while the group has the usual disagreements about the specifics of new standards, everyone agrees MIMO will be central to 802.11n's aim of reaching 100 Mbps throughput.

Greg said Airgo expects its technology will appear in the 802.11n standard, and that it will be a major player as first "draft 11n" and then "final 11n" products appear on the market. He hopes Airgo will play the leading market role in 11n, as Atheros did in 11a and Broadcom did in 11g.

We invited Greg to talk about MIMO and 802.11n in the session on advanced wireless technologies we organized and moderated at CES a few weeks ago. See our web site ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/events_CES05.html ) for a description of the session and a link to Greg's talk.

In late December, Airgo announced that it had shipped more than one million of its chips (enough to equip a quarter million stations) "in less than one quarter of retail market availability". Although it's not clear how many of these have sold through to users, it's still very impressive and a clear indication that MIMO is making its mark now.

"Pre-N" and the Wi-Fi Alliance

Many participants in the Wi-Fi Alliance are upset with the "pre-N" characterization of the new devices based on Airgo's chips. While MIMO will almost certainly be part of the 802.11n standard, Airgo's new chips do not promise to be compatible with 11n; they are really extensions of 802.11g and 802.11a.

The Alliance said that it would not certify 802.11n devices "until the standard is ratified" and said that was not expected for "approximately two years (November 2006)." It expressed concern that "pre-N" devices might not be interoperable with other certified products and threatened to decertify "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED" equipment if it is not interoperable.

Greg said that's not a problem with its devices. Indeed, he said existing 11g equipment will work better when used in networks with True MIMO devices.

Our "Pre-N" Tests

Shortly before we left for CES, Airgo shipped us a set of the Belkin devices, and we had the opportunity to start a new round of tests comparing the "PreN" devices with standard 11g devices. Our early results are very promising, showing a very significant improvement in both range and speed as promised.

We expect to finish these tests and report on the results in the February issue of this report.

( www.airgowireless.com ) ( www.belkin.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.wi-fi.org )


Coax Networking -- An Update on Entropic and MoCA

We've written before about Entropic Communications, a company developing chipsets and associated software for networking digital entertainment over the coaxial cables already installed in people's home [see "Whole Home" Networking over Coax -- An Interview with Entropic (BBHR 11/16/2003) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0311_7.html )]. We've long believed that "whole home" networking will require a combination of technologies, and coax networking is a good candidate for the "backbone" carrying video, voice and data throughout the home.

At CES, we met with Patrick Henry, President and CEO, and Ladd Wardani, VP Business Development. Entropic was one of the founders of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) and Ladd serves as MOCA's President.

Patrick told us that Entropic's chipset is now a "production solution". It is the first solution compliant with the MoCA specifications and Entropic expects certification "by the end of March." It is designed for networking digital entertainment throughout the home, carrying HD video, audio and data over existing coax cabling. It will work with all video sources, including external content from cable, satellite or telephone providers, and local content from DVRs.

Patrick said "Multi-room DVR is the killer app" for Entropic's chipset. He thinks the potential market is huge: "100 million homes in the US subscribe to video from cable or satellite; 50 million of those home already get digital TV" forming a natural market for multi-room DVR.

Many companies demonstrated products based on Entropic's networking technology at CES. One of these was Ucentric Systems, which has been working on a multi-room DVR for many years [see Fulfilling the Vision of the Broadband Home -- A Visit with Ucentric Systems (BBHR 11/14/2001) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0111_5.html )]. At CES, Ucentric and DIRECTV announced that DIRECTV would deploy Ucentric's Home Media Center software platform "to provide DIRECTV customers with digital video recorder (DVR) service on all television sets." Immediately following CES, Motorola (also a member of MoCA) announced it had acquired Ucentric and would integrate Ucentric's software into its Home Media Architecture.

( www.entropic.com ) ( www.mocalliance.org ) ( www.ucentric.com ) ( www.directv.com ) ( www.motorola.com )


The View from Broadcom - One-button security

We always enjoy visiting Broadcom's exhibit at CES and seeing what the broadband giant is up to. This year, what interested us most was a solution to security on wireless networks. It is often said that good security and ease-of-use are mutually opposed, but Broadcom has disproved this notion.

SecureEasySetup

At CES, Broadcom announced new security software called SecureEasySetup, a single-button solution to make it really easy for end users to configure security on wireless LANs. A few weeks before CES, we interviewed David Cohen, Broadcom's Senior Product Marketing Manager for wireless LAN products and "the main security guy for Broadcom".

David started by telling us about the security problem: "Less than 1% of users have security turned on. They have to know what security key they are using and what key does it ship with. With WPA, the user has to configure his own key. Wi-Fi vendors already have a high support call problem - they don't want more. That's the problem we're trying to solve." He said right now "People have to trade off security and ease of use" and they choose ease of use by leaving security off.

Broadcom's SecureEasySetup solution is deceptively simple. It adds a single button to wireless devices based on Broadcom's 54g chips. To set up security "You push a button on the wireless router, then push a button on the client device--or an icon on a PC for wireless LAN adapter cards. That's all - SecureEasySetup does the rest."

We asked David how it works: "After you push both buttons, the wireless access point (AP) or router creates the SSID and a Pre-Shared Key (PSK) using random data. The AP sends the security settings to the client using an encrypted tunnel, the client sets SSID and PSK, and the network is secured." Suppose you add another client device? "Push the button on the AP again and on the new device; the AP uses the existing SSID and PSK for the new device."

At the Broadcom exhibit, we met with David and saw several new devices from Linksys and HP equipped with SecureEasySetup--it really is easy! Linksys said it will start shipping devices with SecureEasySetup during Q1, and HP said it will include it "on select HP notebook and desktop PCs and in future networked printers".

Interoperability

This is not the first time we've seen a "single button" approach to security. When we tested HomePlug adapters more than two years ago, we found Phonex had used a similar mechanism to establish a secure connection between its NeverWire 14 Powerline Ethernet Bridges. [See "Problems" in HomePlug Powerline Networking - Getting ready for prime time (BBHR 9/9/2002) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0208_4.html#link4b )]. The proprietary Phonex approach seemed to trade off ease of use for interoperability -- "The Phonex approach is more user-friendly, but we were unable to create a secure network combining Phonex adapters with devices using the other approach."

Since Broadcom seems to be taking a similar approach to Phonex, we asked David how SecureEasySetup would work with a non-Broadcom device, or with an older device without the SecureEasySetup button. "The last step of SecureEasySetup shows you the SSID and PSK on the security setup wizard on your PC; you can write it down or save it to a file and use it to configure the older device. Or you can go into the AP and get the SSID and PSK settings."

That will enable interoperability, but it's probably too hard for many consumers. It would be much better to have "one button security" on all Wi-Fi devices--whether or not the chips are supplied by Broadcom--so we asked David whether Broadcom would be willing to make it available to other chip makers. He said he was chairing a new Wi-Fi Alliance security group, and Broadcom was proposing SecureEasySetup as part of the Wi-Fi certification program. We asked how long it would take to standardize it, and he said "probably mid '06 to early '07".

( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.phonex.com ) ( www.wi-fi.org )


CES 2005--The Right Time for Standards

Our discussions at CES with participants in powerline networking, UWB and MIMO [see the following article] got us thinking about the right time for standards. In each of these areas, we met people with very different views. Broadly speaking, they fell into two camps:

  • The majority think companies should work together collaboratively to develop standards, fighting out battles over technical issues in an open democratic process. Once the issues have been fully aired and the standards are completed and published, everyone should go off to develop interoperable chips and products, bring them to market, and compete fiercely with each other for market share. Any company that doesn't work this way isn't being a "good citizen".
  • The minority feel that technical ideas need to be tested in the marketplace before they get codified as standards. These companies--typically venture-funded startup semiconductor companies--often don't have the luxury of existing revenue streams and sufficient funding to wait for the standards process to run its course. They fear they'll be crushed by the larger players if they wait to go head-to-head with them. They feel they'll improve their position in the standards game if they can get their chips into products and prove them in the market before standards are locked into place.

There's a lot to be said for both positions. Standards have become the way of life in the IT business; people have forgotten the old days when Ma Bell and IBM ruled the world and set all the standards internally. The huge success of wireless networking is a result of years of collaborative efforts through the IEEE 802.11 Working Group and the Wi-Fi Alliance. The equally huge success of broadband access--both cable modems and DSL--is the result of collaborative efforts between service providers, semiconductor companies and equipment vendors to establish common global standards.

But there are arguments on the other side:

  • Ethernet--the first widely successful networking technology--started as a specification released by Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel and Xerox. This de facto standard became the basis for IEEE 802.3, after Ethernet products had been on the market for years. To this day, people refer to it as "Ethernet" rather than "802.3".
  • Today's DOCSIS cable modems, based on standards established through an initiative at CableLabs, are installed in millions of homes. But the DOCSIS effort was based on several proprietary and mutually-incompatible cable modems that had already been installed in many homes. While the DOCSIS modems are arguably better than any of the proprietary ones (and some would disagree) and undoubtedly an order of magnitude cheaper, they leveraged the field experience and pulled together the "best practices" of existing proprietary products.
  • As the IEEE 802.11g standards process was bubbling along, several semiconductor companies brought out chips based on their view of what the standard would be; these appeared in consumer products as "turbo" versions of 802.11b. Broadcom was first to market with a "54g" chipset based on a draft of 802.11g that became the basis for the final standard. Linksys was enormously successful with its "draft 802.11g" products based on the "54g" chips.

Today we're seeing smaller companies moving ahead of existing standards efforts, trying to get products to market before standards are set in stone and incumbent semiconductor companies can take advantage of their market leverage:

  • DS2 is bringing its 200 Mbps powerline networking chips to market, and getting them integrated into BPL and home networking devices. A Sponsor Member of the HomePlug Alliance, DS2 has decided to go to market with a chip set that is not compatible with the (yet to be released) HomePlug AV standard. [See the article on powerline networking above and Faster Powerline: An Interview with DS2 (BBHR 12/20/2004) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0412_6.html ).]
  • Freescale is bringing its 110 Mbps UWB chips to market, trying to get them integrated into consumer products. A founder of IEEE 802.15.3a and the WiMedia Alliance, Freescale has decided to go to market with a chip set that--while still in the running for 802.15.3a--is not compatible with the majority views on UWB as expressed in the WiMedia and Wireless USB decisions. [See the article on Freescale above.]
  • Airgo has brought its MIMO chips to market and has gotten them into leading-edge wireless networking products. A member of IEEE 802.11n and the Wi-Fi Alliance, Airgo has chosen to get its technology to the market early and get ahead of the standards process. Judging from the tone of press releases from the Wi-Fi Alliance, this has not made its other members happy. [See the article on Airgo above.]

In our discussions at CES, many people complained that DS2, Freescale and Airgo weren't playing the game by the well-known rules. One we respect said that if DS2 were located in Silicon Valley (rather than Valencia, Spain), they'd do things differently. All the MBOA members are upset with Freescale and Motorola for continuing to fight for DS-UWB in 802.15.3a rather than giving in to the majority view with good grace.

We're strong believers in these next-generation networking technologies--we've written about them in this newsletter over the past five years. And we're strong believers in standards. Most successful products reach mass-market volumes only after standards are established and accepted. Consumers are less confused by conflicting technology claims, and individual products work well together. Competition for market share is based on added features, pricing and packaging--not the underlying technology. Many remember how wireless home networking failed to take off while the "Home RF" and "802.11" camps fought for market share: consumers sat on their hands-and products sat on the shelves-until "Wi-Fi" won the battle.

After talking with many players on both sides at CES, we've come to see the current situation a little differently. DS2, Freescale and Airgo have come to market early with products that aren't standards based. It's certainly true that they are trying to gain an edge on their (mostly larger) competitors: they all saw what Broadcom did with "54g" and they're trying to emulate it.

To us, the key question is the proper timing for standards. Working out the specifications for next-generation chips that power consumer products is pretty tricky. Having lots of smart engineers meeting together in committee rooms every few months is not the only way to work out what should be in these specifications--it's far from clear that it's the best way when nobody has had any experience with the advanced applications these chips enable.

We think there's a strong counter-argument for getting a sense first for what consumer markets really want and need. The best way to learn about new applications is to get chips into real products and get the products into real user's hands. Then--and only then--will the chip and product companies really know what should be in the chips--and can establish standards based on that understanding.

Chip companies can't bring products to market directly. They depend on other companies to create products to sell to end users: consumers and (in the case of DS2) power companies. These products--like many of those we saw at CES--represent innovative applications, many never before been used in consumer homes. Some may succeed; some may fail.

Interoperability is important. Networking products especially need to interoperate with each other.

But there's a right time for standards, and now may be too early for some of these.

We're cheering for the companies that dare to come to market early and take the risk of subjecting their chips to the acid test in consumer homes. We hope everybody will have the opportunity to learn from their experience.

( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.ds2.es ) ( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.freescale.com ) ( www.airgowireless.com )


CES 2005--"Broadband on Steroids": New Wireless Networking Technologies

At CES, we organized and moderated an "Emerging Technologies" session covering new wireless networking technologies in three areas:

  • Metropolitan areas (covering a town or city): WiMAX/802.16
  • Local areas (within a building): 802.11n (the next generation of Wi-Fi)
  • Personal areas (within a room): UWB and Wireless USB.

As Moderator, Dave provided an overview and introduced the speakers. Broadband On Steroids ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/CES05_Waks.ppt ) (PowerPoint, 0.2 MB)

Dr. Sayed-Amr “Sisso” El-Hamamsy, President and CEO of Wi-LAN, Inc. ( www.wi-lan.com ), introduced WiMAX: broadband wireless for large metropolitan areas. He discussed the status of the 802.16 standards and the role of the WiMAX Forum. WiMAX: What’s All The Fuss About? ( www.wi-lan.com/library/WiMAX_Intro_CES_2005.pdf ) (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 0.7 MB)

Greg Raleigh, President and CEO of Airgo Networks ( www.airgonetworks.com ), described the coming emergence of a single digital home network. He discussed the critical role of MIMO (multiple input multiple output) "smart antenna" technology and the upcoming 802.11n standard--the next generation of Wi-Fi. MIMO Technology: The Reliable Wireless Digital Home Network is Here Now ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/CES05_Raleigh.pdf ) (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 1.6 MB)

Jeff Ravencraft, Technology Strategist at Intel Corporation ( www.intel.com ) and Chairman of the Wireless USB Promoter Group ( www.usb.org/wusb ), discussed the emerging UWB (ultra wideband) technology and its application to Wireless USB. Wireless USB Initiative: First Hi-Speed WPAN Interconnect ( www.usb.org/wusb/docs/presentations/WUSBOverview_CES1.0__122804b.pdf ) (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 4.7 MB)

Robert Pepper, Chief, Office of Plans and Policy at the Federal Communications Commission ( www.fcc.gov ) also spoke in the session on the Next Generation of Broadband. He described why broadband really matters to the US now that 30% of US households subscribe to DSL or cable. According to Pepper, broadband has had faster adoption than cell phones, VCRs and color TVs. The importance of wireless broadband is that it "overcomes the tyrannies of distance and destiny." In discussing policies for wireless broadband Pepper acknowledged that government (at the federal, state and local levels) can impede as well as enable wireless. He referenced issues such as antenna sites, rights of way, access to capital and resolving interference issues as ones that are of real concern.


Cable's Look at Emerging Technologies: SCTE-ET

Each January the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) holds a conference for cable telecom professionals that aims to provide a three-to-five year view into the industry’s technology future. Topics covered at this year's event included bandwidth management, whether new wireless technologies are disruptive or constructive for cable, and the future role of the cable operator in a world that accommodates consumer electronics, broadband, content suppliers and others.

We were able to attend only the first day's sessions, since we wanted to fly back to San Jose in time to catch the second and third days of WCA (see the following article). Sandy had the opportunity to speak in a session on technologies competitive to cable and Dave had his turn in the session on emerging wireless technologies.

We've posted both presentations on the Broadband Home Central Website--see our Presentations page ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations.html#SCTE-ET2005 ).

The session on competition, moderated by Tony Werner, Sr. VP & CTO, Liberty Media, covered a wide range of broadband technologies, including developments in DSL and IPTV, fiber to the home, wireless and satellite.

Sandy's talk "Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Why Care?" ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/ET05_Teger.ppt ) had several messages. The first was that wireless technologies represent both a threat and an opportunity to cable. The second was that just as telephony has shifted from fixed locations to personal communications with the growth of mobile telephony, so will fixed broadband/data connectivity move to a new dimension of personal broadband--associated with a person, not a place. Sandy touched on how this direction is already underway today and can be seen in municipal Wi-Fi and deployments from providers like Clearwire and Nextel. The latter two not only are priced lower than cable, but offer the added advantages of "nomadicity" or portability. The growing movement behind WiMAX is an indication of the recognition that broadband wireless to the person will be of key importance in tomorrow's world.

One of the other "take-aways" from the talk is that, while it is easy to dismiss metro Wi-Fi deployments because they are not "carrier grade", they merit being taken seriously. Sandy reminded the audience that, as with many disruptive technologies at their inception, it is easy to point out all their deficiencies. For Wi-Fi these have included lack of security and QoS, interference, roaming performance, throughput, range and connection persistence. However, there is a huge industry that has grown up around Wi-Fi and it has engendered rapid market innovation--which is increasingly finding ways to overcome these limitations. The talk concluded by showing maps of just a few of the cities where wireless technologies are taking a share of the broadband market, asking the audience "Is your city next?"

Dave's talk, "Wireless Technologies in the Home - The Invisible Cable Plant" ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/ET05_Waks.ppt ) was part of a panel chaired by Nick Hamilton-Piercy, Senior Technology Advisor, Rogers Cable. The session also included talks on WiMAX in cable networks and wireless/wireline convergence. Dave's talk focused on two wireless technologies--the role and progress of Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) and the emergence of Ultra-Wideband (IEEE 802.15.3a) with Wireless USB as UWB's most likely initial application. In addition to updating the audience on the current status of these technologies, the talk had three major conclusions:

  • 100 Mbps home networking technologies are coming soon in the form of 802.11n, UWB, HomePlug AV, etc.
  • Wireless is not a complete “whole home” solution, but will most likely be part of a heterogeneous network
  • End-to-end QoS remains a major challenge and will hopefully be addressed by the Digital Network Living Alliance (DLNA).

Our thanks to SCTE for the opportunity to address their members. Our only regret is that we didn't get more time to soak in all the good information and contacts that were part of this event.

( www.scte.org )


WCA Winter Conference--An Update on Mobile WiMAX and WiBro

The Wireless Communications Association held its annual winter conference and exhibition ( www.wcai.com/event/05/ts11gen.htm ) in San Jose. We went to some of the sessions which were interesting and visited some exhibits. But the greatest value of a show like this is that it gathers together all the really key players at one time and place, so you can meet with them privately and learn what's really going on.

We were especially interested in learning more about the emerging 802.16e standard, also called "Mobile WiMAX". We had heard about the Korean "WiBro" effort and wondered about its effect on WiMAX.

At the show, we met with industry leaders including

  • Bernard Aboussouan, VP Marketing & Business Development at Sequans Communications, a fabless semiconductor company headquartered in Paris, developing chips and software for WiMAX base stations and subscriber stations.
  • Gordon Antonello, Chair of the Technical Working Group at the WiMAX Forum.
  • John Seliga, VP Marketing at Wi-LAN, a wireless technology innovator headquartered in Calgary, Canada, developing WiMAX systems.
  • Dave Sumi, VP Marketing at TeleCIS Wireless, a fabless semiconductor company focused on developing chipsets that integrate 802.11 and 802.16, with the goal of combining Wi-Fi and fixed and mobile WiMAX in a single chip. Dave is also Secretary of the WiMAX Forum.
  • George Wu, Director or Marketing at Fujitsu Microelectronics America, a large semiconductor company developing a complete WiMAX-certifiable reference design.

WiMAX Fixed/Mobile compatibility

From our discussions with these and others at WCA, we learned of a debate in the 802.16e standards group regarding back-compatibility of "mobile WiMAX" with fixed WiMAX. One faction feels the group should fulfill its original objective "to support combined fixed and mobile operation within a single system". Many supporters of this position have already designed fixed WiMAX systems with provisions for supporting combined fixed and mobile operation.

The other faction would like to move ahead faster with mobile WiMAX and would not like mobile systems to be burdened with support for fixed operation. Most advocates of this position do not have fixed products available and want to move directly to mobile systems without fixed support.

This debate appears to have slowed down the standards process, which until recently was staying very close to its planned schedule. Most people we talked with think this issue will be resolved soon and the standard will be completed by this summer.

WiBro in Korea

We heard a lot about the impact of the Korean WiBro project on this debate. As many of our readers know, the Korean broadband market is the world's most advanced, with the highest household penetration of fixed broadband and the first to roll out 3G wireless. The government has long seen a gap between wireless broadband services available from hot spots and 3G; it has aimed to fill that gap with what it previously called "portable Internet" and renamed "WiBro" for "wireless Broadband". [Editorial note: We may have been the first to suggest the term "WiBro" in an article in this newsletter (BBHR 5/17/2003) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0305_6.html ).]

The Korean group planning what became WiBro first considered other alternatives, then decided last year to base WiBro on the same IEEE 802.16 standards that form the basis for WiMAX. Later they announced a schedule for technical testing by the end of 2005 with commercial operation by 2Q06, indicating they would follow the current draft of 802.16e rather than waiting for resolution of the 802.16e debate.

This schedule has changed the "mobile WiMAX" dynamic. The Koreans are not interested in fixed WiMAX -- they already have the highest household broadband penetration in the world. Many wireless broadband companies are now focusing their attention on meeting the needs of the Korean WiBro market. At WCA we were told "Wibro is now driving everyone's roadmaps. They're going to announce licenses without waiting for 802.16e, and they're going to stick to the schedule for commercial service."

After hearing this at WCA, it was no surprise that on January 20, the Korean government announced the award of licenses for WiBro services to three major Korean companies, who are expected to begin commercial service in 2006.

So the WiMAX world seems to be bifurcating. One group is focused on fixed WiMAX based on the 802.16-2004 standards, working toward WiMAX certification later this year. The other group is focusing on WiBro for now, and will turn its attention to mobile WiMAX once 802.16e has resolved its issues.

For those (like us) who see mobile WiMAX as most important--especially in well-developed broadband markets, the WiBro effort is probably a good thing. It moves mobile broadband to the front burner now, and focuses the industry innovators on getting products developed and rolled out in customer hands. Mobile WiMAX should benefit from the field experience with WiBro. And consumer devices should come down the cost curve faster with the volumes expected from the highly-competitive Korean market.

( www.sequans.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org ) ( www.wi-lan.com ) ( www.telecis.com ) ( www.fma.fujitsu.com )


A Wi-Fi Update From St. Cloud

Last month we described the current Wi-Fi deployment in St. Cloud, Florida. Our expectation was that the next likely step was for the city council to vote in March on expanding Wi-Fi coverage city-wide. The council moved the vote forward and on January 14th unanimously approved proceeding with development of the final business and operational plan for the expansion of the Cyber Spot to cover the entire city.

We are told that the St. Cloud Cyber Spot, which has been up and running since July 1, 2004, has been a huge hit with the citizens of St. Cloud. The Cyber Spot initially covered the historic downtown plus the East Lake Tohopekaliga waterfront park (about 20 square blocks). Next month the Cyber Spot will be expanded over the entire Stevens Plantation development, adding an additional square mile of coverage.

The city has contracted with HP and Marketing Resources Incorporated, who anticipate the final business and operational plans to be complete by March, allowing for expansion of the system over the entire city (13 square miles) by Summer 2005. In addition to providing free public high-speed Internet access to every citizen in St. Cloud, the Cyber Spot will provide all city departments, including Police and Fire, with enhanced capabilities in the field.

( www.stcloud.org ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.aboutmri.com )


Upcoming Conferences -- IPTV World Forum

With both SBC and Verizon pushing IPTV in the US, the US is finally coming around to the view that IPTV is a big deal. That is hardly news to those who will be speaking at this year's IPTV World Forum at Earls Court Conference Centre, in London on 8 and 9 March 2005.

The IPTV World Forum will include high profile speakers from Siemens, PCCW, Reliance Entertainment, BT, Tandberg Broadcasting, BBC and many more. Industry leaders such as Texas Instruments, Cisco Systems, Myrio, Video Networks, On Demand Group, Disney, EBU and Ofcom will also be speaking about marketing and bundling to deliver triple play services, partnerships with content, and new localized services which can be deployed over IPTV.

On day one, speakers will provide an understanding of the IPTV market, explain how to deploy and market IPTV services worldwide and how technologies support IPTV roll outs. The second day is dedicated to service development strategies.

See the IPTV World Forum web site ( www.iptv-forum.com ) for more details.