In This Issue
Wi-Fi's Leap Forward
Upcoming Conferences -
Your Voice -
People News Michael Ansley was appointed VP, Worldwide Sales and Support at Redline Communications. Ansley was previously with Cisco. ( www.redlinecommunications.com )
John-Michel Bourdon was appointed VP of International Markets and Diptish Datta as VP of Customer Operations at Kaleidescape. Bourdon was previously with Adobe Systems and Datta was formerly with Amdahl. ( www.kaleidescape.com )
William (Bill) Dunbar has been appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Wi-LAN. ( www.wi-lan.com )
Bruce Eisen was promoted to President at CinemaNow. Before joining CinemaNow, Eisen was at Trimark Pictures Inc. ( www.cinemanow.com )
Clarence “Sam” Endy was named President and CEO of TeleCIS Wireless. Dr. Endy was previously with ArrayComm. ( www.telecis.com )
Philip Graf has been named chairman of the Broadband Stakeholders Group, the key advisory group to the UK government on promoting the adoption of broadband services. ( www.broadbanduk.org )
Evan Grayer has been appointed VP for broadband at DirecTV. He previously held business development roles at Time Warner Cable and AOL. ( www.directv.com )
Jaci Hale was named Director of International Marketing and Relationship Management at ICTV. ( www.ictv.com )
Didier Lombard was named Chairman and CEO, France Telecom, replacing Thierry Breton, who was named France's finance minister. ( www.francetelecom.com )
Nancy Macartney was promoted to the positions of President and CEO at Critical Telecom Corp. ( www.criticaltelecom.com )
George McHorney was appointed CFO and COO at Airpath Wireless Inc. McHorney was previously with Legra Systems Inc. ( www.airpathwireless.com )
Thomas McPherson has been appointed CEO and board member at Cognio Inc. ( www.cognio.com )
Jim Miller was named VP of sales and Phil Bedard as VP of manufacturing operations at Ellacoya Networks Inc. ( www.ellacoya.com )
Thomas J. Shea was named chief executive and Rob Seim as CFO at Mirra Inc. ( www.mirra.com )
Jeff Shell was appointed president of Comcast Programming. Shell was previously chief executive of Gemstar. ( www.comcast.com )
Bill Sickler has joined Arcwave as president and CEO. ( www.arcells.com )
Jack Unger has joined NextPhase Wireless as chief wireless engineer. ( www.nextphasewireless.com )
(Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to report a change in your position.)
Arroyo Video Solutions Inc., an advanced video platform provider, raised $12 million in a B-round of financing. ( www.arroyo.tv )
ChoiceStream Inc., a developer of online consumer personalization services, has raised $7 million in a Series A round of financing. ( www.choicestream.com )
Dust Networks has raised $22 million funding in its Series B round. ( www.dustnetworks.com )
Frontier Silicon, a semiconductor group in digital radio, has raised $28m (Ł15.8m). ( www.frontier-silicon.com )
Vativ Technologies, Inc., a provider of silicon solutions for broadband transport over copper, has raised $11 million in a second round of venture funding. ( www.vativ.com )
Alcatel and Microsoft have signed a global IP Television collaboration agreement with the goal of accelerating IPTV availability. The deal is aimed at developing a solution for IPTV delivery combining Alcatel's hardware and Microsoft's IPTV software. ( www.alcatel.com ) ( www.microsoft.com )
AOL has announced its intention to offer VoIP services before the end of March. The service will be integrated with AOL's instant-messaging and e-mail software. ( www.aol.com )
BSkyB confirmed that it is on track to launch HDTV in 2006 and announced that Thomson will be the initial supplier of the set-top box for that service. Sky's HDTV box will offer PVR functionality similar to today's Sky+ box. ( www.sky.com ) ( www.thomson.net )
CableLabs announced it has issued the first set of specifications to aid in the creation of next-generation Video-on-Demand (VoD) cable services through the development of headend metadata and content distribution documents. ( www.cablelabs.com )
EarthLink has formed a joint venture with SK Telecom to sell wireless voice and data services in the US. The partners are investing $440 million in the venture, called SK-EarthLink, with each owning 50 percent. EarthLink founder, Sky Dayton, will be CEO. ( www.earthlink.com ) ( www.sktelecom.com )
Ikanos Communications has added the Fx 100100 programmable silicon solution to provide speeds of up to 100 Mbps in both upstream and downstream directions over a single copper line. ( www.ikanos.com )
Movielink, a downloading service owned by five major studios, is partnering with the blinkx search engine. blinkx.tv allows users to search video such as TV or movies to find and download their favorite films from Movielink. ( www.movielink.com ) ( www.blinkx.com )
RCN Corporation launched its WebWatch home monitoring system. It allows customers to remotely view real-time video of their home or business through any PC with a broadband connection. Initial service availability will be in Boston and costs RCN Internet subscribers an additional $9.95 per month. ( www.rcn.com )
SBC has established Wi-Fi roaming agreements with Airpath Wireless and Boingo Wireless. The roaming deals add 3,300 hot-spot locations to SBC's FreedomLink service as well as providing additional revenues when Airpath and Boingo customers roam onto SBC's Wi-Fi network. ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.airpath.com ) ( www.boingo.com )
France - TelecomWeb News Digest reports that France Telecom has agreed to unbundle ADSL access and submit a plan covering full network unbundling by June 1. Unbundling broadband services is part of a broader set of agreements FT proposed to the French regulatory agency Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART), in response to its demands that France Telecom services be brought more in line with those of other EU countries. ( www.telecomweb.com ) ( www.ft.com ) ( www.art-telecom.fr/eng )
France is preparing for the launch of digital terrestrial TV at the end of March. The service--known as TNT ("TV numerique terrestre")--will offer fourteen free-to-air TV channels. The plan at launch is to reach 35% of the French population with eventual expansion to about 80% of homes. Plans call for pay television services to be launched within one year. ( www.csa.fr )
UK - Ofcom, the communications regulator, published the proposed digital terrestrial switchover timetable for the UK. The analog terrestrial TV switch-off will begin in 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2012. Plans call for phasing by independent television franchise region, with each region taking about six months to convert. Wales is scheduled to switch completely in 2008, while London will be one of the last regions converted by the end of 2011. The plans call for digital replication of analog coverage and an overlap period during which remaining viewers can convert to digital terrestrial, cable or satellite TV. ( www.ofcom.org.uk ) ( www.digitalswitchover.tv )
Standards and Forums
The WiMAX Forum has made several recent announcements:
The WiMedia Alliance said it has merged with the MultiBand OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group. The combined group will be known as the WiMedia Alliance Inc. Both groups plan to interface their complementary protocols for ultra-wideband technology. The Alliance's newly elected President is Stephen R. Wood of Intel. ( www.wimedia.org ) ( www.multibandofdm.org )
Home Gateway Initiative (HGI)
The Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) has been launched to improve the interoperability of gateways with connected home devices throughout the EU and the rest of the world, as well as reducing the costs of home gateways for customers. Participating companies include Belgacom, BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, KPN, Teliasonera, NTT, Telefonica and Telecom Italia. The main tasks of the HGI are to establish technical and interoperability specifications and provide input to standardization bodies. The HGI will base its work on existing standards (ITU-T H 610, DSL Forum, UPnP, DLNA .. .) and identify the gaps in those standards that need to be filled. ( www.homegatewayinitiative.org )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations that you might have missed. This month’s tidbits include
VOD Gets Personal: Dating On Demand
On Valentine's Day (14 February), Comcast introduced Dating On Demand using its video-on-demand (VOD) capabilities. Adults who want to broadcast their availability can do so by preparing a three-to-five minute video. After editing, the videos are loaded on Comcast's VOD servers for free viewing by digital cable service subscribers. Viewers can initiate contact through HurryDate.com. ( www.comcast.com )
Cows and Algebra
We resonated with a 28 February email to subscribers of Inside Digital Media from Phil Leigh. Phil wrote: "A story in the Financial Times this morning credits unnamed music executives with acknowledging that the industry is contemplating raising prices for digitally distributed recordings. In our analysis, whoever is advocating such a change understands the digital music market about as well as a cow comprehends algebra." He went on to point out that "There are at least three reasons why raising prices is a bad idea." ( www.insidedigitalmedia.com )
Interactive ITV Developments in the US
EchoStar Communications Corp. and its Dish Network satellite TV service have teamed with TVG Network to launch an interactive horse racing channel. Using their remote control, viewers can choose among live races, odds, picks and information on how much money has been wagered on any given race. Subscribers who open a wagering account also can place bets via TV if they live in specified states which allow it. ( www.dishnetwork.com ) ( www.tvg.com )
CBS is partnering with ITV company GoldPocket Interactive to offer interactive features for several shows, starting with Survivor. The interactive elements, such as votes, polls and trivia questions, will initially be available on the cbs.com web site, but will be added to broadcasts of selected shows over the coming months. GoldPocket will work with CBS to create interactive TV applications capable of running on a large variety of set-tops and receivers. ( www.cbs.com ) ( www.goldpocket.com )
Wi-Fi's Leap Forward: Adding MIMO To The Mix
Things change fast in the Wi-Fi world. We're now entering the fourth generation of products since we installed the first wireless network in our home five years ago. We started with the original 802.11, switched to 802.11b, and followed by 802.11g. Now we've started seeing precursors to what will become 802.11n.
While standards change fairly slowly--802.11 came out in 1993, 802.11b in 1999, and 802.11g in 2003; 802.11n is not expected to be completed until 2006--technologies change much more quickly. Chip companies no longer wait for published standards to introduce major new non-standard features; they now launch several generations of chips with "enhanced" or "accelerated" or "turbo" modes before standards are formalized to lock in these changes. These chips try to be "back compatible" with current standards to support "mixed networks" but usually work best in networks where all the devices have the same new chips. Sometimes the new chips are based on drafts of new standards, and promise that later software upgrades will make them fully compatible with the evolving standards when they are completed.
We started testing 802.11 devices in our home before the term "Wi-Fi" was invented, and we published the results of our first round of formal in-home testing almost two years ago in "Wireless Is Magic" -- Our Evaluation of 802.11g Wi-Fi (BBHR June 17, 2003). We were somewhat disappointed in those results: marketing claims of "five times faster" turned out to be more like two times when averaged over the nineteen locations we tested. Enthusiastic claims for wireless video networking were not justified by the performance we saw, nor by the inability of the technology to cope with video and data on the same network.
A year ago we published the results of our second round of testing in Wi-Fi Evaluation Round Two (BBHR February 16, 2004). This showed the importance of upgrading firmware and drivers, a positive sign that equipment based on draft standards could indeed be upgraded to obtain improved compatibility and performance in mixed networks. We decided to repeat the full test series to measure the quantitative improvement between the early and mature 802.11g products.
Wi-Fi Round Three Test Results
By the time we were ready to repeat the full test series, equipment based on early MIMO technology from Airgo Networks had appeared on the market. MIMO will form the technological basis for 802.11n--the next generation of Wi-Fi. While some of these MIMO products are marketed as "Wireless Pre-N", they are really MIMO extensions of 802.11g. We decided to extend the test series to compare the performance of MIMO/11g with "standard" 11g. (See MIMO/802.11n -- An Interview with Airgo (BBHR 2/24/2005) for more about MIMO and 802.11n.)
We are seeing a remarkable progression of improvements in "Wi-Fi" technology. The mature 11g implementations we've just tested showed considerable improvement over the draft 11g implementations tested in Round One--and some of those were the same devices with updated firmware or drivers. The early MIMO enhancements show the same improvement over standard 11g--a throughput improvement of better than 2X--as the early 11g showed over 11b. Moreover, the newest MIMO devices provide high enough throughput and consistency to support video networking.
These tests are covered in detail in the Round Three Wi-Fi Tests pages of our web site.
Many products are now on the market with various forms of "accelerated 11g". We have tested only Belkin products based on the Airgo chipset. We plan to test new products as they become available and update our reports and conclusions.
Wi-Fi at Sanibel
During the time we were running these tests, we took off a few weeks and rented a condo in Sanibel, Florida, our favorite place to get away. We felt the need to stay in touch and were glad the condo complex had a Wi-Fi setup.
From an earlier visit, we knew there was a wireless access point on the roof of the clubhouse in the center of the complex. We had found we could get a reliable connection only if we sat outside on the lanai facing the clubhouse; inside our condo, the signal level was too low for a reliable connection.
Before we left, we had already completed most of our Round Three testing, and had observed range improvements using MIMO adaptors with standard 11g access points. So we brought along some of the wireless equipment we were testing.
Our experience at the condo confirmed our tests at home. As before, we could not get a reliable connection from inside the condo to the clubhouse access point with the 11g and "tri-mode" network adaptor cards. But the MIMO card provided the boost in performance we needed to work inside the condo--just as well as outside.
Of course, we found some time to enjoy the beach and the sun, too!
The Outlook for Wireless Video Networking
For the first time in our Wi-Fi testing, we believe wireless video networking is on the horizon. High-quality video has two main requirements: sufficient throughput to carry several channels of standard-definition or high definition video; and a QoS mechanism to give time-sensitive video priority over data when both are used in the same network.
With throughput of 17 Mbps at the worst point in the house, MIMO/11g could carry several channels of standard-definition television or a single channel of high-definition anywhere in a house. Moreover, the Airgo chips support Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM), which allows video to take priority over data.
This technology can be viewed as a precursor to 802.11n. 11n will certainly include WMM and will almost certainly use MIMO to achieve its stated goal of 100 Mbps throughput. We are now confident that 11n will be able to carry multiple HD channels throughout the home, along with data and voice. Wireless video networking is visible on the horizon.
For further reference:
The last few months symbolize the dramatic transformation in the US telecommunications industry. SBC is buying AT&T and either Verizon or Qwest will buy MCI. This completes the process started nearly thirty years ago when MCI became the first company to successfully challenge AT&T's hundred-year monopoly on US telephone service. That resulted in the slow-motion breakup of AT&T into equipment, long-distance and local service businesses. Now the "Baby Bells" are swallowing what's left of "Ma Bell" and its long-time antagonist.
The SBC acquisition will end AT&T's 128 years as an independent company. Valued at $16 billion, the deal involves stock-and-cash plus SBC's assumption of approximately $6 billion in AT&T's net debt. It's startling to note that this purchase price is in the same ballpark as the reported offering price by Time Warner and Comcast for the bankrupt Adelphia cable company!
From Headlines to Footnotes
Although we try to report on most stories from an objective perspective, it's hard to write the AT&T story that way. Sandy worked at AT&T for almost twenty years starting in 1977. Working mostly at headquarters, she experienced much of the history first-hand. Here's her view of how AT&T moved from being the US national symbol of telecommunications to a long-distance carrier that had given up on its core consumer markets.
My (Sandy's) tenure at AT&T made me both witness to and participant in a long string of major events. The 1984 divestiture--in which AT&T spun off the local telephone operating companies and kept long distance--was perhaps the biggest of these. But others paved the way to AT&T's current status.
Easy Come, Easy Go
AT&T recognized that data would become bigger than voice and that was part of the rationale for the NCR acquisition in 1991. Its purchase of McCaw Cellular in 1994 came from understanding the trend of fixed-line communications becoming increasingly supplanted by mobile. But in 1995, acknowledging that it had failed in achieving the integrated communications company it had aimed to be, the company restructured into three separate ones: a services company, which retained the AT&T name; a products and systems company which became Lucent Technologies; and a computer company, which reassumed the NCR name. I left shortly thereafter.
In 1999, AT&T bought cable giant TCI. It publicly acknowledged the critical importance of owning facilities connecting directly to customers--and the value of providing consumers with a complete bundle of digital TV, video on demand, broadband data and cable telephony. That $54 billion acquisition was followed in 2000 by another $55 billion spent acquiring MediaOne.
None of the acquisitions lasted very long. NCR was spun off as an independent company at the end of 1996. The decision to sell AT&T Broadband (comprised of the TCI and MediaOne purchases) to Comcast was announced in late 2000. AT&T Wireless, based upon the McCaw purchase, was spun off as an independent company in 2001; in 2004 it was acquired by Cingular, owned jointly by SBC and BellSouth, two of the Baby Bells.
There are many books to be written about why this story didn't have a "happily ever after" ending. The storylines for each acquisition differ, but each had execution and integration problems. In the case of wireless, the timeframe between acknowledging that wireless was key to AT&T's future and the actual acquisition of McCaw meant the price paid was way above what it might have been. Much the same was true of the huge cable acquisitions. Beyond that, only the people who made the decisions could tell whether top management really understood the enormous upgrade the TCI plant needed, how much it would cost, how long it would take and how much work was needed to repair customer relations and service. Looking at the NCR acquisition with the benefit of hindsight, it's not clear it was the right choice to help AT&T succeed in a world where data communications services overtook voice.
We won't try to write the book here, but the bottom line is that AT&T saw the inevitability of convergence. They envisioned themselves as delivering all the elements and decided those acquisitions were the path to doing so. But they were unable to solve the multi-dimensional puzzle of making the company work as an integrated whole. AT&T saw the shape of the future, tried to adapt to it, but failed.
Convergence: From Buzz Word to Being
AT&T's story is more than the tale of one company. Its last twenty years are intertwined with the evolution of the telecommunications industry from primarily a fixed-line voice-based business to a converged business based on fixed and mobile voice, data and video.
The stirrings of competition and government anti-trust actions brought about the 1984 divestiture, when Ma Bell was separated from her local exchange offspring. Consumers began to have more choices, prices dropped and innovation increasingly flourished.
However, there was also a price paid in customer confusion. Consumers had trouble understanding the division into local and long-distance service, especially the crazy-quilt of Local Access and Transport Areas (LATAs). The early days of unbundling evoked disreputable sales techniques. Some companies bought others, while some faced bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, new modes of personal communications like mobile telephony and email emerged. Over time new technologies blurred the distinctions between what happened over copper lines, MSO cables and wireless. The sharp distinctions between voice, data and video services faded as they all started becoming digital data streams over IP.
Companies expanded and got into each other's businesses. Cable operators announced--and fulfilled--their intention to deliver the "triple play" of video, data and voice. Local telephone companies responded by adding data and video to their voice services. Mobile operators started deploying mobile broadband data and mobile video services.
And here we are in 2005. Consumers again have the option of one-stop shopping--for local and long distance telephony, for fixed and mobile communications, and for TV entertainment and broadband data services. Once again a few large companies are aiming to deliver a complete bundle. Only this time, one of the names on the door is SBC, not AT&T.
The 2005 National Show will be in San Francisco April 3-5. This is the world's largest cable show, organized by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the US cable industry trade association in Washington.
We've been asked to organize and moderate a panel discussion on the role of wireless for cable operators. Our panel includes the senior strategists from the top three cable operators, so it should be a great discussion. It's on Tuesday, April 5 from 2:00 to 3:15.
If you're at the National Show, look us up and say "hi"!
What Interests You
We always want to hear what topics are of the most interest. This month Bob Wells, Principal at the Lennox Group wrote: "Great issue, you two! I'm particularly int'd in WiMax and its variants, and your reporting on it was very useful."
Christine Watson emailed to say: "I read with interest your recent article on the “Vidi-go” trend. I did hope to clarify one point – the article would lead people to believe that DIRECTV’s TOTAL CHOICE MOBILE package will be available at some time in the future. In fact, we at KVH have been working with DIRECTV and providing mobile satellite TV to automobiles since September 2003".
We also heard from a reader requesting "more coverage of European companies please!"
Jonathan Baltuch sent us a copy of an article he wrote, titled "Municipal High Speed Wireless Means Business". It reflects his remarks about Municipal Wireless during a panel at the International Economic Development Conference, an invitation-only gathering of top management from cities and communities all over the US. In it he describes how representatives from dozens of communities were unanimous in saying that "their community was either planning for or looking to develop ubiquitous wireless systems."
Rob Adler wrote to say: "Yours is an important one-stop publication if you want to keep up with home networking. For example, one market that we are following is UWB. I think that the eventual home network will have both a wire line backbone, and wireless for shorter distances." He also commented: "I recently switched to the web version (of the Broadband Home Report). The downside of reading on the web is that you can easily miss a page."
Thanks to these readers and all of you who have taken the time over the past years to let us know how you reacted to our stories, what you'd like to see covered and anything else you think might be of interest.
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