BBH Report Home Page
July 13, 2005 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Heard on the Net

Briefly Noted
Updates, Observations and Trends

Cable's Bandwidth Smorgasbord
More Speed and More Capacity

"The Dawn of Mass Market Broadband Wireless" -
WCA 2005

Upcoming Conferences

Your Voice -
Readers Comments


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home

People News

Chris Busch has joined Incognito Software as VP of Broadband Technology. He was previously with Nortel Networks. ( www.incognito.com )

Gerard Delaney is joining Dilithium Networks as VP and general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He was previously with BT Group PLC. ( www.dilithiumnetworks.com )

Michael Fowler has been appointed VP of solutions and Daniel West as VP of marketing at Nellymoser Inc. ( www.nellymoser.com )

David Hattey has been named president and chief executive at SIPquest. He was previously at 3Com. ( www.sipquest.com )

Sam Howe was promoted to chief marketing officer at Time Warner Cable. ( www.timewarnercable.com )

David Katz has joined Yahoo to oversee the sports and entertainment divisions. He was previously with the CBS Television Network. ( www.yahoo.com )

Sandra Swain Kilbridge has been named VP, business development at Rentrak Corporation. She was previously with Rainbow DBS/VOOM. ( www.rentrak.com )

Tom Rogers was named TiVo CEO and Jeff Klugman has been promoted to senior VP and general manager of its new Service Provider Division. ( www.tivo.com )

Allen P. Todd has joined Communication Technologies, Inc. (COMTek) as VP for BPL Operations. Todd previously was utilities director for the city of Manassas, Virginia, the site of a major BPL deployment. ( www.comtechnologies.com ) ( www.manassascity.org/ )

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


Company News

Acquisitions

Amdocs, a provider of customer management software and services, has acquired DST Innovis for $238 million in cash. DST Innovis will operate within Amdocs as the Broadband Cable and Satellite division and will be headed by its current CEO, Peter Nault. ( www.amdocs.com ) ( www.dstinnovis.com )

Cisco agreed to acquire deep packet processing company NetSift for approximately $30 million. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.netsift.com )

Ericsson has acquired Teleca OSS, a provider of systems integration for telecom management. The value of the deal was not disclosed. ( www.ericsson.com ) ( www.teleca.com )

Moseley Associates has agreed to acquire the assts of Wi-Fi and broadband wireless company Proxim for $21 million. ( www.moseleysb.com ) ( www.proxim.com )

TANDBERG announced the acquisition of Ivigo, a provider of mobile video solutions, for an undisclosed amount. ( www.tandberg.net ) ( www.ivigo.nl )

Telenor' completed its acquisition of Bredbandsbolaget (B2) in Sweden and Cybercity in Denmark for SEK 6.0 billion and DKK 1.4 billion respectively. ( www.telenor.com ) ( www.bredbandsbolaget.se ) ( www.cybercity.dk )

Funding

Current Communications Group, a leading broadband over power line (BPL) technology and service provider, announced a $100 million investment from Goldman, Sachs & Co., Google, and The Hearst Corporation, as well as two existing investors. ( www.currentgroup.com )

Meru Networks, a provider of VoIP mobility infrastructure, has secured $12 million in Series C funding. ( www.merunetworks.com )

Pannaway Technologies, designers and developers of converged broadband platforms, completed a $15.6 million E round of funding from private investors. ( www.pannaway.com )

PicoChip, a wireless silicon provider, secured $20.5 million in its third round of funding, including an investment from Intel Ventures. ( www.picochip.com )

sentitO Networks, a VoIP switching and services company for telecommunications service providers, has obtained $10 million in new funding. ( www.sentito.com )

Tatara Systems, developer of solutions for communications service providers, closed an additional funding round of $6 million. ( www.tatarasystems.com )

Xceive, a developer of RF-to-baseband receiver ICs for TVs and other consumer electronics devices, has raised $10.5 million in series B funding. ( www.xceive.com )

Other News

Artimi announced availability of its single chip Ultra Wideband (UWB) device. The RTMI-100 chip provides an 800Mbps capable UWB solution for applications such as bulk file/data transfer and streaming multimedia. ( www.artimi.com )

BT announced its anticipated Bluephone launch, now officially named Fusion. It will provide consumers with converged fixed/mobile service, starting in September. The BT Fusion acts as a mobile away from home and switches automatically to a BT Broadband line when the user is at home. The phone relies on a BT "home hub" which has Bluetooth wireless technology to switch the handset and also works as a Wi-Fi router. ( www.bt.com/btfusion )

Clickstar, a production company partly owned by actor Morgan Freeman, is forming a new venture, partly backed by Intel, to sell Internet movie downloads. ( www.clickstarinc.com )

The Beijing Times reported that Intel has signed a memorandum of understanding with Shanghai Media Group, a licensed Chinese operator of IPTV services, to cooperate on digital home programming. Intel announced it will also establish a US$200 million venture capital fund to invest in Chinese technology companies developing hardware, software and services. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.smg.sh.cn/english/ )

Metalink Ltd., a provider of broadband communications silicon, has introduced a wireless chipset targeting the IEEE 802.11n standard being developed for next-generation Wi-Fi. It added a highly-integrated baseband chip to its previously-available RF chip supporting MIMO antenna technology. ( www.metalinkbb.com )

Parla.it, a subsidiary of France Telecom, is offering residential VoDSL service in Italy. The service is based on a softswitch from NetCentrex with systems integration by Highdeal. ( www.parla.it )


US Update

The Supreme Court ruled that high-speed Internet over cable is an "information service" not a "telecommunications service" and thus cable companies do not need to provide access to independent providers. Separately, the Supreme Court ruled in the Grokster case that peer-to-peer file-sharing companies can be held liable if they induce copyright infringement to support their business, e.g. through advertising. ( www.supremecourtus.gov )

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new data on US high-speed connections to the Internet. Results showed that during 2004, high-speed lines serving residential, small and larger businesses, and other subscribers increased by 34%, to 37.9 million lines. ADSL lines increased by 45%, to 13.8 million lines and cable modem service increased by 30% to 21.4 million lines. 2.7 million high-speed connections were from other categories, including satellite or terrestrial wireless, fiber or powerline or wireline other than ADSL. ( www.fcc.gov )


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations that you might have missed. This month we feature items on home control, new statistics on broadband and VoIP, and a snapshot of new software that makes video publishing free and easy.


Home control, with a "Z"

Two Nordic countries recently hosted events on home control, which in each case is spelled with a "z". At the Z-Wave Alliance Forum in Copenhagen, a variety of manufacturers displayed 40 new products based on Zensys' Z-Wave technology; the Forum's purpose was to promote and solidify Z-Wave as "the global standard in wireless home control technology". Meanwhile, in Oslo, the ZigBee Alliance, showcased its products at its first European Alliance open house event. ( www.Z-WaveAlliance.com ) ( www.zen-sys.com ) ( www.zigbee.org )


Broadband and VoIP Statistics

Point Topic has published two interesting new analyses:

  • World broadband statistics: Q1 2005 ( www.point-topic.com/content/dslanalysis/World%20Broadband%20Statistics%20Q1%202005.pdf ) shows that total worldwide broadband penetration grew to 164.4 million lines during 1Q05. South Korea remains number 1 in penetration.
  • Retail VOIP more than doubles in 9 months ( www.point-topic.com/content/dslanalysis/voipana050706.htm ) on VoIP subscriber numbers estimates that over 11 million people were using a retail VoIP service for at least some of their telephone calls at the end of March 2005; in mid-2004 they estimated around 5 million. More than half of today's users are located in Japan and Yahoo Softbank provides service to the majority of them. Next come the US cable operators, with around 2.1 million subscribers.

Napster for TV or Good Guys?

About two months ago, the Participatory Culture Foundation published an initial version of Broadcast Machine, which they promote as "software that lets anyone with a website publish full-screen video to thousands at virtually no bandwidth cost. It's free, open source, and designed for easy installation." The software uses BitTorrent technology. The Foundation is a non-profit organization, dedicated to building open-source website and software tools for broader engagement with culture and politics.

Late last month, Google announced that it will be using the open source video player in its video playback browser plugin. This month, the organization plans to release a desktop video player that downloads published videos in the background, using channels based on RSS feeds. In addition, the first BitTorrent client for the Pocket PC has been released by Adisasta.

While BitTorrent technology is already being used to distribute illicit copies of television shows, its authors say they are in no way encouraging people to illegally download material. It will be interesting to watch both the impacts of this software and next steps by legitimate companies to leverage it.

( participatoryculture.org ) ( www.bittorrent.com ) ( www.adisasta.com )


Cable's Bandwidth Smorgasbord: More Speed and More Capacity

“Fast. Faster. Fios. ... breakthrough online speed ... Connection speeds up to 15 Mbps for only $49.95/month” (Verizon Fios website ( www.verizonfios.com ))

“Comcast Delivers New Ultra-Fast Speed Tiers - 8Mbps and 6Mbps”(7/12/05 press release)

All over the world, broadband providers are competing on the basis of speed. Some are deploying super-high-speed broadband systems: some pure "fiber to the home", others hybrid "fiber to the curb" systems combining fiber with DSL. All claim much higher speeds than current US cable and DSL broadband services -- some now approaching or exceeding 100 Mbps and a few at gigabit-per-second (Gbps) speeds.

This talk of ever-higher speeds appeals to potential customers and public policy advocates. As The New York Times put it on the Business page last Sunday (in the lead to an article on exchange-traded funds) “A 128-crayon box of Crayolas does not guarantee a better drawing than the standard eight-crayon version, but any child will tell you that more is better.”

Very few applications can take advantage of these high speeds today. But consumers find security in buying something bigger and better “you never know when you might need it”. And there’s a “virtuous circle”: the more customers sign up for higher speeds, the more applications will take advantage of it and prove the customers right.

More customers are signing up for broadband service, more applications are taking advantage of broadband speeds, more connected devices are installed in each home and more people are using these devices. This creates a multiplicative effect on the demand for broadband network capacity. Customers will be very disappointed if service providers fail to deliver on their “faster, faster” promises.

Thus service providers are working to address two problems: increasing peak speeds to win new customers, and increasing their network capacity to keep their existing customers happy.

Telephone companies are replacing their ancient twisted pair wiring with fiber, some all the way to the home. Will cable operators need to follow the same course?

Choices for Cable Operators

Cable operators around the world have spent the past two decades modernizing and upgrading the physical cable plant; in the US alone, their investments have been about $100 billion. Do they now need to start again with pure fiber, or can they address both problems--peak speeds and capacity—with their existing plant?

Fortunately, the modern "hybrid fiber coax" (HFC) cable infrastructure has a huge potential capacity. More than three years ago, we wrote about some of the ways that MSOs could expand their available bandwidth without a significant rebuild of their plant (see Sources and References ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0505_4.html#link4f ) below). Most of these technologies are now on the market and some MSOs have deployed them for customer use. We received an update on these technologies at the recent NCTA show and have seen further announcements since then.

The End of Analog TV

Most of today’s cable capacity is still devoted to analog television. Over the next few years, analog TV will be phased out and the cable capacity can be redeployed for IP applications.

At hearings currently under way in the US, the end of 2008 is being proposed as the "date certain" for the conversion of all terrestrial broadcasting from analog to digital TV (DTV). Similar discussions are under way in Europe, with 2012 proposed as the end date for analog.

To put this in context, a typical US cable system carries about 80 analog channels. These occupy a large percentage (about two-thirds) of the cable "spectrum"; digital channels occupy the balance.

Digital television is highly compressed. If all 80 analog channels were carried in digital form, they would take the space of about 6 analog channels--leaving 74 analog channels to be redeployed for other digital services. Each digital channel carries 30 to 40 Mbps, so this would provide 2 to 3 Gbps for new digital applications--even more with new technologies.

The impending "end of analog" also provides an opportunity for operators to address the highly-asymmetric nature of HFC and provide more “upstream” bandwidth. Upstream signals occupy about 5% of today's cable spectrum; this could be increased once cable systems no longer have to carry rebroadcast analog television.

Many Alternatives for Increasing Capacity

Once analog TV goes off the air--by the end of this decade, if not earlier--cable operators will recover lots of channels. They will reassign most of the analog TV spectrum to digital services, and rebalance the downstream/upstream symmetry to better match the projected application mix.

But they can't wait that long. They already use digital channels for broadcast digital TV, video on demand, high-speed data and VoIP telephony. Most are deploying high-definition TV, which uses much more capacity for each channel. Some are starting to deploy video telephony and others are offering premium business services. Some have started to simulcast analog and digital channels so they can start deploying digital-only boxes. These all need more bits per second.

Fortunately, operators do not have to wait for the end of analog TV. They can "mix and match" from a smorgasbord of techniques to get more out of the physical cable plant. Their choices fall into four broad categories:

  • Make more efficient use of the channels assigned to digital services
  • Increase peak data rates
  • Extend the operating spectrum of the plant
  • Accelerate the digital transition


Improve the Efficiency of the Digital Spectrum

A significant portion of the cable spectrum is dedicated to digital services. Several techniques make more efficient use of this "digital spectrum":

  • Spatial reuse multiplies the effective carrying capacity of the digital spectrum. Many services--such as VoIP, video on demand and high-speed data--are shared by many homes, with central resources such as CMTS ports assigned to meet expected peak demand. As more homes subscribe to these services, and more homes use them simultaneously, peak loads increase. Operators can add central resources and reduce the number of fiber nodes that share them--thus reusing the same space in the spectrum to serve more homes. When individual resources can no longer support the users in a single fiber node, operators can subdivide nodes into smaller groups of homes.
  • Advanced modulation schemes such as 1024 QAM and Sub-band Division Modulation (SDM) provide higher data rates from existing digital channels. Compared with 64 QAM or 256 QAM modulation used today on digital channels, these provide 40% to 60% higher data rates. These advanced schemes require set-top boxes and cable modems equipped with the advanced schemes, and corresponding head-end equipment. Since they are more sensitive to noise, they require operators to further control noise in their plants.
  • Advanced video compression schemes such as MPEG-4 Part 10/AVC/H.264 and WMV/VC1 promise compression ratios about twice as high as MPEG2 used today. This would double the capacity of digital video channels used for broadcast and on-demand video, and will be especially important as more and more channels are carried in high definition, which requires much higher bit rates than standard definition. These advanced schemes require set-top boxes equipped with appropriate decoders, and corresponding head-end equipment.
  • Switched digital video allocates slots in broadcast video streams only to those video channels viewers have tuned to. By deleting unwatched channels from the broadcast stream, operators can assign less spectrum to broadcast video--or alternatively carry more video channels in the same spectrum.

Increase Peak Data Rates with "Channel Bonding"

The fundamental design of television forces the cable spectrum to be partitioned into fixed channels. In North America and Japan, with NTSC-based television, these are 6 MHz wide. These fixed partitions limit the peak data rate to about 40 Mbps today, perhaps 60 Mbps with advanced modulation schemes. (Europe, with PAL-based TV, uses 8 MHz channels and correspondingly higher peak data rates.)

The push is now on to combine several 6 MHz channels. This "channel bonding" would enable higher peak data rates and more efficient use of the channel capacity. There are two broad ways to do this:

  • Combining several adjacent channels into a single wider channel would permit added efficiency by relaxing the need for a "guard band" between channels. Since existing user devices are only capable of tuning in "traditional" channel widths, this approach would require new user devices capable of tuning the widened channels, and would limit the bonded channels to use by new devices.
  • Using several independent channels simultaneously is not as efficient, but could permit existing and new devices to use the same channels simultaneously. For this reason, it is likely to be the favored approach.

ARRIS recently announced a "FlexPath Wideband" product based on the latter technique. Its initial implementation embeds four cable modem chips in a new Wideband cable modem. Each chip can be tuned to a different upstream and downstream DOCSIS channel. The CMTS multiplexes data across up to four downstream channels, and the modem combines packets sent through the four channels to obtain a single higher-speed data stream. The same technique is used for upstream data. Using DOCSIS 2.0, the modem is capable of bi-directional operation at close to 160 Mbps. Interesting, the new modem requires a 1000Base-T ("gigabit Ethernet") computer interface since the conventional 100Base-T interface would limit the maximum speed to 100 Mbps.

ARRIS says the new modem will work with existing ARRIS CMTS equipment after a software download to support channel bonding, and that several MSOs are already running field trials of the new equipment. The new software supports existing single-channel modems on the same DOCSIS channels, using bonding only for the new wideband modems.

Although the announced product is limited to bonding four channels, ARRIS expects later models to bond up to 32 channels, permitting peak speeds of 1 Gbps.

CableLabs has been working on DOCSIS 3.0, the next generation of cable modem technology. CableLabs recently announced that it has selected the same channel bonding technique as part of DOCSIS 3.0.

Channel bonding gives cable operators "bragging rights" against competitors deploying fiber much deeper in their networks. It is also another technique to improve the efficiency of the network.


Extend the Operating Spectrum

The operating spectrum of cable plants is limited by the highest frequency passed through the optical and electrical portions of the network. In today's cable systems, this is typically 750 or 860 MHz.

Extending the spectrum provides more capacity without disturbing the existing spectrum allocation. There are two broad ways to do this:

  • Extending the upper limit of the downstream spectrum, typically to 1 GHz, opens up additional channels for digital services. 1 GHz technology has been available for a long time, and some cable systems have been built with it. Upgrading an existing system to 1 GHz requires replacing nearly all the electronic equipment, and sometimes replacing part of the outside wiring as well. Most user devices are not capable of tuning above 860 MHz and would have to be replaced.
  • Overlaying "out-of-band" spectrum adds equipment to the existing plant to carry bidirectional services above 860 MHz. Several approaches have been proposed for this--one by Narad Networks based on bi-directional Ethernet, the other by Xtend Networks based on analog block-shifting.

The Narad and Xtend approaches are similar in some ways, different in others. Both operate above the standard upper cable spectrum limit, and install new equipment in the cable plant to support bi-directional communications. Operators can deploy the new equipment selectively to provide specialized services--typically business services competing with telephone companies--and later extend it to cover more of the cable plant.

The approaches differ in their ability to be combined with other emerging cable technologies. The Narad system is specifically based on symmetrical Ethernet—-at either 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps--and is well suited for the delivery of IP services running over Ethernet.

The Xtend system adds more analog spectrum carrying many more 6 MHz channels in each direction, which can then be allocated to any application—-analog or digital video, DOCSIS, video on demand, etc.—-using single or bonded channels.

Cablevision Systems recently announced the completion of a successful trial and targeted deployment of a high-speed data service for business customers in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Using Narad's 100 Mbps technology, Cablevision is offering 50 Mbps committed information rate (CIR) services.

Cox Communications has been using the Xtend technology to support business applications in Pensacola, Florida.


Accelerate the Digital Transition

US homes have an enormous installed base of analog-only TV sets and VCRs, and many have recently-installed digital set-top boxes equipped for today's digital services. Any plan to change the cable plant is constrained by this installed base. The end of analog is coming soon--probably within four years--and most of those devices will still be in customer homes.

To avoid obsoleting customer equipment, operators may choose to offer a digital-to-analog signal converter box for each customer TV. Several companies have projected that such boxes could be in the $35 range at high volume.

Operators could choose to reclaim spectrum by phasing out analog TV before the official cutoff date, providing digital-to-analog converters for customers that want them. Since operators will probably find it necessary to provide these converters in the not-too-distant future, they may choose to accelerate the transition and get a huge gain in digital spectrum for new services. This is much more feasible economically for a relatively small operator, like GCI in Alaska (which has followed this path) than for a huge operator like a Comcast or Time Warner.


Spectrum is like Real Estate

Spectrum is the real estate of the cable industry and the MSOs are the developers of that real estate. Right now, much of the MSO’s real estate is being taken by widely-scattered single-family dwellings (analog TV). And there is some land still not built on (beyond the limit of today’s downstream spectrum).

The good news is that there are lots of perfectly-feasible ways to make better use of the real estate, as the demand for more and different kinds of housing increases (more users, higher bandwidth applications, more devices using the network).

These include:

  • Sub-dividing larger properties to hold more single-family houses (“spatial reuse”);
  • Building apartments (MDUs, flats)—which essentially stack houses on top of one another to increase occupancy (channel bonding);
  • Building on the unused land (extending the upper limit of the downstream spectrum); and
  • Providing incentives to move existing homeowners into new and better homes (transition from analog to digital to free up the old space).

Land developers look at the market needs and competitive situation and decide what mix of housing to build and which land to use. Cable operators have the opportunity to pick and choose the optimal combination of techniques described above to increase plant capacity--both to meet tomorrow's growth needs and to increase peak speeds to satisfy their most demanding customers. By doing this, they can create the technical underpinnings for a powerful marketing message.


Sources and References

We found An Evaluation Of Alternative Technologies For Increasing Network Information Capacity ( www.xtendnetworks.com/pdf/NCTA 05 Paper.pdf ), by Ron Shani of Xtend Networks and David Large, a well-respected cable technology leader, to be very useful in framing the alternatives discussed here. The Shani/Large paper, presented at the recent NCTA show, goes into depth and provides an economic evaluation for each choice.

We have written extensively about the future of the cable plant in this newsletter and other publications. For further reference:

  • In our report on the 2001 Western Cable Show, Cable's Magic Trick: How Bandwidth Keeps Growing (BBHR 12/19/2001) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0112_4.html#link4a ) covered Switched Digital Video (BigBand Networks), Narad Networks, and Sub-band Division Modulation (Rainmaker Technologies, now called Broadband Physics)
  • Our article More Solutions for Expanding Cable Bandwidth (BBHR 7/9/2002) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0206_4.html ) covered Xtend Networks and updated BigBand, Rainmaker and Narad.
  • Our article Broadcom -- Next-Generation Video Compression ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0212_13.html ) described the development of MPEG-4 Part 10/H.264/AVC -- three names for the same next-generation video codec.
  • Our cover article for the April 2003 Communications Technology magazine Planning for the All-Digital Future--The End of Analog Television ( www.ct-magazine.com/archives/ct/0403/0403_digital.html ) described the choices facing cable operators as analog TV comes to an end, including modifying the asymmetry of the cable plant.
  • In our report on the 2004 National Show, Low-cost Digital Set-tops ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0405_8.html#link8d ) described several set-tops priced under $40.
  • Our recent article Toward 100 Mbps ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0503_4.html#link4e ) discussed what we termed the "religious coloration" surrounding 100 Mbps.

( www.arrisi.com ) ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.naradnetworks.com ) ( www.xtendnetworks.com ) ( www.cablevision.com ) ( www.cox.com ) ( www.bigbandnet.com ) ( www.broadbandphysics.com )


"The Dawn of Mass Market Broadband Wireless" -- WCA 2005

The theme for WCA 2005 was "The Dawn of Mass Market Broadband Wireless". Sound impressive? So was the list of companies and speakers vying for recognition in the broadband wireless arena. As expected, the groundswell of support for WiMAX has reached epic proportions. The early WiMAX promoters have products on the market and are preparing for interoperability testing and certification later this year. Even companies with competing broadband wireless technologies have joined the Forum to cast their lots with WiMAX--or at least to hedge their bets.

We began covering wireless broadband access about three years ago. We attended our first WCA show in January 2003 and have now been to four WCA events (all run by the Wireless Communications Association). We have written many articles about wireless broadband (see Sources and References ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0505_5.html#link5h ) below) and have watched the industry focus move from fixed broadband access to encompass mobile wireless as well.

When we first attended a WCA show, much emphasis was placed on technologies providing an alternative to DSL and cable modems for high-speed internet access. While this is still on the front burner, most recognize a fixed wireless solution, intended primarily for people in their homes, is a tough sell against well-entrenched wireline companies who already have substantial penetration. Fixed wireless will play a major role in markets with poor wireline coverage--especially developing countries and lower-density areas of developed countries. Another very major role for standards-based fixed wireless is in providing wireless backhaul; that application remains one of high interest to service providers and businesses.

In most developed countries, the in-home broadband game seems largely over. The main opportunity appears to be outside the home: people used to broadband want it everywhere they go, and don't want to have to connect wires or hunt around for hot spots.

Thus mobile broadband wireless access (MBWA) is an increasingly important focus. Companies with proprietary MBWA products--such as ArrayComm, Navini, Nextnet, IPWireless and Flarion--have shown that wireless service providers can compete by offering something wireline providers can't: broadband operation throughout a metropolitan area blanketed by wireless base stations. Many now believe that the biggest opportunity for WiMAX in developed markets will be as a standards-based mass-market mobile wireless solution.

Korea certainly appears to have reached this conclusion. As we said in our report on the WCA Winter Conference ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_11.html ): "The Koreans are not interested in fixed WiMAX -- they already have the highest household broadband penetration in the world." They see wireless broadband as complementing wireline, have selected 802.16e (the basis for "Mobile WiMAX") and are driving for deployment of WiBro in mid-2006. We have been told that in the natural compromise that happens between making their date versus cutting back on capabilities, Korea has chosen to hold to its date.

It's therefore difficult to make intelligent generic observations and predictions about "WiMAX": like the proverbial story of the blind man and the elephant, it depends on whether you're talking about the tail, the ears or something else. There is a world of difference between WiMAX as applied to point-to-point backhaul, fixed broadband access to the home, and mobile "broadband everywhere" --with varied needs in different geographical areas.

We are focused largely on the growing broadband consumer base in developed countries and the opportunity they represent for mass-market broadband services. While we continue to follow the development of fixed BWA ("fixed WiMAX" or 802.16d/802.16-2004), our greatest interest is in the path toward "mobile WiMAX" (802.16e).


Our Personal Conclusions

We attended many WCA sessions and talked privately with experts willing to share their candid observations. Here's our summary at this point in time:

  • The Korean WiBro thrust has attracted most of the mobile WiMAX attention, since it will be the first place where real equipment will be ordered and deployed in a big way.
  • Driven by their chosen markets and customer priorities, the WiMAX vendor community is split in its priorities. Some are focused on certification for fixed WiMAX. Some are skipping fixed in favor of mobile WiMAX. Many have turned their full attention to WiBro and will return to mobile WiMAX later. Still others are focused on delivering pre-WiMAX products to customers and are in no hurry to complete interoperability testing and certification.
  • WiMAX-certified 802.16-2004 equipment will be available from several vendors before the end of 2005.
  • WiMAX-certified 802.16e equipment will be available in late 2006 or early 2007. The standards and system support for full mobility--especially roaming hand-off between different systems--will probably not be completed until later.
  • Smart antennas will play a major role in allowing 802.16e to satisfy the rate and range requirements that cost-effective mobile broadband requires.
  • Mobile wireless broadband will not stand alone, but will be part of a broader world which includes fixed-mobile convergence. In many markets, wireless will be a complement to, not a substitute for, residential fixed access, especially in the data and video worlds.
  • WiMAX is increasingly seen as underpinning a "wireless triple play" offering. Companies are now actively promoting integration of VoIP. Mobile video is gaining acceptance.
  • Many US players--both private sector and the US federal, state and local governments--are jockeying to get a piece of the 700 MHz spectrum that will be made available after the digital transition.


WiMAX Certification In 2005

The WiMAX certification process is well under way, quite close to the schedule announced a year ago. Many equipment vendors are participating in interoperability tests to make sure their equipment works together; most of these are informal tests to work out the glitches prior to formal testing. Participants are confident that the first wave of formal testing, which has just started in Malaga, Spain at Cetecom, will provide certified products later this year.

We found it helpful to understand the meanings of "conform", "interoperable" and "certified" when talking about WiMAX equipment:

  • "Conform to the WiMAX specification" -- the vendor asserts that they have met the criteria in the WiMAX specs
  • "Interoperable" -- devices have passed formal interoperability tests
  • "WiMAX certified" -- the blessing of the WiMAX Forum after suitable lab tests have established both verified conformance with WiMAX defined protocol implementation and test suites and the interoperability of equipment with other vendor's base stations and subscriber equipment.

One example of internal interoperability tests has recently been completed by Aperto Networks which tested WiMAX silicon from two different chip vendors. Aperto recently unveiled its future WiMAX offering called PacketMAX, which is being readied for compliance testing by the WiMAX Forum's certification facility. Aperto tested its PacketMAX base station (using Fujitsu's WiMAX chip) and its subscriber unit (using Intel's WiMAX chip). Aperto issued an announcement which said that their internal testing showed "interoperability between Fujitsu and Intel silicon".


Navini's Path to 802.16e

In a session "Comparing Strategies for Portability, Mobility & Roaming Networks", Sai Subramanian, VP Product Development and Strategic Marketing at Navini Networks, gave a talk on "The Whats, Whys, and Hows of moving to Mobile WiMAX". We found it interesting and met with him to discuss it further.

Navini is a long-time player in broadband wireless access. They have been shipping a proprietary BWA product for several years and say the Unwired Australia deployment in Sydney is the "largest BWA network in the world."

Navini's core strength is its smart antenna technology, which they say provides three times the usable range compared with "regular WiMAX."

Navini has focused on "broadband everywhere" and does not think fixed WiMAX provides the solution for personal broadband. It is therefore focused on mobile WiMAX and has announced its plans for convergence to certified mobile WiMAX.

Navini's next-generation "dual mode" RipWave-MX base station and CPE support both "pre-WiMAX" and 802.16e. Customers can install these before mobile WiMAX is completed and operate them in the "pre-WiMAX" mode. When 802.16e is completed, service providers can upgrade the software in both the base stations and the CPE to full 802.16e.

Subramanian told us the new base station will support a mixture of "pre-WiMAX," Navini 802.16e and certified mobile WiMAX CPE with the same equipment, antennas and spectrum. Navini cannot say as yet whether the upgraded CPE will be certified to interoperate with base stations from other vendors.

Navini says there are now 50 deployments of its systems with 100,000 modems shipped to customers. BellSouth has run BWA trials with Navini equipment in two Florida cities, and recently announced that it will deploy a BWA service based on Navini equipment in Athens, Georgia, starting this August. The Athens service is targeted to the needs of college students.


Municipal Wireless

While much of the trade-show focus was on commercial WiMAX applications, many sessions focused on government applications, including municipal Wi-Fi.

In the US, there has been a lot of recent controversy about municipal wireless. As cities have started offering broadband wireless services based on Wi-Fi (see The New "Broadband Cities" ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0409_4.html )), several states have recently passed legislation effectively preventing them from doing so, or throwing large roadblocks in their way.

A session "Should City-Funded Wi-Fi Consumer Networks Be Boosted or Banned?" featured speakers on both sides of this issue.

Tom Lenard of the Progress & Freedom Foundation observed that broadband was not like streets and sewers; private providers were already providing broadband services and there was no need for the city to be involved. He said that unless there is compelling evidence of a market failure, provision of such services should come from private enterprise.

On the other side, Dianah Neff, Philadephia's CIO, eloquently expressed the position of her city and many others considering a city-wide launch: "I want to get my community connected and I want to do it now. We have a large number of 'reclamation neighborhoods' which need to gain economic viability and solve the 'digital divide'. ... This must be done with non-taxpayer dollars ... and there are private companies willing to do this in a public/private partnership. Telcos outside the US are partnering with cities; they think it is strange to see the battles going on in the US between telcos and municipal governments."

Much of the panel discussion was on whether muni wireless promotes or thwarts competition. During the Q&A, a member of the audience asked "If it is such a good deal to do this, why wouldn't a private company come in and do it alone?" One of the panelists blurted out: "What small competitor would come in and compete with the incumbent in their own territory. Are you nuts?"


Sprint Nextel

Sprint and Nextel, respectively the third- and fifth-ranked US wireless carriers, announced late in 2004 a plan to join forces. Shareholders have approved the merger and it is expected to close during the third quarter of 2005.

Both companies own substantial portions of 2.5 GHz BRS spectrum and both have previously conducted trials of broadband wireless technologies. Nextel recently completed an extensive trial of Flarion's Flash-OFDM technology in the Raleigh-Durham area (see Nextel Wireless Broadband in Raleigh ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0412_5.html#link5a )). Sprint has participated in broadband wireless standards groups and in January joined the WiMAX Forum as a principal member.

During the WCA show, Sprint and Motorola announced an agreement "to conduct joint wireless broadband technology testing and equipment trials in 2005 and 2006 to help substantiate next-generation wireless network infrastructure requirements and consumer products for future wireless interactive multimedia services." This effort will be based on 802.16e operating at 2.5 GHz.

At the same time, Nextel announced plans to launch a broadband wireless trial in the Washington, DC area. The trial will be based on IPWireless UMTS TD-CDMA technology operating at 2.5 GHz. It will begin in the third quarter of 2005 and will cover Washington and several suburbs including Reston, Virginia -- Nextel's headquarters, and the announced headquarters for the merged Sprint Nextel.


ArrayComm and WiMAX

A year ago, we reported that ArrayComm was exploring the application of its core smart antenna technology to WiMAX at the same time that it was continuing to promote its competitive iBurst technology. (See ArrayComm: Two Tricks in Their Bag ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0406_4.html )).

We were not surprised to see three announcements from ArrayComm. Just before the WCA show, they announced a collaboration with Intel to improve "802.16 System Range, Capacity and Coverage". The two will work together to incorporate requirements into the 802.16 standard to support smart antenna technology. "Intel plans to support ArrayComm’s solution with its future IEEE 802.16e WiMAX client device chipsets. This combination is expected to yield large improvements in overall system range, capacity, and coverage quality for 802.16 networks".

During the show, ArrayComm announced that it has joined the WiMAX Forum. ArrayComm's chairman was quoted as saying "The Forum is essential to the development of the WiMAX market, as smart antennas are essential to the WiMAX business case."

After the show, ArrayComm announced a partnership with POSDATA, one of Korea's largest system integrators, to incorporate ArrayComm's antennas in POSDATA's 802.16e base stations. They said WiBro base stations would be available in late 2005, with mobile WiMAX following later.

We have long believed that smart antenna technology would be critical to achieving the range and performance objectives for mobile broadband, and are glad to see companies like ArrayComm and Navini onboard.


What The User Actually Wants

With all the technology discussion, it was refreshing to hear Mike Seymour of Alcatel devote some time to talking about how WiMAX and other technologies will help satisfy customer needs. Mike summed up what the customer wants as "Always Best Connected" (ABC). The view he shared of "user-centric broadband" encompasses the following characteristics:

  • "I am unique and known"
  • "I have the service I want"
  • "I am free from thinking how to get it"

The words may be as simple as ABC, but vendors and service providers know the road to getting there is far from simple.


Sources and References

We have written extensively about broadband wireless and WCA shows. For further reference, see:

  • Broadband Wireless Access: Ready for Prime Time? ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0301_10.html ) (BBHR 1/21/2003)
  • WCA 2004: Broadband Wireless Gets Some Respect ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0406_3.html ) (BBHR 6/22/2004)
  • WCA Winter Conference--An Update on Mobile WiMAX and WiBro ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_11.html ) (BBHR 1/24/2005)
  • Topical Index: Broadband Access: Wireless ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_access_wireless.html )

( www.wcai.com ) ( www.cetecom.es ) ( www.apertonetworks.com ) ( www.navini.com ) ( www.unwired.com.au ) ( www.phila.gov ) ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.nextel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.arraycomm.com ) ( www.alcatel.com )


Upcoming Conferences

The Connected@Home Conference & Expo 2005 is an international event where discussions and exhibits will address innovative hardware and services that enhance the digital lifestyle of connected consumers. This conference being held October 3-6, 2005 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. It is co-located with the 2005 Fiber-to-the-Home Conference & Expo. Registration is free until August 31. ( www.connectedathome2005.com )


Your Voice -- Readers Comments

We heard from readers commenting on what a difference leaving out the word "million" can make and one of the pats on the back that energizes us to keep writing these newsletters.

Bill Chriss: "You can imagine the chuckle I got when I read your article that says "Cisco is acquiring privately-held Sipura Technology, a consumer VoIP technology company, for $68 in cash and options for Sipura.

Wow! only $68! No wonder Cisco is such a tough competitor :-) "

John Pitt: "Just wanted to drop you a word of thanks: Keep up the EXCELLENT WORK. I find your reports invaluable, there are so many moving parts to this industry and we are all so busy it’s nice to read a report as consolidated as the BBH. Saves me much time… "