IN THIS ISSUE:
Managing the Triple Play
Raising the Bar
Olivier Coste, senior vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Alcatel's Space activities, has been named President of Alcatel Mobile Broadcast, which will develop the technologies and infrastructure for mobile TV broadcasting. ( www.alcatel.com )
Rick DeGabrielle has been appointed President and CEO of Arroyo Video Solutions. Prior to Arroyo, he was at Catena Networks. ( www.arroyo.tv )
Mark Jeffery has been named Senior Director, Product Marketing at ICTV; he was previously with Terayon. Colin Shave has joined ICTV as VP, European Sales; he was previously with NDS. ( www.ictv.com )
Steve Santamaria is joining Xtend Networks as Senior VP and GM, Commercial Services; he was previously with Charter Communications. In other company moves, Avner Kol has been promoted to COO, and Davidi Gilo , Chairman and CEO of Vyyo, is also assuming CEO duties for Xtend. ( www.xtendnetworks.com ) ( www.vyyo.com )
Glenn Tamaru has been appointed VP Of Operations at Aperto Networks. Tamaru was previously with GoDigital. ( www.apertonet.com )
S.V. Vasudevan (Vasu) recently joined Cisco Systems, responsible for worldwide cable video architectures and solutions. He was previously with BigBand. ( www.cisco.com )
Ericsson is acquiring the majority of the assets of Marconi Corp. plc in a cash deal valued at £1.2 billion ($2.1 billion). Marconi will be renamed "telent plc" and will be Ericsson's preferred services partner in the UK. ( www.ericsson.com ) ( www.marconi.com )
Two big mergers--SBC Communications with AT&T and Verizon Communications with MCI--were recently approved by the FCC. SBC will take the corporate name of AT&T. As a condition of the merger, the FCC is requiring SBC and Verizon to provide "naked" DSL service for two years. ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.att.com ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.mci.com )
Alereon, a fabless semiconductor company developing wireless UWB solutions, closed $20 million in a Series B financing. ( www.alereon.com )
BelAir Networks, a metro Wi-Fi provider, completed a $20 million Series C financing led in part by Comcast Interactive Capital (CIC). CIC has joined the BelAir board to assist in addressing cable and service provider market opportunities. ( www.belairnetworks.com ) ( www.civentures.com )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month we feature interesting telecom happenings in the UK and the ultimate validation of Wi-Fi.
The UK: Speeding up, Mobile TV and A Mobile Phone With My Coke, Please
Announcements in the UK during October indicate that the speed bar is moving up to 8 Mbps. These include:
Meanwhile, Sky and Vodafone are launching the UK's first commercially available mobile TV service. It is called Sky Mobile TV and will have 19 channels, divided between two service packs. One pack will include news, sports and factual content (e.g., National Geographic and the History Channel); the other will focus on entertainment and music. The service is free to all Vodafone 3G customers until January 31, 2006 after which it will add £5 a month per service pack to their bills.
Separately, if you're in Manchester you may do a double take when that red vending machine turns out to dispense mobile phones and not Cokes. The kiosks are targeted to the city's student population and offer pre-pay SIM cards from £5 and a number of different pre-pay handsets, priced from £30 to £50. If successful, the trial may lead to future deployments in airports, train stations and motorway service stations.
It's Official: Wi-Fi Is Real
An article in Telecom Web noted that "Wi-Fi" has made it into the newly released 2005 update of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. If it is in the dictionary, it has really arrived! ( www.telecomweb.com )
When Google finds 11,500,000 English pages from a search, as it does for WiMAX, it's clear the subject is getting lots of attention. If anyone doubted it, the reality was reinforced by both the number of attendees at the recent WiMAX World conference--over 2600--and the level of enthusiasm they showed. Part of this is the WiMAX promotion machine in high gear, part the realization that broadband wireless might well be "The Next Big Thing."
Target: High Mobility/High Bandwidth
In his opening "State of the Industry" talk, conference co-chair Berge Ayvazian of the Yankee Group highlighted the mobile broadband "sweet spot"--both high bandwidth and high mobility. Often depicted as the upper right quadrant in a "speed versus mobility" chart (you've likely seen some version), it is the target most players are aiming at.
In discussing various groups of players on the WiMAX market positioning chart, Berge introduced a new name--"Rabbits"--for those companies who may not have much presence in broadband wireless today, but may be nimble and unpredictable enough to have a major impact. Google could be one of those players. Others going at the "upper right quadrant target" include municipalities, innovative challengers like Clearwire and some of today's established mobile operators.
A Piece of the Puzzle
Conference attendees who were not that familiar with WiMAX probably took away the message that "WiMAX is great and will be the next big thing". Those with deeper background may have heard the more nuanced message Berge and others tried to share: there are multiple solutions for broadband wireless and to a large extent they can be complementary and not competitive. Wi-Fi, WiMAX and 3G can all become part of an overall architecture and "the deficiencies of one are the advantages of another". One speaker characterized the approach as "always best connected" as have others before.
Beyond those possibilities for broadband wireless, we were reminded that WiMAX is not the only technology aiming at the "sweet spot". Companies like Qualcomm (which recently bought Flarion) and IPWireless with UMTS TDD have other solutions which have gained adoptions and are possible alternatives to WiMAX. Since this was a WiMAX conference, it was no surprise that conference speakers thought WiMAX would be one of the winning solutions if not the only possible solution.
Indeed, several speakers appeared to use "WiMAX" as a generic term for mobile broadband in the same way "kleenex" is often used as a generic term for "tissue." Many companies used to describe their technologies as "pre-WiMAX". We prefer to assume good intentions and credit them for carelessly dropping the "pre". A less kind interpretation is that some are trying to make their product sound like something it is not.
No Monopoly on Clever Techniques
In a session on the "Evolution of Mobile Wireless Broadband" Peter Rysavy pointed out that WiMAX has no monopoly on the use of clever techniques for increasing rate and range. Techniques like higher order modulation, adaptive coding, MIMO, smart antennas, channel equalization and "receive diversity", which are being incorporated into mobile WiMax, are equally applicable to evolved 3G.
One industry insider told us about a recent phone discussion about "3GPP LTE TDD". He later realized how bizarre that long string of alphabet soup terminology would sound to others, while neither he or his caller blinked in saying that phrase. (Translation: 3rd Generation Partnership Project, Long Term Evolution, Time Division Duplex.)
Which WiMAX? Fixed and Mobile
While many people talk about "WiMAX" as a single thing, there are really two distinct "flavors"--Fixed WiMAX and Mobile WiMAX--each with a distinct value proposition and in different stages of development. Fixed WiMAX is an alternative to DSL and cable modems, and is viewed by many as most appropriate for countries and markets with a weak wired infrastructure. Mobile WiMAX is often viewed as complementary to wired broadband, adding mobility for people away from work and home.
Fixed WiMAX is further along. It is based on the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard (also known as 802.16d). Several companies have produced chipsets, pre-certification products are on the market and some have been deployed. The first wave of interoperability certification is winding down and certified products are expected by year end. Vendors have just completed a plugfest in Beijing and should be ready for commercial rollouts by the start of 2006.
Mobile WiMAX is based on the later 802.16e standard, which is expecting ratification and formal publication by yearend. Chips and products are being developed, but commercial certified equipment will probably not be available until 2007 and may not reach volume production until 2008.
When we talk about certification, it is easy to believe that equipment is either certified or not. As Monica Paolini of Senza Fili Consulting pointed out in a paper distributed at the conference, "the reality is more complex. A product may be certified for only some of the functionality it supports." As an example, she points out that "WiMAX products certified in the first wave will not be certified for QoS." The bottom line is that the WiMAX Forum "is defining different system and certification profiles for classes of products that interoperate with each other..." Subsequent certification waves will include additional functionality.
Some vendors have consciously decided to skip certification for Fixed WiMAX and to put all of their development efforts into Mobile WiMAX products; Alcatel and Motorola are two examples.
Sophisticated Ecosystem Developing
One key to the success of a new technology is the development of a industry "ecosystem": a network of specialist companies developing expertise in complementary segments. A major goal of the WiMAX Forum was to develop a complete ecosystem for wireless broadband access, with specialist companies focused on driving down costs. One benefit of the high expectations around WiMAX is that this ecosystem is becoming highly developed.
Integrated Circuits--RF and Baseband
Many companies are developing WiMAX chipsets. Most specialize in the digital "baseband" portion of the standard, implementing the physical (PHY) and Media Access Control (MAC) layers. Fewer companies participate in the linear "RF" portion, which connects to the antenna(s) on one side and to the digital portion on the other. (The picture shows a Wavesat Wireless mini-PCI card. The RF portion is on the left and the baseband on the right; RF occupies more than half of the card space.)
To learn more about the RF portion, we met with Charles Harper (Executive Chairman) and Matt Pope (VP Sales and Marketing) of Sierra Monolithics. Sierra specializes in "RFICs" -- integrated circuit chips for RF (other players in this segment include RF Magic, SiGe Semiconductor and TI). Sierra supplies its Fixed WiMAX RFICs to many WiMAX vendors.
We asked where the dividing line falls between the RF and baseband chips, and Matt told us the interface is now analog--the conversion between analog and digital is on the baseband chips. He said baseband chip vendors would like to move the analog/digital conversion into the RF chip so their chips would be entirely digital--this would simplify their chip design and could improve system performance by better isolating noise. Since Sierra already makes other chips with integrated A/D and D/A conversion, he expects the next generation of Sierra WiMAX chips will include this too.
Because baseband chips are at the heart of WiMAX development, we spent considerable time meeting with WaveSat Wireless, Sequans, PicoChip and TeleCIS. The first three showed fixed WiMAX chipsets and reference designs at the show.
Frank Draper of Wavesat showed us a "dual radio" WiMAX/Wi-Fi access point based on their new Fixed WiMAX reference design. It includes two mini-PCI cards--one Wi-Fi and one WiMAX (WiMAX is the larger of the two cards in the picture). Frank said the Wi-Fi channel would be used to communicate with users and the WiMAX channel initially for backhaul -- but later as more users had WiMAX built into their PCs, the WiMAX channel could also be used for user communications.
Rupert Barnes, VP of Marketing at PicoChip, showed us their Fixed WiMAX reference design. Unlike most other chip companies, PicoChip specializes in software-based radios. Rupert said this board will support Fixed WiMAX today, and can be re-programmed to support Mobile WiMAX when needed later.
We talked with Dave Sumi of TeleCIS about the recent announcement of an agreement between ArrayComm and TeleCIS--another example of the cooperative relationships that are growing out of individual vendor areas of expertise. ArrayComm has extensive experience in smart antenna technology (and previously announced a similar arrangement with Intel). TeleCIS develops multi-protocol BWA chips. The joint development agreement will leverage each company’s expertise to create products for Mobile WiMAX.
Then There’s WiBro
In a conference presentation, Dr. Joseph Ko of Korea Telecom discussed the status of the WiBro project. To clarify misunderstandings about the relationship between WiBro and WiMAX, he said "WiBro is the Korean version of mobile WiMAX" and is based on the same 802.16e standard. KT is working with Samsung Electronics; Samsung recently introduced a WiBro phone which will be part of KT's demonstration of the technology at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation IT summit and exhibition in Pusan, Korea. KT's demonstration will include numerous WiBro base stations and repeaters, and will show mobile hand-off capabilities. The carrier plans to launch commercial WiBro service in Seoul by April, 2006.
Although WiBro is intended for Korea, Samsung announced in September that it had agreed to test Wibro systems and devices jointly with Sprint-Nextel and provide a pilot service to carry out field tests and compatibility with Sprint data networks. Intel and Nortel also have an agreement for Korean cooperation--this one with LG Electronics on WiMAX-WiBro compatibility.
When Will We See Mobile WiMAX?
Fixed WiMAX is moving along quickly, and in 2006 we will see many deployments based on certified products. Mobile WiMAX is a different story. Although the standard is complete and will be published by yearend, the path to deployment is rather hazy.
The key issue is the profiles. A "profile" defines one specific implementation of a complex standard: what frequency bands are used, the channelization of those bands, the forms of modulation, etc. Interoperability certification is for a specific profile, not for the standard itself.
Unlike other IEEE standards, the Fixed WiMAX 802.16-2004 standard included a set of profiles. The new 802.16e standard does not include any profiles. This is a cause of great concern to some key members of the WiMAX technical community.
From discussions with many WiMAX insiders, we understand an intensive debate is under way about the appropriate profiles for Mobile WiMAX; one said he'd heard more then twenty profiles were under consideration. This is not taking place in the open through the IEEE standards process, but rather behind closed doors at the WiMAX Forum.
We also heard from many vendors that Mobile WiMAX and Fixed WiMAX are incompatible--base stations and client devices will only support one or the other. This is quite distressing and goes against the original plan for Mobile WiMAX. Several said some service providers felt they could come to market more quickly with profiles based partly on elements of Fixed WiMAX that don't appear in the Mobile WiMAX standard.
Why is this important? Having a different Fixed WiMAX profile in different places is not a serious problem--customers will typically use such a service in one building or in several places in one city.
But Mobile WiMAX is different -- by definition, customers are carrying devices around from city to city and from country to country. They would reasonably expect to be able to buy mobile devices that will work wherever to choose to go. We're hopeful the smart folks involved in WiMAX will find a way to fulfill this promise.
All this suggests that the development and certification schedules we heard for Mobile WiMAX were probably overly optimistic. While some say we'll see certified products by the end of 2006, we believe 2007 is more likely.
Although some conference speakers delivered the usual WiMAX hype, we heard reality creeping in with more nuanced discussions about the role of WiMAX. Our takeaways were:
For More Information
( www.google.com ) ( www.wimaxworld.com ) ( www.yankeegroup.com ) ( www.clearwire.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( www.flarion.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.rysavy.com ) ( www.senza-fili.com ) ( www.alcatel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.wavesat.com ) ( www.monolithics.com ) ( www.rfmagic.com ) ( www.sige.com ) ( www.ti.com ) ( www.sequans.com ) ( www.picochip.com ) ( www.telecis.com ) ( www.arraycomm.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.kt.co.kr/kthome/eng/index.jsp ) ( www.samsung.com )
Telephone companies worldwide are deploying the "triple play": voice, data and video services for the home. As they move to IPTV, they need to manage many types of devices in the home--residential gateways and set-top boxes today, more tomorrow. Some are starting to deploy standards-based systems to support consumer networks.
Over the past few years, the DSL Forum has released a series of specifications for many elements of advanced broadband networks--we covered some of those last year in DSL Forum -- New Specs to Beat Cable ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0409_5.html ) (BBHR 9/15/2004). At the time, we asked how quickly telcos would embrace a standards-based approach.
A few weeks ago, we heard that BellSouth had licensed the NBBS server software platform from Netopia to manage its broadband CPE. To learn more about how telcos will manage the triple play, we set up a phone call with Netopia's Jeff Porter (VP of product marketing) and Jim Holden (CTO).
Netopia is one of several companies providing both residential gateways and central servers conforming with the DSL Forum's TR-069 specification, which creates a framework for centralized provisioning and management of consumer CPE. Netopia is using this framework to build a growing suite of management applications to improve operational efficiency and add revenue for service providers.
Managing the Network With TR-069
As we discussed in our earlier article, DSL Forum specification TR-068: Dual Port ADSL Router (DSL Gateway) ( www.dslforum.org/aboutdsl/Technical_Reports/TR-068v2.doc ) (recently updated to version 2) defines a residential gateway device "down to the location, labeling and color of the front panel lights and the color of the ports on the rear."
A complementary specification TR-069: CPE WAN Management Protocol ( www.dslforum.org/aboutdsl/Technical_Reports/TR-069.doc ) (May 2004) defines the protocols for communications between a centralized Auto-Configuration Server (ACS) and the home CPE. It also defines both required and optional parameters for the residential gateway, and provides for extension to other devices in the home.
TR-069 does not specify how the server uses these parameters to automate configuration and management of the CPE. Individual vendors can create ACS applications on top of the specification, with the assurance that different vendor's CPE will respond in the same way.
Reducing Costs, Increasing Revenue
The Netopia Broadband Server (NBBS) is an example of a TR-069-compliant ACS. Its core is the Broadband Server Platform; around the core, Netopia provides a growing suite of applications for broadband service providers.
Three of these applications help broadband service providers control their operating expenses:
Three more applications are designed to increase service provider revenue:
Jeff and Jim told us that "EMS and Zero Touch are completely agnostic to CPE", supporting other vendor's equipment as well as Netopia's. The other applications require "an agent on the gateway" and they said Netopia would license their agent for use in other vendor's equipment.
They said the Hot Spot application has a "venue centric view"--it's intended for individual venues, not for Metro Wi-Fi. Netopia sees hot spots as a "venue amenity" rather than a revenue generator. As an example, a restaurant pays a monthly fee to a service provider and can decide whether to provide the hot spot for free "or only for customers who buy two pizzas."
VoIP Devices, Settop Boxes and Smart Refrigerators
Residential gateways already support a wide variety of networking technologies: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, existing phonelines, power lines and coaxial cable. Many devices will connect to these networks: PCs, game consoles and digital set-top boxes today, VoIP devices and many more tomorrow. The service provider needs to support these devices -- certainly those it provides and possibly also those purchased by the end user.
TR-069 provides a standards-based approach for remote device management. In September, DSL Forum released several further specifications based on TR-069, including TR-104 Provisioning Parameters for VoIP CPE ( www.dslforum.org/aboutdsl/Technical_Reports/TR-104.doc ) for networked VoIP devices in the home. IPTV set-top boxes will use TR-069.
Netopia said TR-069 could be extended to other devices in the home without adding much cost. "TR069 puts remote device management out into devices connected behind the gateway. We could put a a 10K chip into a smart Amana refrigerator" so the service provider could manage it remotely.
Moving the Telcos "Maginot Line" Inside the Home
TR-069 makes it possible for service providers like BellSouth to assume an important role in supporting customer CPE, which they are de facto doing anyway. Taking it on formally could result in new revenue and/or reduced expense.
In the old telco mentality, there was a firm demarcation point and anything beyond it was the customer's responsibility. In today's world, when a customer calls to report a DSL problem, it may in fact really be a failure in the customer-provided hardware or software. With TR-069 in place throughout the home network, the service provider will have tools to isolate the fault and also the capability to download or reset parameters in the associated software.
It's one thing to write specifications, quite another to prove interoperability between products from different vendors. CableLabs long ago recognized that it would have to provide the testing and certification of devices built to its published specifications, and has done so very successfully for the cable industry. Although DSL Forum does not have a charter to provide certification, it does sponsor interoperability events.
Last month, seventeen vendors participated in the first DSL Forum TR-069 Interoperability Test Event, held at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab. Participants conducted a "plugfest" connecting together a wide variety of ACS servers, gateways, routers and VoIP devices. Short of formal certification testing, this is a time-honored way to shake out the bugs between various vendor's interpretations of specs. The many participants--including equipment vendors (2Wire, Alcatel, Cisco, Netgear, Netopia) and chip companies (Broadcom, Conexant, TI)--indicate that TR-069 is catching on fast.
For More Information
Way back in the early 2000s, every service provider was after the triple play. But Internet time moves fast, and once again the bar has been raised. After months of speculation as to what would come out of the cable companies' quest to add wireless services to their bundle, the other shoe dropped. On November 2nd, Sprint Nextel, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications announced they will form a joint venture "that will accelerate the convergence of video entertainment, wireline and wireless data and communications products and services to the approximately 41 million customers currently served by four of the country's largest cable companies as well as to Sprint's nearly 46 million wireless subscribers."
This is the next salvo in the intense competition between telephone companies like Verizon and SBC and cable operators like those in this JV. With cable operators all actively offering telephone service, the race is on to see how well the telcos will deliver video services and how fast and cohesively cable operators can mesh wireless services into the fabric of their business and their offerings. The customer is the one who should benefit and who will vote with their dollars on who wins.
The venture has high aspirations. The goal is not simply to "staple wireless onto the triple play" but instead to create truly converged services. The initial $200 million funding for the JV (half from Sprint and half from the cable companies) will be used to specify next generation wireless phones, provide the integrated cable and wireless services that run on them, and the back office functions that support them.
"Customers using the converged services will be able to seamlessly interface between email, home and mobile voicemail, Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) and photo programs" letting customers do things such as remotely programming their home DVRs from their mobile phone, having a single voice mailbox for both home and away, accessing unique video content and having email on their mobiles that uses their cable high-speed Internet account.
During the media introduction and demo, Time Warner Chairman Glenn Britt pointed out that cable is fundamentally a local business. Britt expects other cable companies will likely join this cooperative venture and eventually create a national quilt that covers the US with converged services.
However, this does not mean one umbrella organization will create and price services across all the companies. The JV will create a platform and a common look and feel across the wireless components of the service, but each cable company has its own specific services, prices and relationship with Sprint (in addition to the combined relationship). "In each market, the price of the integrated offering will be agreed to by Sprint and the cable company serving that market. Each cable company will be responsible for billing customers and for customer service in its territory for the converged offering."
Given the difficult history of the cable companies in creating @Home as a centralized, separate organization that was in the center of delivering high speed cable data services, we read the statements as saying "we've learned our lessons and aren't repeating our mistakes."
What Sprint Nextel gets out of the deal is access to the extensive network of last-mile facilities. According to Sprint President and CEO, Gary Forsee, "Our cable partners will look to us for long distance and voice over IP and we will look to them first for local access services." Sprint will keep the wireless revenue while cable operators will receive the revenue from the voice, video and data services they offer to customers.
While the JV is a vote of support for Sprint's current Power Vision EV-DO platform, the announcement made clear that the five companies have agreed to work together to explore potential next generation wireless technology business plans, potentially using Sprint's 2.5 GHz spectrum. WiMAX could play a big role. Sprint is a principal member of the WiMAX Forum and is on its board. Sprint has announced various joint efforts involving WiMAX with Intel, Motorola and Samsung and has been publicly supportive of WiMAX, in statements like the following by VP Oliver Valente: "...WiMAX is complementary to Sprint’s high-speed communications portfolio, and we are looking at WiMAX solutions for a number of future applications.”
But WiMAX is hardly a slam dunk. Last year, Nextel conducted a trial with Flarion. Before the merger, it announced an upcoming trial with IPWireless and Sprint Nextel just joined the UMTS TDD Alliance which backs the IPWireless technology.
Whatever Sprint Nextel does will have a large impact on the US broadband wireless industry. Sprint undoubtedly has lots of vendors holding their breath until decisions are made as to what technology will be deployed to take advantage of their 2.5 GHZ spectrum.
( www.sprint.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.timewarnercable.com ) ( www.cox.com ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.flarion.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.umtstdd.org )
Post script: Just as we were going to press, we read a Wall Street Journal article indicating that Yahoo is planning to introduce a cellphone sold through a partnership with SBC Communications. The report indicates that the phone will take a step toward linking mobile music, photos and email with consumers' existing online accounts, address books and preferences. It will operate over the Cingular Wireless Network, which is co-owned by SBC and BellSouth.
Everyone is working to integrate services on the mobile phone: the "third screen".
If IPTV and entertainment are on your radar screen, the coming month will be a good time to immerse yourself in IPTV plus the content, services and home products that will be finding their way into more and more living rooms. One conference starts later this week and two more sound interesting to us.
We are on our way to Telco TV in San Diego and will report on some of what we see there in next month's issue. Please look us up if you're there. ( www.shorecliffcommunications.com/telcotv05/ )
IPTV Asia Forum
If you're interested in IPTV and can be in Hong Kong toward the end of November, put IPTV Asia Forum on your calendar for November 28-29. You'll hear about the current state of the Asian IPTV market as well as business opportunities, technologies and products. ( www.iptv-asia.net )
Digital Living Room
Digital Living Room appropriately calls itself the place where Silicon Valley and Hollywood intersect. If you are following the technologies and services that are transforming the living room into a digital hub, set aside December 5-6, 2005 in Foster City for this event. ( www.digitallivingroom.com )