BBH Report Home Page
January 31, 2006 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Heard on the Net

Briefly Noted
Updates, Observations and Trends

CES
The Road To Digital Nirvana

802.11n--Next-Generation Wi-Fi Back On Track

Whole Home Networking -
The Start of the End Game


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home

People News

Roy Chestnutt has been named CEO of Grande Communications. Chestnutt was previously with Sprint-Nextel Corp. ( www.grandecom.com )

Dwight W. Decker, Conexant chairman and chief executive officer, has assumed additional responsibilities as President. ( www.conexant.com )

John Garcia has been named president of the Sprint Nextel Joint-Venture project involving Comcast Corp., Time Warner Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Advance/Newhouse Communications for rollout of a jointly-branded wireless service for cable customers. ( www.sprint.com )

Bjorn Krylander was appointed CEO of Cambridge Broadband. Krylander was previously with UbiNetics and the Ericsson Group. ( www.cambridgebroadband.com )

Dirk Meyer has been promoted to President and COO at Advanced Micro Devices ( www.amd.com )

Alex Popoff has joined AMD as manager of a group focused on AMD processor interactions with Windows OS. Popoff was previously with Microsoft. ( www.amd.com )


Company News

Acquisitions

AOL has acquired Truveo, a video search startup, for an undisclosed figure. ( www.corp.aol.com ) ( www.truveo.com )

Motorola has acquired pioneering IPTV set top company Kreatel. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.kreatel.com )

Qualcomm has acquired wireless chip maker Berkana Wireless for approximately $56 million in cash. ( www.qualcomm.com )( www.berkanawireless.com )

Funding

CopperGate Communications has received $14.5 M in funding, including a portion provided by Motorola Ventures. ( www.coppergate.com )

Entropic Communications received $25 million in round C financing, bringing total investment in the company to $78 million. ( www.entropic.com )

Slingbox announced a $46M funding round from investors including Liberty Media and Echostar. ( www.slingbox.com )

Staccato Communications has raised an $18 million Series C round. ( www.staccatocommunications.com )

TeleCIS Wireless has secured $10M in Series C funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $18.7 million. ( www.telecis.com )

Zensys has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Cisco Systems. ( www.zen-sys.com )


Other News

AOL has disclosed plans for building its own DSL infrastructure in the U.K., using rulings that require local loop unbundling. The network will use ADSL2+ technology, and will begin by putting DSLAMs into about 300 U.K. exchanges, covering approximately 20 percent of U.K. households. ( www.aol.com )

BSkyB is launching its Sky by Broadband movie and sports video download service. The service is service is available free to subscribers of the Sky premium movie or sports channels. It is based on peer-to-peer distribution technology from Kontiki. ( www.sky.com ) ( www.skybybroadband.com )

IPWireless announced a solution that allows mobile 3G operators to leverage existing unused unpaired 3G spectrum and cell site infrastructure to capitalize on the demand for mobile TV and other mobile multimedia. TDtv combines the performance of IPWireless' commercial UMTS TD-CDMA solution and the newly defined 3GPP Release 6 Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Standard (MBMS). Operators have committed to pilot the TDtv solution in the first half of 2006. ( www.ipwireless.com )

picoChip and ArrayComm have forged an alliance, whereby ArrayComm’s Network MIMO™ software will be incorporated into the PHY of picoChip’s wireless solution. picoChip will offer this solution as a software option for adding smart antennas and MIMO to their advanced WiMAX base and subscriber station designs. ( www.picochip.com ) ( www.arraycomm.com )

Sequans Communications announced that they will deliver a system-on-a-chip to LG Electronics for supporting upcoming WiBro launches in South Korea and later Mobile WiMAX services. Both Korea Telecom, which plans a WiBro launch in April, and SK Telecom are LG customers. ( www.sequans.com ) ( www.lge.com ) ( www.kt.co.kr ) ( www.sktelecom.com )

Sling Media has launched SlingPlayer Mobile, to allow users to watch and control their TV service from any wirelessly enabled Windows Mobile smartphone or handheld computer. ( www.slingmedia.com )

Terayon announced a restructuring to focus the company’s strategy solely on its digital video applications as a pure-play video business. ( www.terayon.com )

Yahoo announced Yahoo! Go for PCs, mobile phones and TVs, which lets consumers with a Yahoo account access their customized data onto whichever device they carry. For example, Yahoo! Go services allows consumers to take a photo with their camera phone and instantly view it on their computer, television or mobile phone through Yahoo! Photos. The information will be synchronized through whatever data network they may be using, such as Wi-Fi or cellular. ( go.yahoo.com )

Standards and Alliances

The Mobile DTV Alliance was formed by Intel, Modeo (owned by Crown Castle), Motorola, Nokia and Texas Instruments to encourage open standards for TV broadcasts to mobiles, through common support of DVB-H. The Mobile DTV Alliance said more than 10 DVB-H network trials are under way or have been completed. DVB-H bypasses mobile networks and broadcasts directly to millions of handsets simultaneously. It competes with digital audio broadcast (DAB) technology and Qualcomm's MediaFlo technology. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.modeo.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.nokia.com ) ( www.ti.com )

The 802.11n Task group voted unanimously to confirm selection of a joint proposal for high throughput wireless local area networks. This proposal will amend and extend the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN standard to incorporate new technologies for increasing the throughput of wireless local area networks up to 600 Mbps. The draft now moves to a March vote in Denver, followed by letter ballots in the summer. ( www.ieee802.org )

The WiMAX Forum announced the first fixed wireless broadband network products and companies to achieve WiMAX Forum Certification. They include Aperto Networks’ PacketMAX 5000 base station, Redline Communications’ RedMAX AN-100U base station, SEQUANS Communications’ SQN2010 SoC base station solution, and Wavesat’s miniMAX customer premise equipment solution. The first round of WiMAX Forum Certified products were developed according to the WiMAX Forum defined certification profile for 3.5 GHz systems. ( www.wimaxforum.org )


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month we focus on ways for consumers to get free or low cost services.

Consumers Want It for Free: Research from Points North Group and Horowitz Associates showed that consumers are more willing to accept commercials in free downloaded programming than they are to pay $1.99 for a commercial-free episode. The survey of 800 people conducted in November showed that 62% would rather pay nothing and view commercials within episodes downloaded from the Internet. Only 17% said they’d pay $1.99 for such shows without commercials. ( www.pointsnorthgroup.com ) ( www.horowitzassociates.com )

Smart Valley, an initiative of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network (JVSVN), the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority (SAMCAT), and Intel Corporation announced the signing of an agreement to develop a Request for Proposal to design a high-speed wireless data network that will cover all of Silicon Valley. The Smart Valley initiative envisions a broadband canopy covering a 1,500 square mile area. ( www.jointventure.org )


CES: The Road To Digital Nirvana

Our verdict from this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES): we found no revolutionary products. The good news: we saw solid progress in many of the critical areas we highlighted from previous shows, including whole home networking, accommodating video as well as data and voice; and getting entertainment content both around the home and on-the-go.

Here's a summary of some things that grabbed our attention:

  • Whole home entertainment at the applications level--where are we? Over the past few years we have tracked Mediabolic, Digital Deck and DLNA as ways of approaching whole home entertainment. We revisit some companies we've met with before and note the emergence of a new (to consumers) product category called "networked storage."
  • Portable media players and content is now an expanding category. We highlight the new Vongo service from Starz Media Group and some portable media players, both with and without Microsoft's Portable Media Center (PMC) software.
  • Our thoughts on Viiv and Vista: Intel introduced Viiv, the name they have given the "entertainment computer" they have talked about for the last two years. Meanwhile, Microsoft showed the latest version of Vista, the successor to Windows XP. How do they relate and what will they mean?
  • The keynote talk by Larry Page of Google contained a mix of future vision, reprise of achievements, new announcements and a huge dose of entertainment, courtesy of Robin Williams.
  • 802.11n back on track--After some months of confusion, the next generation of Wi-Fi seems headed toward a draft and early products. We cover that in the following article.
  • The End-Game for Whole Home Networking: After tracking powerline, wireless, telephone and coax home networks for many years, we're on the verge of seeing some that really can move HDTV reliably around the home (at least at the physical layer). We've summarized our observations in the last article.

Whole Home Entertainment: Good Things Take Time

We've been told that making a fine wine takes time, good ingredients and skill. The same must be true in creating solutions for whole home entertainment. Many companies are trying to create an easy way for people to interact with and control all the entertainment devices in their home, enabling the devices to be both networked and interoperable. For a really complete solution, we'd like to include legacy home entertainment devices like VCRs--not just the new digital devices.

Just over two years ago, we wrote about several companies and initiatives focused on various aspects of this problem, including DHWG (subsequently renamed DLNA), Digital Deck and Mediabolic. At this year's CES we checked their progress and here's some of what we found.

Digital Deck

Digital Deck, which we visited back in 2003, has hired some new management and has updated their initial approach so that they now align closely with Microsoft and Windows XP. We met with Ted Malone, VP Corporate Strategy and Marketing and Joe Harris, VP Marketing Communications to learn more about what they are doing.

Their system consists of user-installable software for a Windows XP machine, which provides central storage and management for all home media. The other parts of the system are the "Media Connector" which provides access and control for all the devices and media connected to the home media network and the "Media Connector Remote."

The system uses UPnP for auto-discovery and merges all the video content--from cable or satellite boxes, VCRs and DVD players, and PCs--into one unified guide. The Windows XP machine acts as a PVR for any video source, and any video content is visible on any connected PC.

From the description and demonstration, the system sounds even better than it did two years ago, and we're looking forward to trying it out in our own home. Ted Malone provided great support when he was at TiVo, so we're sure that once systems are available, we'll have the opportunity to put the pieces through their paces. Hopefully, it will prove to be worth waiting for!

Digital Network Living Alliance

The Digital Network Living Alliance (DNLA) had their own TechZone at this year's CES. The efforts of this organization are geared to providing consumers with interoperability between devices over the home network, regardless of the vendor, so any content can be used with any electronic device, anywhere in the home. This was the first year that DLNA showed actual certified products at CES.

One of these DLNA certified products was the Mediabolic M1 Reference Server. Mediabolic provides end-to-end software solutions for connected entertainment products, enabling them to share and play back content from other consumer devices, PCs, and the Internet. Their technologies can be embedded in products like televisions, set-top boxes, and network-attached storage devices. Mediabolic announced at CES that its media server software will be integrated into a future release of the Intel Viiv technology platform so that content on an Intel Viiv-based PC can be shared seamlessly with other PCs and devices throughout the home.

One place where we saw Mediabolic server software in action was in Buffalo's new TeraStation Terabyte Home Server, a DLNA-compatible network-attached storage (NAS) device. The NAS category, which is relatively new to the consumer market, had a prominent place at CES. The need for the category is based on the observation that consumers are accumulating personal media files at an incredible pace, and want these music, photo, and video files to be accessible via their data network for browsing and play-back, anywhere in the home--even if their PC is turned off. The TeraStation Home Server includes media server software from Mediabolic that provides centralized media management and distribution to multiple PCs and connected entertainment products on the home network.

It certainly is a brave new world in which consumers have RAID-based file sharing solutions inexpensively available in their homes!

( www.digitaldeck.com ) ( www.dlna.org ) ( www.mediabolic.com ) ( www.melcoinc.com/english )


Portable Content and Video Media Players

One of our major take-aways from last year's CES was the emergence of products offering another dimension of freedom for the user. This category offers the video user "what you want, where you want it". In an article on CES 2005 ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_5.html ) we termed it "video on the go"--"Vidi-Go" for short--and wrote: "We believe it is at the early stages of something that will be as big as PVRs and VOD." A year later, the category is thriving.

We were amused to note that the name of one of the new offerings is also derived from "video on the go". The VONGO offering, from major content aggregator Starz Entertainment Group, is a subscription-based, video download service for broadband subscribers in the US. The service works on any broadband or wireless-enabled device that supports Microsoft's Windows Media Player 10 and Portable Media Center (PMC). In addition to an unlimited download subscription service at $9.99 per month, Vongo offers a la carte pay per view movies for $3.99 per film. The subscriber can associate three authorized devices--including personal computers, laptops and portable media players--with the service.

Vongo solves the content protection issue by using Windows Media 10 DRM. Subscription movies can be transferred to devices running Microsoft's PMC software for viewing and can be played on compatible TVs by using the "video out" capabilities on PMC devices.

A less-than-ideal aspect of this announcement is that only a limited set of portable devices support the PMC technology. Those coming soon, which will have version 2 of PMC, are the Toshiba Gigabeat S Series, the LG PM70 and the Tatung V620. The big name missing from that list is clearly the Apple iPod. The stumbling block to the massive take-off of this portable video media business remains the DRM compatibility issue.

One very cool device which is not Vongo-compatible is the Archos AV 500 Pocket Digital Video Recorder. One could forgive a typical consumer for not understanding that, since Archos is compatible with Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 and PlaysForSure. The Archos device supports multiple file formats, comes with either a 30 or 100 GB hard drive, a 4" 16:9 screen and weighs in at 9 ounces (30 GB model). Each year we seem to gravitate to the Archos display to see whatever appealing new toys Archos is introducing.

We're delighted to see Starz step up to the challenge of legal video downloads and look forward to a time when the industry will (hopefully) solve the resulting DRM compatibility issues.

( www.vongo.com ) ( www.starz.com ) ( www.toshiba.com ) ( www.lge.com ) ( www.tatung.com ) ( www.apple.com ) ( www.archos.com )


Vista, Viiv and Video

We've been following all the buzz about Vista and Viiv and took a closer look at both during CES. Although sometimes spoken of together--and sometimes used together--they are distinct initiatives which appear to be based on somewhat different visions of the digital home.

Intel's Viiv

Viiv is Intel's new brand name for the "living-room PC" it has been planning for the past few years.

Viiv is not just a desktop PC repackaged for the living room. Viiv is designed for the home entertainment experience of tomorrow, with built-in support for high-definition television and 7.1 multi-channel audio. It also requires a very advanced hardware platform that has more in common with a server than a desktop PC, including dual-core 64-bit processor and RAID storage.

At CES, Intel's booth featured a wide variety of Viiv products and promised many would be on the market this year. Those from traditional PC makers mostly looked like PCs, while those from traditional consumer electronics makers looked like home entertainment components. Intel's emphasis in describing Viiv seemed to be on how their technology provides "a highly integrated Intel platform designed for digital entertainment."

At the show, Intel announced a long list of companies--including NBC Universal, DIRECTV, AOL, Turner Broadcasting--that will provide content for the Viiv platform.

Microsoft's Vista

Vista is Microsoft's new brand name for the next generation of Windows, previously code-named Longhorn, which is expected to replace Windows XP later in 2006. More than half a million people have been testing beta releases of Vista, and Microsoft featured the latest beta release at CES. Vista will feature faster searches for data, music, photos and video content; it will have an updated media player for more easily playing back digital content from any of the home's PCs. In addition it adds support for HD video and "CableCard" technology.

We have long been watching Media Center Edition (MCE), the advanced version of Windows XP designed to make a PC part of home entertainment. Media Center PCs really came into their own this year, selling 5.5 million in 2005. Vista will include the newest version of MCE, and Microsoft is expected to continue pricing MCE as a low-cost add-on so PC manufacturers will include it in a large percentage of consumer PCs. New features in MCE will encourage software developers to make more use of video in their applications.

Different Positioning or Divergent Architectural Views?

With Viiv and Vista, Intel and Microsoft seem to be expressing somewhat divergent views on the role of home networking. For Microsoft, the Media Center product line is divided between Media Center PCs (MCPCs) located anywhere in the house and Media Center Extenders (MCXs) located next to and connected to TV sets and audio systems. A home network interconnects the MCPCs and the MCXs. Microsoft's new Xbox 360 is not only a high-powered game machine, it's also a high-power MCX with full support for high-definition video and 7.1 audio.

With Viiv, Intel seems to be promoting a more "all in one" approach. Viiv incorporates all of the MCPC and MCX functions in a single box, and also requires a much more high-powered processor, chip set and storage than Microsoft requires in a MCPC. While Vista and the next version of MCE can be retrofitted to existing PCs, Viiv will require a completely new system.

As long-time believers in distributed architectures and home networking, we're puzzled by Intel's approach. The living room doesn't seem like the ideal place for all this computing horsepower. Many home entertainment centers don't have available space for these new systems. The advanced processors are likely to run hot and require cooling fans -- hardly appropriate while watching TV.

There are obviously strong commercial interests at work here. Microsoft would like to generate revenue from licensing Vista/MCE and Windows CE/MCX on as many separate devices as possible. Intel would love to obsolete all existing home computers so it can sell millions of new chips.

Intel has been promoting home networking for many years. All of its promotion on "the digital home" features devices connected by networks. It is a leading player in DLNA, which is making good progress in working out standardized ways media servers and players can work with each other. It has taken leadership positions in both Wi-Fi and HomePlug, as alternative forms of "no new wires" technologies.

So we wonder why Intel has put its marketing power behind an approach which moves everything to the living room, rather than distributing it around the house. Is it just to sell more chips, or is there something deeper here?


Keynote Focus: Larry Page of Google

For the last three years, we've stood in the press line in order to hear Bill Gates' annual CES talk. We found that it generally set the tone for many of the products Microsoft and others would work toward delivering in the next few years. This year we shifted our "standing in line" time to Google's Larry Page. Perhaps it was a symbolic acknowledgment of what a potent force Google has become on the consumer scene.

Page, wearing a white lab coat to symbolize Google's experimentation and invention, provided a tantalizing mix of future vision, reprise of achievements, new announcements and a huge dose of entertainment.

In the future vision area, several of Page's topics sounded broad enough that they struck this listener as akin to "the search for world peace" -- but perhaps putting a man on the moon once sounded about as grandiose. One of his hot buttons focused on the maze of different connection technologies--including USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth--and how different consumer devices require different connections. He also talked about electrical power and the problem of power adapter clutter. "What we really need are adapters .. standards for security, discovery, peering and forwarding to the internet .. we also needs standards for protocols ,.. audio, video, displays..." Page also talked about the $100 computer project with MIT to make the internet accessible in places it can't currently be afforded.

Google may be a bit "full of itself" but it is hard not to take very seriously an organization which describes its mission as "organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and usable" and seems to be on its way to doing that.

As Page summarized a litany of Google introductions over the past year, it sounded like quite a substantial list. It included Google Talk, Google Earth, Google Local Mobile and several Wi-Fi projects for understanding free services provided through advertiser support.

In the new announcements arena, Page talked about:

  • An expansion of Google Video, a download service that allows anybody to sell videos, as contrasted with the earlier version which searched and uploaded it.
  • Google video store ( video.google.com ), a pay-per-download repository of video programming, including a partnership with CBS for content like CBS TV Classics, NBA games and Charlie Rose shows. It will also accommodate consumer-provided video, where the consumer (content producer) decides how much they want to charge for the material. It uses the new Google Video Player, which allows the user to watch only the parts of a program they want.
  • Google Pack, which bundles some previously-available Google tools (like Google Earth, Google Desktop, Picasa, Google Toolbar) and adds others like Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar and Ad-Aware SE Personal. The software includes Google Updater, which grabs the latest updates and can install everything automatically.

Page explained that many of the new initiatives come out of Google's policy called "20 Percent Time", which encourages employee experimentation by letting them work on their own projects about one day a week.

The entertainment part of the talk started when comedian Robin Williams came onstage in the role of a "Google Brain". Williams provided his usual wit in giving straight-faced and tremendously funny answers to search queries from Page. The audience (including this observer) ate it up.

For our money, waiting in line for the Google talk was the right place to be this year.

( www.google.com )


802.11n--Next-Generation Wi-Fi Back On Track

In Wireless Video Networking - Ruckus, Metalink and EWC ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0507_4.html ) a few months ago, we reported on the formation of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC), and mused on whether this would be good or bad for the resolution of the industry conflicts delaying the draft standard for 802.11n, the next generation of Wi-Fi.

The jury is now in: the IEEE task group is working toward a draft, and EWC appears to have played a role in moving the process back on track. But consumer confusion may be brewing as industry players start positioning "draft" devices before any draft has been agreed to.

At CES, we met with several players in 802.11n, including the leadership of EWC and the Wi-Fi Alliance. In summary, we were told that

  • All the key players in 802.11n, both those included in EWC and those on the outside, had agreed to hammer out a joint proposal prior to the upcoming IEEE meeting, with the expectation that it would be accepted as the basis for a draft proposal. This would presumably put an end to further effort on a separate EWC specification.
  • Many members of EWC had developed chips in compliance with the EWC specifications and were preparing to bring them to market early in 2006.
  • The Wi-Fi Alliance had made it clear that it would not endorse or certify next-generation products other than those based on the 802.11n standard. WFA intends to "fast track" the certification process, with the goal of having the first certified products on the market shortly after completion of the 802.11n specifications.

As expected, at its mid-January meeting IEEE 802.11 task group n voted unanimously to confirm the joint proposal and put it into draft format. This appears to put 802.11n back on track toward a final specification in mid-2007.

Wi-Fi has become a big business, and 802.11n is expected to make it bigger yet. Many companies are trying to position themselves to get a piece of the pie. Each is trying to position its intellectual property as part of 802.11n so it can gain an edge on the competition.

Hammering out the joint proposal for the IEEE vote seems to have included some compromises on which features would be required and which would be optional. There will be many comments and votes between the first draft and the final version of 802.11n, and some early options may become required. WFA may decide to require some remaining options as part of its certification process.

Several members of EWC have announced chips "conforming" with the EWC specifications and implying that they are therefore conforming to a IEEE draft. EWC positioned the IEEE as "accepting" the EWC specification, but we understand the final EWC specification differed in significant ways from earlier drafts. The IEEE has just started to create a draft specification, the first step in a long process of ballots, comments and redrafts.

As consumer products based on these chips come to market, we suspect many will be positioned as "pre n" or "draft n". It seems unlikely that any of these early devices will be capable of complying with the full 802.11n specification. It is also unlikely that these devices will have been tested for interoperability. Devices with identical chips from the same chip maker are likely to interoperate, but different maker's chips probably won't.

As 802.11n drafts move toward the final ballot stages, chip and device vendors will be more confident that devices can be upgraded to final 11n status. At that point they should be willing to guarantee--as some did with "draft 11g" products a few years ago--that they will replace any product that can't be upgraded to comply with the final specification.

This is not to say consumers shouldn't buy these early products--our tests of the Belkin products based on Airgo's early chips suggest the gain in speed and range may well be worth it. But consumers may be unpleasantly surprised if they try to mix and match different products.


Whole Home Networking -- The Start of the End Game

Over the years, we've written many articles about what we term "whole home networking": networks capable of carrying high-quality digital video, audio, telephony and data throughout the home. We have long believed that all existing networking technologies are "under the bar" -- they lack the QoS mechanisms required to support time-critical applications like video and voice, and lack the application-level data rate for high-definition television.

Now, many new technologies are coming to market nearly simultaneously. Some are wireless, while others operate over existing wiring (electrical, telephone or coaxial cables) in the home. These technologies all seem to be "over the bar": all have QoS, and all claim to have high enough data rates to support HDTV.

We think we're at the "start of the end game" for home networking. Far too many technologies are competing for the networked home. By the end of 2007, it's likely to be clear which will win the mass market -- possibly a single technology, more likely a combination of several technologies.


Video Applications and Requirements

Until now, most home networking applications have been data-oriented -- most often, sharing a single internet connection among several PCs in the home. New video applications promise to change the game and add new requirements.

Applications

Many emerging consumer applications require networking technologies capable of moving video around the home. These include:

  • IPTV -- As we discussed in our recent article on TelcoTV ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0509_5.html ), IPTV is growing rapidly as telephone companies around the world seek to compete with traditional video service providers. The TV stream is typically delivered through a "home gateway" incorporating a DSL modem and a router. The challenge is getting the IPTV stream from the gateway to several IPTV settop boxes connected to TVs throughout the house. In another article in the same issue ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0509_7.html ) we described one approach using coaxial cable to carry the video stream.
  • Multi-Room PVR -- A multi-room PVR decodes and records TV programs in one room and permits playback at any TV in the house. These have typically used analog video to carry the video stream over coaxial cable from one TV location to another. In the future, especially as high definition (HD) becomes the dominant TV format, they will need digital technologies.
  • PC to TV -- An increasing number of PCs include software (such as Microsoft's Media Center Edition) that can record TV programs from the Internet or from a cable or satellite connection. The PC screen is hardly the ideal device for watching TV programs, so these applications would benefit from technologies to move the video from the PC to one or more TVs in the home.
  • Set-top box to TV -- Connecting a high-definition digital set-top box and a TV is very confusing. Since there are many ways to make the connections, set-top boxes, TVs and A/V receivers provide many different connections, with complex and confusing instructions. HDMI, the only integrated digital video/audio interconnect, suffers from compatibility problems. Quality cables are very expensive for consumers.

Requirements

These emerging consumer video applications establish key requirements for networking technologies:

  • QoS -- Since video streams are highly time-sensitive ("isochronous"), video applications require quality of service to guarantee that the video applications take priority over other uses of the network;
  • Application data rate -- Video applications require sufficient data rate for one or more simultaneous streams of high-definition television--at 10 to 30 Mbps per compressed video stream (much more if the video is uncompressed);
  • Range -- These video applications must operate over a fairly long distance--perhaps 100 feet point to point, to 100 meters to allow for the circuitous path of existing wiring. Most networking technologies exhibit a "rate/range effect"--data rates go down markedly over longer ranges--and technology advocates tend to talk about maximum ranges and maximum rates without making the rate/range relationship clear. Video applications need a high enough rate at a long enough range to be useful for room-to-room video; and
  • Cost -- Networking technology must be low cost so it can be built into a wide range of consumer devices.

Emerging Technologies

Many emerging technologies are being positioned as candidates to satisfy the requirements for whole home networking. Some are already on the market in low volumes; most others will reach the market within the next year. Each was designed to be carried over a particular medium -- existing wiring (powerline, coaxial cable, phone line, and the air (wireless). Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Phoneline

Phoneline technologies are designed to operate over the existing telephone wiring in the home. Early phoneline technologies--HomePNA 1.1--were adopted by some telephone companies to carry data services between the home gateways and home PCs. The most recent technology--HomePNA 3.0--is targeted to video networking, and several products have come to market designed for this application.

HomePNA 3.0 is designed to operate over wiring that also supports traditional analog telephony and DSL. Telephone companies like HomePNA since they control the telephone wires in the home.

Home phone wiring is often old, and sometimes poorly installed. North American homes typically have phone outlets in many rooms, but rarely located close to TV sets. Outside North America, homes typically have fewer telephone outlets.

Cost reduction is uncertain. Although HomePNA 3.0 is promoted as a standard, it was not developed through an open standards process but rather through an industry consortium. Only one semiconductor company appears committed to the technology.

Powerline

Powerline networking technologies are designed to operate over the existing electrical wiring in the home. We found an earlier powerline technology--HomePlug 1.0--to be quite satisfactory and we use it in our home audio system (see "For More Information" below for links to our earlier articles).

Several powerline technologies are competing for future applications, most notably DS2 and HomePlug AV. Products based on the latest DS2 chips have been adopted by telephone companies for networking between IPTV gateways and set-top boxes. Products based on HomePlug AV should be on the market later in 2006.

Since electrical outlets are ubiquitous in homes, powerline has long been viewed as the ideal "no new wiring" technology for tethered devices -- build the chips into the devices, plug them in, and they're networked.

But the electrical environment in the home is very noisy, and differs from home to home. The path to low cost is not clear. None of the powerline technologies has been developed through an open standards process, although multiple vendors are participating in the HomePlug industry alliance and DS2 is working through ETSI and the IEEE.

In the past, powerline technologies have not been marketed effectively. No major semiconductor companies have produced powerline chips. Intel's recent enthusiasm for powerline networking and its assumption of a leadership position in the HomePlug Alliance is encouraging.

Coaxial Cable

Coaxial cable typically runs between the TV sets in the house, installed by the cable or satellite provider. Several companies have developed and released semiconductor technologies for high-speed networking over coaxial cable, including Entropic Technologies and Coaxsys. Several telephone companies have announced deployments of coax networking to distribute IPTV between the home gateway and IPTV set top boxes.

Since coax is designed to carry multi-channel analog television, it can carry high bandwidth and is comparatively "clean" -- if television looks good, high-speed networking will probably work fine.

Since coax networking is a nearly-ideal solution for video service providers, many companies are competing to provide the technology. In addition to the companies whose technologies were designed for coax, several technologies designed for other media are being adapted for coax; these include DS2 (originally for powerline) and HPNA 3.0 (originally for phoneline and now being repositioned for a mixture of coax and phoneline). We have been told that at CES one flavor of UWB (provided by Pulse~Link) was demonstrated operating over coaxial cable at 320 Mbps.

Cost reduction is questionable. Most coax technologies have been developed by individual companies. While some are being promoted through industry consortia, there are no open standards.

Coax is a good medium for networking between TVs. Since coax rarely appears in other home locations, it is not as useful for other applications.

Over the Air (Wireless)

The next generation of "Wi-Fi"-- 802.11n -- provides both QoS and the data rates required for video; the addition of MIMO suggests that it may also provide the necessary range. After some delays last year, 802.11n appears to be back on track (see our article on CES elsewhere in this issue). "Draft n" products are likely to appear on the market later in 2006, with fully certified products by mid-2007.

802.11n is very promising. Our tests of early MIMO-based products suggest that both the rate and range may well work for video. But the use of wireless over long distances for trouble-free video networking is unproven until real products are tested in real homes.

UWB offers another solution for short-range wireless video. The Wimedia flavor of UWB will appear on the market later this year, and some vendors are talking about using it to connect set top boxes to portable TVs.


The End Game

The simultaneous introduction of all these new technologies is almost certain to engender a great deal of confusion among consumers and the lay press. But we believe that the confusion will die down as the end game becomes clear.

In the late 19th century there were several competing forms of electricity (AC and DC), each with its advocates -- AC won and DC faded out for home use. Cylinders and disks were both used as recording media competing vigorously for the consumer's ear. Everybody remembers the VHS/Betamax war for VCRs during the 1980s.

We don't think the home networking market can sustain so many different approaches, and we believe that video service providers and equipment manufacturers will decide which technologies to back and which to let fade away.

There appear to be several broad scenarios: one is "wireless-only" and several include a wired "backbone".

Wi-Fi has been the big winner so far in "no new wires" home networking, and its leaders expect the new 802.11n "flavor" to play the leading role in the end game. They believe that all forms of wired technologies will play only a small specialized role; 802.11n wireless will dominate and will be built into most home devices, whether tethered or portable.

Powerline advocates see a very different endgame. They believe powerline networking will provide the "home backbone". Powerline chips will be built into all "tethered" devices, which will be networked automatically and effortlessly as soon as they are plugged into an electrical outlet. In their favored scenario, wireless will be used only for specialized portable applications, such as notebook PCs, portable Wi-Fi phones, and portable TVs.

Coax advocates see a different "backbone" scenario. Since they concede that coax is not as ubiquitous as electrical wiring, they see the need for wireless as well. Nevertheless, they see coax networking used as the underlying backbone for video distribution throughout the home--perhaps the most sensitive application--with wireless used to provide connections from coax outlets near TVs to other locations and devices in the home.

There are other possible scenarios as well. UWB enthusiasts think UWB will be used for high-speed communications between high-definition set top boxes and TVs, augmenting or replacing the current analog and digital (DVI or HDMI) cables. HPNA 3.0 enthusiasts think it will be used to extend the backbone network using both phonelines and powerlines.

Until now, consumers have made the key decisions on home networking. Video service providers may play a major role in deciding how the end game plays out. Telephone companies need an easy and reliable way to transport IPTV streams from DSL or fiber gateways to set top boxes. All video service providers are looking at multi-room PVRs, and need a way to get from the central PVR to the set top boxes and/or TV sets. If these companies decide to provide whole home networking as part of their service offerings, their evaluations will determine which technologies to incorporate in their gateways and set top boxes.

By the end of this year, we should know how closely each of the new technologies comes to meeting the requirements for whole home networking. By the end of 2007, the playing out of the end game should start coming into focus.


For More Information

We have written extensively about all of these technologies. For more information,

  • Topical Index: Home Networking ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet.html ) summarizes and links to all of our past articles about each individual technology.
  • In Problem Solving: Audio Networking ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0301_11.html ), we described how we used HomePlug 1.0 in our home audio system. Topical Index: Home Networking: Powerline ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet_powerline.html ) has summaries and links to many other articles on HomePlug, DS2 and other powerline technologies.
  • Moving IPTV Around the Home: An Interview With Coaxsys ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0509_7.html ) discussed one approach to networking over coaxial cable, and several earlier articles including Coax Networking -- An Update on Entropic and MoCA ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_7.html#link7d ) discussed another approach.
  • Our topical index also includes many articles on wireless networking ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet_wireless.html ) and whole-home networking ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_homenet_wholehome.html ), the latter with a special focus on video requirements.