In This Issue
Targeting The Mobile Internet
Media Networking 4 -
Media Networking 5 -
UWB Outlook -
Simon Beresford-Wylie has been named as the CEO of the new Nokia Siemens Networks joint venture, and Mika Vehviläinen will serve as its COO. Karl-Christoph Caselitz will serve as the JV’s chief market operations officer and will manage the Services business unit. ( www.nokia.com ) ( www.siemens.com )
David Messina has been appointed VP of Marketing and Product Management at Jungo. He was previously with CoSine Communications. ( www.jungo.com )
John Roese has been selected as CTO for Nortel Networks Ltd. He was previously with Broadcom. ( www.nortel.com )
Alice Weng was appointed Regional Sales Executive for Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam at Cambridge Broadband. She was previously with Comtrend in Taiwan. ( www.cambridgebroadband.com )
Motorola is buying Clearwire's NextNet Wireless subsidiary for an undisclosed amount. The purchase happens in the context of Motorola and Intel's recent investment in Clearwire. ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.nextnetwireless.com )
Akimbo Systems, an on-demand video software company, has raised a $15.5 million Series C round of funding, including investments from Cisco and AT&T. ( www.akimbo.com )
BridgeCo, a creator of digital media player platforms, raised $23 million in Series D funding. ( www.bridgeco.com )
CinemaNow, an on-demand online movie provider, received $20.3 million in a fifth round of funding. ( www.cinemanow.com )
Clearwire, a broadband wireless service provider, has received $900 million in funding, with $600 million from Intel Capital and the balance from Motorola and Motorola Ventures. ( www.clearwire.com )
InSilica, a supplier of high-value high-volume ASIC and standard system-on-chip solutions, announced closure of $18 million in new financing, including an investment from Intel Capital. ( www.insilica.com )
MobiTV, a provider of TV and digital radio services for wireless broadband devices, raised $70 million in Series C financing. ( www.mobitv.com )
Navini, a provider of portable broadband wireless network solutions, secured an additional $17.5 million in funding from current investors including Intel Capital. ( www.navini.com )
Nomad Holdings, a U.K. company that provides networks for wireless broadband connectivity on trains, raised a Series A round of £8 million. ( www.nomadrail.com )
PulseWave RF, a fabless semiconductor company providing modules for the wireless infrastructure market, has raised a $30 million Series C round of funding. ( www.pulsewaverf.com )
RGB Networks Inc., a supplier of advanced video processing products, has closed a $20 million Series C round of financing. ( www.rgbmedia.net )
SkyPilot Networks a provider of broadband wireless mesh networks, closed a $21 million Series B round of funding. ( www.skypilot.com )
BSkyB launched its broadband service and unveiled plans to invest £400 million over three years to develop it. The service will offer several packages, including "Base" (2 Mb/s with 2Gb monthly usage free to all Sky TV customers after a one-time £40 activation fee and £50 installation fee); "Mid" (£5/month for 8 Mb/s downloads and 40 Gb usage); and "Max" (£10/month, up to 16 Mb/s, unlimited downloads and free installation). All include a Netgear wireless router and a one year free subscription to McAfee Internet Security. ( www.sky.com )
Gotoit Media, whose technology specialty is video search, has introduced its own Web site to provide online videos in categories such as music, news, sports and entertainment. ( www.gotuit.com )
picoChip announced a partnership with Korea Telecom to develop WiBro/WiMAX access points, or femtocells, to extend WiBro service into residential and corporate environments without requiring UMA-enabled handsets. ( www.picochip.com ) ( www.kt.co.kr/kthome/eng/index.jsp )
Microsoft and Nortel announced a four-year strategic alliance named the Innovative Communications Alliance that would link their respective software and communications technologies into a unified communications platform. The companies will form joint teams to collaborate on product development and will cross-license intellectual property. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.nortel.com )
Narad Networks has announced a switch product line capable of delivering dedicated, 100 Mbps service simultaneously to every home on a cable operator's network. They also announced the granting of two U.S. patents covering switched Ethernet over HFC. ( www.naradnetworks.com )
ntl:Telewest announced that it will offer free TV to any new fixed-line phone customer. The company also announced that it is launching its ‘quad-play’ package of TV, broadband, fixed line and mobile phone services. Both offers will be launched this quarter. The company indicates that the free TV service will be "superior to Freeview, enabling all subscribers access to advanced next generation services like video-on-demand." ( www.ntl.com )
SanDisk and Skype jointly announced that Skype software will be pre-loaded on SanDisk's Cruzer Micro and Cruzer Titanium lines of flash memory sticks. Users can then plug the stick into any PC and run Skype software directly off the SanDisk devices. Separately, Skype Technologies announced four Wi-Fi phones from Belkin, Edge-Core, Netgear and SMC which will be loaded with Skype software and enable users to make Skype calls on any Wi-Fi network. ( www.sandisk.com ) ( www.skype.com )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs look on the lighter side at technology with attitude and messages from your washing machine.
It's easy to get jaundiced after you read the hundredth announcement of some new whiz bang technology. That's why a recent announcement from Ruckus Wireless grabbed our attention. The subject was "Ruckus Wireless Announces 15 New U.S. Rural Telcos....". The Web link led to the headline Why IPTV is Nowheresville in the U.S., accompanied by a picture of a farmer holding a pitchfork--which turns into an Ethernet plug. Rather than using technical terms, the explanation focuses on simple bullet points like "the crappy copper problem". There's lots more, so you may want to check out the Ruckus blog. ( www.ruckuswireless.com )
You've Got A Message...From Your Washing Machine
The Internet Home Alliance--now part of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA)--has started a new study to see how technology can ease the chore of doing laundry. The study, called Laundry Time, is built around a "connected laundry solution" that links a washer and dryer to a home network and sends text messages about the laundry's progress to a computer, TV and/or cell phone. It includes products, services and intelligence from Whirlpool Corporation, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Panasonic and Procter & Gamble and is focused on "ways to make it easier for people to manage the (laundry) process remotely or while doing other things around the home." Perhaps we lack imagination, but we're not sure that we would be thrilled to get an IM from our washing machine saying "I'm done". ( www.caba.org/iha/ )
When big companies and serious money keep arriving on the scene, something real is happening. It will take a few years, but WiMAX and other broadband wireless products are making steady progress toward enabling the goal of "broadband anywhere".
This article will explore some of our observations from attending this year's Wireless Communications Association conference, June 27-30, 2006 in Washington, D.C.
Big Companies With Big Pocketbooks Are Playing An Increasing Role
WCA used to be a show with many lower-tier service providers and vendors. This year, big players such as Intel, Motorola, BellSouth, Sprint-Nextel, Nokia, Alcatel, Fujitsu, Samsung, KT, AT&T, and Cisco had the spotlight.
Intel's Vision: "Broadband in Your Pocket"
In a keynote speech, Scott Richardson, General Manager of the Service Provider Group at Intel, presented an update of his company's plans for WiMAX. It is hardly a secret that Intel has been a key promoter of broadband wireless using WiMAX. Scott made clear that "WiMAX is the foundation of 4G at Intel." That said, he expects that in any market, there will be three "on-ramps": Wi-Fi, WiMAX and WANs built around 3G.
Intel introduced the long-expected Rosedale 2 technology, which supports both fixed and mobile WiMAX and is pin compatible with Rosedale 1. Scott sees mobile WiMAX as being on track for certification at the end of 2006. The progression path will be Wi-Fi and WiMAX first integrated into PC cards, with volume and high integration in 2008.
Intel's vision for where this is all going is summed up by the phrase "broadband in your pocket." They believe that the Internet of today will drive the mobile Internet of tomorrow. As evidence of the pervasiveness of today's Internet, Scott pointed to the fact that PayPal already has >90 million accounts--more than American Express; there have been 287 million Skype downloads and video is now 60% of all peer-to-peer traffic.
Scott described Intel's goal as "$30/$30": a multi-megabit service which costs $30/month and has a 90% attach rate at $30 for the device. WiMAX will be embedded in laptops, providing one source of zero (incremental) cost for the user equipment.
While technology is an important factor, the major question that Scott sees as still needing to be answered is "how will carriers make money on WiMAX networks?" In his mind, developing a working business model and distribution mechanisms are critical for the success of the WiMAX market.
Intel and Motorola Invest in Clearwire
The week following WCA, Intel and Motorola announced that they are investing $900 million in broadband wireless provider Clearwire, for an undisclosed stake in the company.
Intel's investment is $600 million, with the balance from Motorola, which is also buying Clearwire's wireless hardware subsidiary NextNet Wireless for an undisclosed amount.
Clearwire was founded by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw, and has significant spectrum holdings he has gathered in many markets. Clearwire's deployments to date have been based on NextNet's proprietary technology. Although NextNet characterizes its technology as "pre-WiMAX", it had previously not expressed much urgency to embrace the standards-based approach; as a Motorola subsidiary, we expect to see significant pressure for NextNet to migrate to certified WiMAX. The Clearwire press release said the investments were "to accelerate the development and deployment of portable and mobile WiMAX networks based on the IEEE 802.16e-2005 standard" so we'll be interested to see how this plays out.
There has been much speculation as to how and whether Clearwire could roll out a nationwide network and who the partners might be. AOL resells Clearwire's WiMax service today. Bell Canada and Clearwire have an alliance in which Bell Canada will be Clearwire's exclusive strategic partner for VoIP and some other value-added IP services and applications in the US. There have been rumors that satellite provider DirecTV will partner with Clearwire to compete with the cable companies and telcos. And just what Sprint-Nextel and the cable companies will do is far from certain.
Bellsouth is currently using broadband wireless primarily to complement other broadband services, particularly in areas not well covered by DSL service. The company has already rolled out broadband wireless service to Palatka and DeLand, FL; New Orleans, LA; Gulfport, MS; and Athens, GA. BellSouth announced at WCA that the service is being expanded to five new markets in the third quarter of this year.
We spoke with Mel Levine, BellSouth's director of product development, about the service, which offers downstream speeds up to 1.5Mbps using licensed WCS 2.3 GHz spectrum and a small non-line of sight subscriber modem. The BellSouth exhibit showcased the use of broadband wireless following Hurricane Katrina and Mel talked about some of the company's successful efforts using wireless technology during disaster recovery.
Although BellSouth has been using Navini technology since its initial deployments, the decision for a major carrier to go with a small company as its equipment provider is often a a difficult one. Although Navini has been very active in migrating to mobile WiMAX, BellSouth's expansion press release indicated that it will begin lab trials of WiMAX using Alcatel's WiMAX solution.
Companies are Targeting Different Markets
Broadband wireless encompasses many distinct markets and applications, including fixed, portable and mobile applications applied to enterprise, back-haul, fixed broadband "fill-in", city-wide metro-zones, personal broadband/mobile Internet and emerging markets.
Some vendors (including Motorola and Navini) have chosen to focus exclusively on mobile WiMAX (802.16e) and have chosen not to invest in products for fixed WiMAX (802.16d) applications. In a recent telephone interview, Motorola's Paul Sergeant, Director Alternative Wireless Access, noted that although there is certainly a market for 16d products, it is not of the size that attracts investment from a large company like Motorola. Motorola is really aimed at mass-market products which will gain economies of scale and be complemented by relatively low-cost CPE.
On the other hand, companies like Redline are concentrating on emerging markets so that 802.16d products for addressing the fixed broadband market have been their focus. They have over 50 customers deployed and are working on their 4th generation systems.
There has been continuing discussion at WiMAX meetings about the relationship of fixed and mobile WiMAX systems. Although the plan was initially for compatibility, the fact that 16e and 16d do not use interoperable modulation schemes means that mobile WiMAX is not a superset of fixed WiMAX (16e uses OFDMA, whereas 16d employs OFDM). Some companies are promoting the ability of their products to be software upgradeable to 16e, but that does not address such questions as cost, spectrum, applications and markets. One vendor described the "d" to "e" upgrade path as an "insurance policy" for service providers.
The WiMAX Forum: A Pragmatic Approach
Some organizations seem to have a rather dogmatic approach to the standards they support and their relationship to other standards. We see evidence that the WiMAX Forum has benefitted by having a more flexible "big tent" approach that deals with and incorporates marketplace realities. Two examples of this come to mind.
Back in January 2005 after WCA, we wrote that the Korean group "would follow the current draft of 802.16e rather than waiting for resolution of the 802.16e debate." Rather than letting this become a battle of competing standards, the key chip makers from each side announced a collaboration to harmonize 802.16e with WiBro. Subsequently, the WiMAX Forum created a specific "profile" for WiBro, and WiMAX certification was divided into two parts. Wave 1 is a subset of Wave 2 and the WiBro products will be certified under Wave 1. WiBro was thus recognized as the first version of mobile WiMAX and WiBro products will be the first to be certified later this year.
As a result of this accommodative approach, the WiMAX Forum says "more than sixty members from Korea including WiBro service providers, and major vendors, are collaborating in various organizations within WiMAX Forum."
More recently, the WiMAX Forum has again sent representatives to 3GPP with the goal of ensuring "compatibility of and interoperability of 3GPP systems with broadband wireless access networks (IEEE 802.16)." Both sides are aware of the importance of interworking between WiMAX and 3G technologies, but there is likely to be lots of political maneuvering.
Comparative Performance Data Favors WiMAX
Siavash Alamouti, CTO Service Provider Business Group at Intel, spoke in a session titled "Unveiling WiMAX-3G Comparative Performance Data". Alamouti is an Intel Fellow and one of those people whose name is linked with key work he did, in this case the Alamouti Space-Time Block Code. Despite this prestigious background, we're glad to report that he also has the talent for making complex topics seem understandable.
At WCA, Alamouti's analysis quantified the technology differences between mobile WiMAX, 3GPP2 (1X-EVDO Rev A and Rev B) and 3GPP (HSDPA/HSUPA). It involved throughput and spectral efficiency performance comparisons, based on simulations using a common set of parameters. The analysis was done as a combined effort of many people from several WiMAX Forum organizations.
Given Intel's strong advocacy for WiMAX, it wasn't surprising that the analysis showed that WiMAX provides advantages over 3G enhancements in both spectral efficiency and channel/sector throughput in both the downlink and uplink directions. For anyone seeking a tutorial on the details of the various technologies, the full paper Mobile WiMAX – Part II: A Comparative Analysis provides lucid explanations of some difficult concepts.
WiBro Has Launched!
A panel on Korean WiBro talked about its current and future status. KT had launched a pilot service in April and started commercial service on the day of the session, June 29th. In his talk, Dr. Jin Dae Kim of KT explained that the Chinese characters for WiBro represent "lying in bed, on the move, floating and on the road"--all the places WiBro could be used. KT intends to have full-scale commercial WiBro available this year.
One of the many benefits of having WiBro launched in Korea is to learn what new capabilities and features are proving popular. One such feature--the "push to all" capability--was highlighted; it can be thought of as a combination of push to talk and instant messaging.
In the WiBro session, Tom Jasny, Vice President for Wireless Broadband Networks at Samsung Telecommunications America, showed an interesting chart showing many different frequency bands currently or potentially allocated for WiMAX, ranging from the 500 MHz band (the Americas, Middle East and Africa) to the 3.4-3.6 GHz band (much of the world except the USA, Korea and Japan). Our discussions with vendors indicated that it will likely be some time before we will see multi-band radios agile across all these bands and different profiles.
View From the Chipmakers
In the "Chipmakers Roadmaps & Timetables", speakers from WiMAX chipmakers including Beceem Communications, Fujitsu Microelectronics, Intel, and SEQUANS Communications discussed the timetable for mobile WiMAX certification and wide-scale deployment. Certification testing for Wave 1--targeted for WiBro--should take place later this year, and all the chipmakers except Fujitsu said they would be ready in time.
Wave 2, which adds the key MIMO and beam forming technologies necessary for greater range, is not expected to occur until June 2007. All vendors said they would be ready for Wave 2, and several said they expected to ship compliant chips well in advance of the certification testing.
When asked about their readiness for wide-scale deployments, the chipmakers seemed to agree that the ramp-up would start in late 2007 or early 2008. Those involved in WiBro indicated that they thought it could provide significant volumes even earlier.
It's Not Just WiMAX
Although WCA was dominated by talk of WiMAX, there was some discussion of alternative approaches, including TD-CDMA from IP Wireless and FLASH-OFDM from the Flarion division of Qualcomm. Many of the conference speakers agreed that "there will be multiple radio technologies".
Next Generation Mobile Networks
Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) is an initiative launched by leading mobile operators, with strong participation of their CTOs. Participants include China Mobile Communications Corporation, KPN Mobile, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Its goal is "to provide a set of recommendations for the creation of networks suitable for the competitive delivery of mobile broadband services and cost-efficient eventual replacement of existing networks. This initiative intends to complement and support the work within standardization bodies by providing a coherent view of what the operator community is going to require in the decade beyond 2010...The initial objective of the initiative is the commercial launch of a new experience in mobile broadband communications by 2010."
Our understanding of the effort is that the CTO group wants to define targets that next-gen systems must meet and to drive decisions faster and make them cost effective and practical. One interpretation is that the group wants to set the bar higher for 3G Long Term Evolution (LTE) requirements and to minimize complexity by limiting the number of options. The unofficial interpretation was that NGMN is a reaction to mobile WiMAX and is about the mobile operators hedging their bets.
Whatever happens with the various factions in wireless mobile broadband, we are hopeful that all those involved understand that seamless inter-working of various services is going to be expected by customers and should be the goal that all are striving toward. We know there is a long road to get there.
( www.wcai.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.clearwire.com )( www.nextnetwireless.com ) ( www.bellsouth.com )( www.navini.com )( www.alcatel.com ) ( www.redlinecommunications.com ) ( www.wimaxforum.org ) ( www.3gpp.org ) ( www.kt.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( www.ngmn-cooperation.com ) ( www.samsung.com )
The "networked video PC" will play a central role in television viewing. Consumers will be able to get the full array of high-definition entertainment video into the PC. The new Vista/Viiv PCs will act as high-definition PVRs and will be able to distribute streaming and recorded video to any screen in the house using the new networking technologies.
In the first part of this article last month, we described the many technologies involved in media networking, and covered the emerging home networking technologies in some detail; these promise sufficient speed, range and quality to carry digital video around the home--not low-quality "PC video", but the entertainment programming we're used to watching on television sets and increasingly now watch in high definition. Since these networking technologies don't require new wiring, they will usher in a mass market for networked video. We also described the DigitalDeck system we're currently testing in our home, which focused our attention on the interaction of the PC with existing home consumer electronics technologies.
In the second part of this story, we look at the emergence of "the video PC". We first discuss the Microsoft and Intel initiatives centered on the "media" aspects of the PC; by mid-2007, this will be in full flower as Microsoft's Vista initiative catches up with Intel's Viiv, already under way. The following article discusses how entertainment video gets into the video PC.
Windows Vista is Microsoft's brand name for the next generation of Windows. Previously code-named Longhorn, Vista will replace Windows XP in 2007. More than five years in development, Vista is a very substantial upgrade, with major improvements in features, security, and appearance. Windows Aero, the new Vista graphical user interface, looks a lot like Apple's latest Macintosh interface.
Vista will be available in six "editions"--one for emerging markets, two for enterprise use, and three retail versions for the consumer market. Media Center is not a separate Vista edition--it's a feature of both upper-end retail versions of Vista. The top-end "Vista Ultimate" is analogous to a combination of Windows XP's Professional and Media Center editions, with all the enterprise features and all the media center features.
For the consumer market, Microsoft's advance promotion emphasizes Vista's support for all kinds of media. Microsoft positions Vista as "the center for your digital memories," encouraging consumers to store their digital pictures and videos on the Vista PC. All but the basic editions of Vista include built-in applications for music downloading, a photo gallery, a movie maker, and a new media player.
While using a PC for music and photos is in the mainstream today, using a PC for digital video is still emerging. Many features of Vista are designed to facilitate capturing, displaying and networking video--both video recorded on the PC hard drive and live video from external sources.
In Vista, Media Center provides Microsoft's preferred user interface for video--both on the PC and the wide-screen TV: "Because TVs and computer monitors are moving towards widescreen and high-definition displays, Windows Media Center in Windows Vista has been optimized to make enjoying your photos, home movies, and TV in your living room a better experience than ever before."
Microsoft promotes the use of the Xbox 360 as a Windows Media Center Extender in the living room--"Windows Media Center Extenders allow you to leave the PC in the office and enjoy your music, photos, movies, and TV anywhere in the house".
With earlier versions of Media Center Edition, Microsoft did not succeed in getting non-Microsoft Windows Media Center Extenders into the home; the few other companies that adopted this approach withdrew their products after a short time in the market. Without abandoning Media Center Extenders, Microsoft has now taken a more inclusive approach to media networking.
Vista Networking -- Rally Technologies
With the newly branded Windows Rally Technologies, Microsoft is working to create an ecosystem of connected devices--including devices not based on Windows operating systems. Rally provides a collection of technologies with a royalty-free licensing program. For consumer applications, Rally has two major purposes:
Using the Rally Technologies, installing a networked device is intended to be as effortless as installing a Plug-n-Play USB device--plug it in and it works. For security, wireless devices will require the entry of a PIN code.
For network management, Vista provides a new graphical representation of the network topology, showing all connected devices. The implementation of Rally's Link Layer Topology Discovery protocol (LLTD) enables the graphical view of the network and device capabilities.
LLTD also provides the QoS mechanism at the device level so that sensitive applications such as streaming video get priority over less-sensitive applications. The "Quality Windows Audio/Video Experience" (qWAVE) API in Vista provides prioritized media streaming to LLTD-enabled devices; qWAVE is compliant with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) QoS guidelines.
Windows Logo Program for Hardware
Wireless networks are especially difficult for video, most especially for full-resolution high-definition video. In a paper on its website, Microsoft acknowledged that some users of Windows XP Media Center Edition were disappointed in their experience when using wireless networks for video streaming.
To better fulfill user expectations, Microsoft created a Windows Logo Program for wireless devices designed to provide a good video-streaming experience. This program requires wireless routers to support both 802.11a (5 GHz) and 802.11g (2.4 GHz), with the 5 GHz spectrum used for time-sensitive media streaming and 2.4 GHz used for best-efforts data.
This logo program is being extended to Vista and 802.11n in conjunction with the Rally technologies. The logo requires Wi-Fi certification plus tests including continuous rate ("a simulated high-definition video stream...at 22 Mbps for 8 hours with less than 1% packet loss") and range ("...at 22 Mbps for 1 hour with less than 1% packet loss through two walls and 75 indoor feet...").
Intel Viiv is Intel's branding for a consumer processing platform "designed for the enjoyment of digital entertainment". Like the earlier Centrino branding for wireless, Viiv (rhymes with "live") is a single branding for a combination of components: high-speed dual-core 64-bit processors, high-performance chipsets, home theater quality audio, RAID storage and networking. The Viiv branding is not just for hardware -- it also includes digital entertainment such as movies, TV, music and games from major providers.
Many Viiv-compliant PCs were shown at CES early this year. Most were examples of the "living room PC" Intel has been promoting for several years, high-end PCs packaged to look like consumer electronics components. As an example, the Integra NVS-7.7 Integrated Media Center PC shown in the picture is a recently announced Viiv-certified PC for the living room.
Many mainline PC companies also now include Viiv-branded PCs as premium product offerings for the consumer market. These are more typically packaged as desktop PCs designed for use with a wide-screen (16x9) LCD monitor.
Intel's website includes a separate section on the Viiv story for consumers. While Intel has tried to explain the Viiv story to consumers, we frankly find it quite confusing, especially Intel's attempt to combine a specific set of Intel-specific hardware features with software and applications that come from other companies. Perhaps Intel will clarify its Viiv messages when it launches the Core Duo 2 processor family, expected on the same day as this report.
Viiv Networked Devices
Intel has started certifying "Intel Viiv technology verified devices" for use with Viiv. These will include "network infrastructure devices" such as routers and gateways, and digital media adapters. Intel's website includes a list of devices that have passed Intel's tests and vendors such as Buffalo have announced media adapters designed to work with Viiv PCs.
Intel's approach to media networking has many elements in common with Microsoft's, but some appear to be different. To better understand Viiv networking, we talked on the phone about a month ago with Intel's Merlin Kister, Marketing Director, Desktop Platform Group.
Merlin said that Intel was working closely with Microsoft. All of today's Viiv systems are based on Windows XP Media Center Edition. When Windows Vista is released, Viiv branding will require the Premium or Ultimate editions, which include Media Center. (PCs based on the basic editions of Vista without Media Center will not be eligible for Viiv branding.)
We observed that Microsoft promotes the Media Center GUI in both PCs and media adapters such as the Xbox 360. Merlin said that while Viiv-branded PCs use the Media Center graphical user interface for media applications, the choice of the GUI for networked devices is up to the device vendor.
We asked about the requirements for Viiv certification. Merlin said all Viiv devices are DLNA compliant and Intel tests compliance with all DLNA formats. Networked devices need to communicate with the Viiv server and support DTCP-IP for link protection when delivering premium content.
We asked Merlin whether the Viiv branding would be applied to network devices and he said "Viiv branding is only for PC products built with specific Intel hardware and software." Intel has not formally announced the branding used to identify networked media devices that have been certified to work with Viiv PCs, but Intel's keynote address at CES said it would be "Enjoy with Viiv".
Media Players for Viiv and Vista
In early June, Buffalo and BenQ simultaneously announced media players "designed to work with Intel Viiv technology-powered PCs". Both new players are based on the Philips Semiconductors Nexperia media processor and Mediabolic's Media Player software, and claim compliance with "with an array of digital home specifications" including uPnP, DLNA, DTCP-IP and Microsoft's DRM-10. Buffalo and BenQ are both major players in home networking, although better known in their home markets (Japan and Taiwan, respectively) than in North America.
The BenQ DMP300 Digital Media Player operates with 802.11b/g networking and includes a wide variety of audio and video outputs including S/PDIF digital audio and HDMI digital video. The Buffalo LinkTheater Wireless-A&G Media Player (PC-P4LWAG) operates in both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands (as required by Microsoft's Windows Logo Program). To address a common concern when using PCs as part of the television experience, both devices support the Viiv mechanism "to enable the device to remotely awaken a PC from its sleeping state."
Separately, in late May Buffalo and Mediabolic had jointly announced that they were working together to develop a media player "designed to work with the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system" and had "implemented "Windows Rally Technologies" on an upcoming version of the Buffalo LinkTheater Network Media Player".
To learn more about these new devices, we talked on the phone in late May with Bob Selzler, Mediabolic's VP of Marketing, and Chris Day, GM of the Media Processing Group at Philips.
We asked Chris whether the Philips PNX1502 chip used in these devices is designed for high-definition TV. He said the chip was really designed for standard-definition video, and this is appropriate since existing devices are limited by the effective speed of the 802.11g wireless link. The devices do have HDMI video outputs appropriate for high-definition flat-panel TVs; the chips provide "high-quality standard definition with high-definition up-conversion." Chris said the next generation of devices will be targeted to 802.11n networking; they will be based on the PNX1700 chip with full support for the AVC video codec.
We asked Bob for Mediabolic's view of the competition between computer makers, consumer electronics companies and video service providers as all these new technologies move into the home. He said "Everybody is claiming they're at the hub of the digital home; we're in nearly all of them and we don't care."
The announcements of Viiv and Rally devices from Buffalo and Mediabolic made us wonder whether devices would be designed for both Viiv and Vista/Rally, or whether they would be separate devices. From the discussion we gathered that they might be separate boxes, at least in the near future.
We believe the industry is suffering through some growing pains, with Viiv and Vista out of synch due to the Vista launch delays. We suspect that once Vista is fully launched in the consumer market next year, many networked devices will carry logos for both Viiv and Vista.
Most consumers are familiar with using their PCs for "Internet video"--short video clips designed for PC viewing. Consumers are less familiar with using PCs for entertainment video of the type typically watched on a TV.
Movie download services like CinemaNow and MovieLink have been around for years, but are not mass-market applications since relatively few consumers have PCs connected to the TV screen and most don't want to watch movies on the PC when they are at home. The video networking applications we've discussed earlier in this series will make it easier to connect a PC to a remote TV screen, opening up the market.
But how will entertainment video get into the PC?
Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) users can get video into the PC from a "TV tuner card" plugged into the PC and connected to an antenna, cable box or satellite box. MCE was originally sold only with PCs that had built-in tuner cards, but in the past year Microsoft removed this requirement and most MCE PCs do not include tuner cards. There's now a lively after-market in add-ons -- several companies provide "TV tuner upgrade kits".
As an example, the Hauppauge Digital "WinTV-PVR-150 MCE Kit" includes a tuner card that plugs into the PC, a remote control and IR receiver, and an IR transmitter for controlling a set-top box. The card can be connected to a TV antenna for off-the-air reception, to a cable service for analog cable channels, or to a cable or satellite set-top box. Another Hauppauge model uses a USB 2.0 connection to the PC, so the consumer doesn't have to open up the PC to get video input.
Receiving Premium Content with OCUR
Using a cable box to receive premium content (such as movie channels like HBO and Showtime) is somewhat clumsy, especially if the PC is remote from the TV screen. Most new TV sets are equipped to use a CableCard instead of a cable box for premium content.
As we discussed in TV Services on the PC (BBHR 5/14/06), an OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver (OCUR) will allow Vista Media Center PCs to receive high definition premium digital cable TV on the PC without a separate set-top box. The OCUR card plugs into the PC, and includes a slot for a CableCard provided by the cable operator. PCs equipped with OCUR should be available when Vista ships early in 2007.
Video content providers have long been concerned about protecting premium content from unauthorized distribution. OCUR includes certification that premium content will be protected by digital rights management (such as Microsoft's WMDRM or RealNetworks's Helix DRM), enabling legitimate use in the home but blocking further distribution. This will enable Media Center PCs to act as high-definition DVRs for all cable content, and to act as media servers for high-definition screens.
Following our recent article on UWB (BBHR 5/14/06), we got in touch with Staccato Communications, a fabless semiconductor company that has been a key participant in UWB development. About a month ago, we had a long telephone conversation and exchanged email with Mark Bowles, Staccato's Co-Founder and VP Business Development and Corporate Marketing.
Based in San Diego, Staccato has raised nearly $50 million from venture capital investors, and has focused from the beginning on developing single-chip CMOS solutions for UWB, with "six key patents" for UWB. The Ripcord family currently include four single-chip System-in-Package (SiP) products for Certified Wireless USB. One chip has the physical layer (PHY) only, while the other three integrate W-USB PHY, MAC and passive components in the single package. The importance of a single chip CMOS implementation, according to Mark, is that the functions it performs account for the dominant product costs and a single chip helps push both cost and power consumption lower.
Mark said that Staccato expects wireless USB and high-speed Bluetooth will be huge markets: "Analysts report that Bluetooth currently ships ten million chips a week; USB will ship 1.6 billion chips in 2006 and all flavors of Bluetooth will be 1.3 million in 2010," He said the secret to low-cost chips was to start with a single-chip CMOS solution, then drive down the costs and drive down the power consumption. "At a scale of millions of units, we can get below five dollars in high volumes by the end of 2008."
Our earlier article described four software stacks--W-USB, high-speed Bluetooth, wireless 1394, and WiNet (TCP/IP)--all using the same Wimedia radio. We asked Mark his views on integrating all of these on a single chip. He said Staccato will have W-USB, BT 3.0 and WiNet on the same chip, but "we see no interest in wireless 1394--no customers are asking for it."
We discussed the security concerns we had raised in the earlier article, and Mark said "Phil Zimmermann--the inventor of PGP--works for Staccato as our security consultant" and thinks the security model is sound.
Mark said wireless UWB products will be ready to ship "when we get a logo" and expects that will be by November. Typical first applications will include wireless USB dongles (wired USB to wireless adapters), hubs and mass storage bridges. Wireless USB mice and keyboards will come later, since they need much lower power consumption than the first implementations provide.
We discussed the potential for using UWB for high-definition video. He said it would work fine for compressed video, but not for the uncompressed video now carried on HDMI cabling "the physics and the FCC don't allow it." He explained that although WiMedia is very fast--Staccato's current chips have a 480 Mbps payload--high definition "wireless HDMI" at 1080p requires nearly ten times that speed. He didn't rule it out for the future, though, especially if the FCC becomes more comfortable with the impact of UWB on licensed spectrum holders.
We live in a wonderful world of technology. More consumers than ever have broadband and lots have some flavor of home networking. But the cycles of innovation, coming at us ever faster, create points of instability where it's nearly impossible for the consumer to figure out what they are really buying. Back in April 2001, we wrote Top Ten Ways to Confuse the Consumer about how the home networking market was at one of those points.
Some of this month's home networking announcements suggest that we are once again at a similar point of instability. One announcement, coming from Broadcom, promoted the fact that they had "achieved the milestone of over one million 802.11n chipsets shipped in less than four months."
That's great for people who understand what they are and are not buying. However, as we wrote last month, product testers report that current devices based on Marvell chips will not interoperate with devices based on Broadcom or Atheros chips--they fall back to 802.11g. Netgear makes two nearly-identical products using chips from Broadcom and Marvell--but in the fine print they promise interoperability at full speed only with devices based on the same chips. It seems unlikely that a consumer will read the fine print--or understand what it means if they do.
Now Netgear is creating similar confusion in the powerline networking world. They recently launched a "200 Mbps Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter and Kit" and promote this product for enabling high quality HD video and audio streaming and for gaming. Consumers are very unlikely to realize that this product is based on the DS2 technology, which is not interoperable with HomePlug. If the user has previously installed any HomePlug products, the new Netgear product will not operate with them.
The new "200 Mbps" HDXB101 based on DS2 (shown on the left) looks almost identical to the "85 Mbps" XE104 based on Intellon HomePlug turbo (shown on the right), which might reaonably lead a consumer to think that the products are compatible. Netgear's website says "easily coexists with NETGEAR's Wall-Plugged or HomePlug compatible products". Later the fine print says "may coexist with HomePlug 1.0 products but it is not compatible or interoperable with" them. We know of two sophisticated readers who ordered these units assuming that "coexists with" implied "interoperates with".
We understand the desire of networking vendors to "one up" each other, and we're not implying that any of these products are inferior. But we're concerned that reasonable customer expectations for compatibility may not be satisfied and will likely result in negative press comments until the confusion is resolved.
On September 18-19, 2006, Partners Telemedicine will hold the Partners Telemedicine Third Annual Symposium at the Conference Center at Harvard Medical School in Boston's Longwood Medical area. This year's symposium, titled "Connected Health ‐ Empowering Care Through Communications," will bring together thought leaders from multiple aspects of healthcare and technology, to discuss the innovative applications of new healthcare communications technologies. We found last year's event to be exceedingly helpful in understanding the state of "connected health" and look forward to attending again this year.
The Fiber-to-the-Home Council will hold its fifth annual conference on October 2-5, 2006, at the Venetian Resort & Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. The theme of this year's conference is "Innovations in Fiber to the Home: What's Next?" The conference will assess emerging trends, key government legislation, innovative technology and high-value services associated with fiber-enabled broadband. It will include FTTH success stories, lessons learned, best practices, and innovations.
Our thoughts go out to our friends in the Middle East during this time of violence. We wish for your safety and for a lasting peace in the region.
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