In This Issue
Networked Digital TV
Your Voice -
Vincent Dureau has joined Google in a "senior engineering position". He was CTO and a founding member of OpenTV. ( www.google.com )
Rick Furtney has been named President and COO of Intellon. Furtney was previously with International Rectifier and at Intersil Corporation. ( www.intellon.com )
Barry Hardek joined Concurrent Computer’s Everstream unit as VP of marketing and business development. He was previously with CableMatrix. ( www.everstream.com )
Jamie Howard was appointed President and CEO of Imagine Communications. Most recently, he was COO of BigBand Networks. ( www.imagine-com.com )
Jey Jeyapalan has been named VP at CDM, an engineering, construction and operations company. [Editors' Note: Jey contributed to an article on alternate deployment strategies for the last mile in our March 2003 issue.] ( www.cdm.com )
Mark Mitchell has been named VP of Sales, EMEA region, at Ruckus Wireless. Mitchell's previous career included positions with Marconi, Siemens and GPT. ( www.ruckuswireless.com )
Graham Peel has been appointed EVP of Operations at Cambridge Broadband. He was previously with Keronite. ( www.cambridgebroadband.com )
Stephen Reeder has been named VP, Business Development for EMEA at ICTV. He was previously with ANT plc. ( www.ictv.com )
Craig Soderquist has joined Anchor Bay Technologies as CEO. Soderquist's previous career includes CEO roles at Core Networks and Com21. ( www.anchorbaytech.com )
Investors Cinven and Warburg Pincus are acquiring Essent Kabelcom in the Netherlands for 2.6 billion euros (US$3.3 billion). In July, they announced plans to pay 2.8 billion euros (US$3.6 billion) to acquire Casema. These assets will be combined into a new holding company, along with Warburg Pincus’ stake in Multikabel, to create the largest Dutch operator, with about 3.3 million subscribers. ( www.cinven.com ) ( www.warburgpincus.com ) ( www.essentkabel.com ) ( www.casema.nl )
Cisco is acquiring privately-held Arroyo Video Solutions, a provider of next-generation solutions for on-demand television and related consumer services, for approximately $92 million in cash. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.arroyonetworks.com )
Shaw Communications is purchasing Whistler Cable Television Ltd., for an undisclosed amount. Whistler, British Columbia, is the site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. ( www.shaw.com )
European ISP Tiscali has bought Homechoice, which offers broadband and video-on-demand to customers in the UK. Video Networks, the parent of Homechoice, gets an 11.5% stake in Tiscali. The deal is valued at approximately $190 million. ( www.tiscali.com ) ( www.homechoice.co.uk ) ( www.videonetworks.com )
Tandberg Television is acquiring Zetools, a developer of software that enables the delivery of next-generation digital video services over the Internet. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. ( www.tandbergtv.com ) ( www.zetools.com )
Aggregator Limited, a London-based TV over broadband operator targeting underserved niches, has completed a £9 million Series A financing round co-led by 3i, Amadeus Capital Partners and Intel Capital. ( www.aggregator.tv )
Clearwire increased the previously announced $900 million equity financing to more than $1 billion, and finalized a new debt facility of $125 million, resulting in aggregate new funding in August of more than $1.1 billion, excluding proceeds from the NextNet Wireless sale. The purchase price for NextNet Wireless was not disclosed. ( www.clearwire.com ) ( www.nextnetwireless.com )
Limelight Networks, a content delivery network for digital media, completed a $130 million equity financing round.( www.limelightnetworks.com )
Revver, an online-video-distribution-technology supplier, has received $10.2 million in its series-B funding round. Comcast Interactive Capital and Turner Broadcasting System were investors. ( www.revver.com )
Maven Networks, whose platform allows creation, managing and delivering broadband video channels, has raised $12 million in third-round financing. ( www.maven.net )
WildBlue Communications has completed a $350 million debt financing led by Liberty Media Corporation and Tennenbaum Capital Partners LLC. [See the article below on WildBlue.] ( www.wildblue.com )
WiNetworks, a specialist in integrating mobile WiMAX with the DBS infrastructure, allowing DBS operators to extend from one-way broadcast networks to two-way broadband ones, has raised $11 million in second round funding. ( www.winetworks.com )
AT&T has selected HomePNA 3 as the in-home distribution technology for its AT&T triple play U-Verse services. HomePNA 3 will be integrated into the IP set-top boxes and residential gateways supplied by Motorola, Scientific Atlanta and 2Wire. This contrasts with Verizon's current choice of MoCA for in-home distribution. ( www.att.com ) ( www.homepna.org ) ( www.mocalliance.org )
Cablemas S.A. de C.V., Mexico's second-largest cable-TV operator, disclosed that it had received fixed-telephony licenses covering 13 of Mexico's largest cities. The Competition Commission recommended that phone companies be barred from offering TV unless and until they offer cable companies number portability and interconnection. ( www.cablemas.com )
Google agreed to pay at least $900 million to become the exclusive provider of search technology and text-based advertising services on News Corp.-owned Fox Interactive’s web properties, including MySpace.com. Fox Interactive will sell the advertising on these sites and share the revenues with Google. ( www.google.com ) ( www.newscorp.com ) ( www.fox.com ) ( www.myspace.com )
Ruckus Wireless announced commercial availability of MetroFlex, a high-performance 802.11b/g wireless access gateway designed to give consumers better in-home connectivity to outdoor metro-scale Wi-Fi networks. [See the article below on Ruckus MetroFlex.] ( www.ruckuswireless.com )
Silicon Valley Metro Connect, a collaboration among Azulstar Networks, Cisco Systems, IBM and Seakay, was selected to build and operate Silicon Valley's regional wireless network to serve 2.4 million people, span 42 municipalities and nearly 1,500 square miles. IBM is providing network design and integration, Cisco is providing mesh wireless infrastructure technology, Azulstar Networks will handle network operations, and SeaKay will lead outreach programs to meet the economic development and social benefit objectives of the network. The vendor selection was made by the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority (SAMCAT)--an agency made up of cities and counties across Silicon Valley--and Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. ( www.azulstar.com ) ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.ibm.com ) ( www.seakay.org ) ( www.samcat.org ) ( www.jointventure.org )
Sony announced two new versions of LocationFree, their place-shifting technology first introduced two years ago. The LocationFree Base Station unit plugs into a home entertainment system and the LocationFree TV Box connects to any remotely located TV, enabling the viewer to receive video content from their home setup on computers anywhere with a broadband connection. ( www.sony.com )
Sprint Nextel confirmed plans to develop and deploy a mobile WiMAX IEEE 802.16e network in the 2.5GHz band. They target a launch in trial markets by the end of 2007 with plans to deploy a network at scale in 2008. Intel, Motorola and Samsung were selected to develop the nationwide network infrastructure, multi-mode devices supporting mobile WiMAX and EV-DO, and mobile WiMAX-enabled chipsets for consumer electronics. ( www.sprintnextel.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.samsung.com )
TV Portal Service Corp. is a joint company set up by five Japanese consumer electronics companies reportedly developing a joint Japanese standard for internet-connected televisions to address computer industry competition for broadband video services. The goal is to develop broadband-enabled TVs that can download and display videos from the Internet without the need for a separate set-top box or computer. Sony and Matsushita are the lead shareholders in the consortium, each with a 35% stake, with Sharp, Toshiba and Hitachi holding 10% each. ( www.sony.com ) ( www.panasonic.net ) ( www.sharp-world.com ) ( www.toshiba.com ) ( www.hitachi.com )
Tzero Technologies and Analog Devices have announced a standards-based wireless HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) offering, targeted at eliminating expensive home networking wiring and improving the convenience of delivering HD content to multiple devices. ( www.tzero.com ) ( www.analog.com )
Verizon Wireless, working with Cisco, Lucent, Motorola, Nortel, and Qualcomm, has released details of combined work to update and upgrade the specifications for the IMS standard. It calls the architecture A-IMS, standing for "Advances to IMS". ( www.verizonwireless.com ) ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.lucent.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.nortel.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com )
The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that it will pre-certify the interoperability of pre-802.11n products in the first half of 2007, prior to IEEE ratification of the standard now expected in 2008. The alliance confirmed that certification labels used for pre-n products will indicate that the certified products are pre-standard. ( www.wi-fi.org )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs include more indicators of video's transformation, statistics on hotel high-speed Internet and GPS metadata for digital photos.
Video's Continuing Transformation
We've all been watching as the video landscape morphs in front of our eyes. Here are a few more tidbits that show which way the wind is blowing.
TiVo has been viewed as the nemesis of network TV, but creative thinkers at CBS are trying to leverage the increasingly-accepted time-shifting technology. CBS announced it would promote a handful of its fall lineup shows directly to TiVo subscribers. The entire premiere of "the Class", will be available for viewing via the TiVo service one week before it premieres on CBS, as will brief clips of CBS's three other new series. ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.cbs.com )
BT Vision has launched a service to download videos to a personal computer as soon as titles are released on DVD. BT's digital distribution deals with Universal Pictures and NBC Universal let consumers download two digital files, one for use on a personal computer and another compressed for use on portable media players. Customers will also be mailed a DVD. When BT launches its next-generation TV services in the Autumn, content will also be available for purchase or rental on the BT Vision TV platform. ( www.bt.com/btvision ) ( www.universalpictures.com ) ( www.nbcuni.com )
Amazon has joined the video download party with a new product called "Amazon Unbox". They are selling downloadable movies and TV shows, including new releases and classic titles from major movie studios, plus TV shows from networks such as CBS, Fox, Comedy Central, PBS and MTV. ( www.amazon.com )
According to Jeff Baumgartner in Multichannel News and CED, TV Anywhere is a new service that targets Americans living abroad who want to keep up with U.S. entertainment, sports and news. The service will be offered via a client installed on a PC, or through an IP-based set-top box connected to the subscriber's TV. The technology will be based on the Akamai distribution platform to bring content closer to subscribers, and will use Microsoft's encoding and DRM. TV Anywhere plans to generate carriage deals directly with networks and broadcasters. [Virtual Digital Cable (VDC), which we wrote about a few months ago, is following a similar model.] ( www.tvanywhere.org ) ( www.akamai.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.vdc.com )
Sprint has launched Sprint Movies, an on-demand pay-per-view video service that allows mobile phone users to watch films in their entirety or view chapters over time. The service, powered by mSpot, is distributed over Sprint's 1x EV-DO 3G network. Sprint has previously offered a monthly subscription movie service, but the on-demand service has higher profile movies. ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.mspot.com )
Texas Instruments, along with partners PacketVideo and Silicon & Software Systems, is looking beyond mobile broadcast TV and is showcasing mobile designs with PVR technology and picture-in-picture at the IBC Show in Amsterdam. ( www.ti.com ) ( www.packetvideo.com ) ( www.s3group.com )
Advertisers will spend money where the eyeballs are. With more viewing of Web video, spending on online video ads is now taking off; according to eMarketer, it is expected to increase to about $1.5 billion in 2009 from a projected $385 million in 2006. Google joined the party last month when they announced a trial with MTV in which Google inserts clips from MTV Networks into Google's AdSense targeted advertising system. MTV will sell the ads and the revenue will be split among MTV, Google and AdSense publishers. This means that the content/copyright owner is compensating each company or individual Web site owner who functions as a redistributor of their digital media -- a real shift in the paradigm. ( www.emarketer.com ) ( www.google.com ) ( (www.mtv.com )
US Hotel Broadband Statistics
According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association's 2006 Lodging Survey in ModernAgent.com, High-speed Internet, voice mail and subscription TV have all become nearly standard amenities at U.S. hotels. High-speed Internet access has grown from being offered at just 50% of hotels in 2004 to 89% of hotels in 2006; voicemail availability rose from 72% in 2004 to 86% in 2006; and cable or satellite offerings rose from 69% in 1990 to 99% in 2006. ( www.ahla.com ) ( www.modernagent.com )
Where and When Did I Take That Picture?
Sony has announced a GPS add-on for its digital cameras. The device can be worn on a belt or backpack and records location and time data every 15 seconds. The time on the device can be matched with the timestamp on the photo, and the exact location of the picture is added to the JPEG file's metadata, which will allow users to search photos by location. ( www.sony.com )
Note from the Editors: We have written many articles about the emergence of digital media adapters--networked devices which convert media content typically stored on PCs for use on TVs. We have used DMAs in our own home for many years to listen to music and to view photos and videos on our home theater system. We are pleased to present this guest article by Keri Waters of Micronas USA, which raises the question of whether DMA functionality should better be incorporated into networked digital TV sets.
Keri Waters is Director, Strategic Marketing of Micronas USA. Ms. Waters is responsible for software strategy across the entire product line, including features for development in-house, as well as all relationships with software partners. She brings over 10 years of experience in engineering, sales and marketing. She previously held positions at Molino Networks, Area Systems and Cisco Systems. Ms. Waters holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Micronas, headquartered in Zurich, is a semiconductor designer and manufacturer with worldwide operations, and a leader in innovative global TV system solutions with expertise in the digitization of audio and video content; the Micronas Group employs about 2000 people and had 2005 sales of USD 676/EUR 545 million. Micronas USA, a wholly owned subsidiary, develops and delivers a diverse portfolio of integrated real-time streaming audio/video encoder and decoder products targeted at the world’s most significant digital communications markets.
NDTV--A New Type of Product Within the Home Network
Recently, discussion of the convergence of the Internet and television within the home has focused mainly on IPTV, a new type of managed service for delivering premium television content to subscribers via broadband. While field trials are underway and the market is emerging nicely, IPTV alone will not address all of the consumer expectations for simplifying storage and access to their digital media. The expanded menu of on-demand premium content offerings available via IPTV will certainly be attractive to consumers, but in the truly converged home, personal digital content—-photos, videos, MP3 playlists—-will be accessed from the home theater just as easily.
Today, this type of personal content tends to be stored on the home PC. The PC is an ideal platform for organizing and storing media, but not necessarily for viewing it with others. Digital Media Adapters (DMAs)-—networked set-top boxes designed to be a bridge from the PC to the TV, with a user interface for browsing and playing media-—have been on the market for the last 3-4 years, but have sold poorly. So far, consumers have been unwilling to accept an additional box in the home theater stack, and the DMA units themselves have been plagued by poor reviews of their quality and usability.
However, personal digital content continues to proliferate (how many people have gigabytes of precious photos stored haphazardly on their hard drives?), and interoperability and digital rights management standards have matured to the point that the quality concerns are diminishing. Many people feel that DMA functionality ultimately will become integrated into some other device already in the home theater – in another set-top box, perhaps, or in the television itself.
The latter type of product shows a great deal of promise. According to S2Data, the market for so-called Networked Digital Televisions (NDTVs)—-that is, digital TVs with integrated DMAs—-will grow to 27 million units by 2010. LCD-TV manufacturers are scrambling for differentiating features to avoid commoditization, and consumers are beginning to recognize a need for DMA functionality within the home.
NDTV Design: Analog and Digital TV
A typical NDTV brings together three functional elements in a single chassis: analog TV, digital TV, and a DMA. An 8-bit microcontroller runs software that manages the chassis control (parsing of remote control inputs and so forth) and all of the functionality required by traditional analog TV. The complexity of just this piece can be surprising, since there are a large number of broadcasters that may deviate from broadcast standards just slightly, and the onus of decoding whatever broadcast stream is sent rests firmly with the TV manufacturer. Thus, several megabytes of software may be required just to support basic analog TV functions.
With the government-mandated analog broadcast spectrum shut-off rolling out in most developed nations over the next few years, new televisions must also contain a digital tuner and digital video decoder. The complexity of the digital TV stack is far higher than that for analog, in that digital broadcast standards include specifications for advanced features like program guide data, secondary audio streams, advanced closed captioning and teletext--all transmitted in the broadcast stream. The software to support all this must run on a real embedded operating system like Linux or WinCE, and requires massive amounts of field testing to support the intricacies of each local region. The digital video stream may be in one of several commonly-used formats such as MPEG-2, MPEG-4, or H.264/AVC, may be in standard definition or high-definition resolution, and may be in either traditional 4:3 aspect ratio or widescreen 16:9. Thus, a sophisticated hardware multi-format video decoder is employed in the design to reduce the cost of managing all the variations.
Adding DMA Functionality
Since the TV design already includes an operating system and a multi-format video decoder—-which form the basis for DMA platforms—-manufacturers see an opportunity to add outstanding feature differentiation to their digital TVs with only the incremental cost of the DMA software and networking components. The attached diagram shows how DMA functionality could be incorporated in the NDTV.
In taking this logical step forward, however, manufacturers are once again greatly increasing the complexity of the design. DMAs must be able to play all of the media that users collect on their home PCs, in all of the commonly-found formats and resolutions. Video formats include the traditional broadcast formats mentioned above, but also include other codecs common on the Internet such as Quicktime, Flash, DivX, and Xvid. Other media formats that must be supported include MP3 audio and JPEG images. Decoding for all of these additional formats may be done in software if the hardware decoder contains a powerful enough CPU for applications.
The DMA must also include a rich and intuitive user interface for browsing and selecting media from a remote PC, as well as support for many popular media streaming protocols such as RTSP, WMS, and DVB-IPI. To discover the media repositories available on the local network, the DMA stack must include support for common protocols such as UPnP and Bonjour. All of these requirements and more are generally dictated by manufacturer specifications such as Intel’s Viiv and Microsoft’s Rally Technologies, and by emerging standards bodies such as the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA); certification by these bodies becomes a paramount concern.
The NDTV requires a networked connection to media sources. Most early models of NDTVs will include wired 10/100 Ethernet and wireless 802.11b/g support, given that these are the de facto home network standards. However, the average home network today exists mainly to allow family members to share a single DSL or cable connection for high-speed Internet access, and perhaps also to share a common printer. DMA functionality demands a new level of performance from home networks.
Today, the most likely use for a NDTV will be audio and photo playback, for which 802.11g is probably good enough. However, the average lifespan of a LCD-TV is expected to be 5-10 years, so whatever wireless solution is chosen, it must be future-proof against upcoming need for video streaming. A 10/100 wired network may be able to deliver the performance needed for video, but most homes don’t have Ethernet jacks near the television. 802.11e, the extension to the 802.11 standard that introduces the concept of QoS to 802.11 networks, will allow NDTVs to enjoy the full wireless bandwidth available between it and the PC. With modern high-compression video codecs, this will come close to being good enough for one HD stream. Still, this may not meet the stringent video quality requirements of the consumer, who will invest a significant amount of disposable income in this new product.
Since NDTVs will be used mainly for file-based playback, they will have some advantages in the home network over IPTV systems, which must deliver some real-time content. File-based streaming may be buffered, improving video quality over narrow bandwidth networks. However, consumers will have little patience for long initial waiting periods after selecting a piece of media to play, and will likely want to play media in more than one room of the house at a time.
For second generation NDTVs, there are some emerging alternatives for the home network. Powerline networking may be attractive, since the television is sure to require power from the home. However, powerline hasn’t yet reached the bandwidth of wireless networks, so it’s not yet a serious contender in places where wireless is feasible. Coaxial-based networks, such as are promoted by MoCA, are another alternative, particularly favored by cable companies that wish to play in this market. New forms of wireless such as UWB may also be considered, but the current limited range will limit usefulness in larger homes. 802.11n, which allegedly will increase bandwidth over 802.11g networks ten-fold, is a compelling option, but the standard is not due to be complete before the first generation of NDTV designs will be finalized.
In all cases, however, TV manufacturers are cautious about increasing their bill of materials (BOM) cost for new standards that may not catch on. Close cooperation between networking companies and TV hardware companies will be required to develop an industry-wide recommendation for a standard. In the meantime, NDTV manufacturers of early devices should consider how to build in expandability for future networking technologies. Integration with the home network is a critical and complex aspect of NDTV design.
Consumers are counting on the consumer electronics industry to deliver on the promise made by the flatpanel TV ads: the television as the centerpiece in a sleek minimalist living room, floating unencumbered on a cool white wall; a serene-looking woman sitting on the stylish sofa, effortlessly navigating a crisp, gorgeous UI to find any piece of media she wishes. Pointedly missing from the visual message are stacks of media, set-top boxes, wires, user manuals, and bad image quality. The bar is high, but the building blocks for the successful design exist, and soon the television experience will be transformed.
Wildblue Communications is finally on a roll. We first mentioned this satellite broadband provider in our July 2001 newsletter. They launched their initial satellite payload successfully in August 2004, got access to the satellite starting that October and targeted service to begin in 2005. So where are they now?
In early August, we visited with Brad Greenwald, VP of Sales and Marketing, who joined the company in 1999. We learned that Wildblue had about 80,000 customers at the time of our visit, and is adding about 10,000 customers per month. They now have about 200 employees, 3500 certified installers and 1600 dealers. With this growth comes the need for additional capacity, so they will be tripling their capacity with the launch of a second satellite at the end of November.
Their service is based on two-way wireless Ka-band spot-beam satellite technology. The customer home has a small satellite dish equipped with both a satellite transmitter and receiver for two-way satellite connectivity to the Internet. The satellite link is based upon the cable industry's "DOCSIS" (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) technology, enabling the company to leverage existing hardware and chipsets. The company has five gateways located throughout the U.S. and Canada that connect WildBlue’s satellite access network with the Internet.
WildBlue is happy to target the niche market of those who have been unable to get broadband via cable or DSL; Brad estimates that market to be between 12 and 15 million homes and offices. Customer testimonials on their Website summarize the common characteristics of their customers: they live "in the boondocks" and had "No DSL here, no cable here, only very slow dial up available until now." These customers are not going to quibble about the service being slower than some other broadband alternatives--those other choices are not available to them. The company is proud to point to its 94% satisfaction rating from customers, many of whom had never expected to have broadband finally reach them.
Over the last several months, Wildblue has announced some major partnership agreements, including one with AT&T to sell WildBlue's broadband Internet access service under the brand name "AT&T High Speed Internet Access, powered by WildBlue." Subsequently they signed five-year wholesale distribution agreements with DIRECTV and EchoStar Communications in which WildBlue is the only satellite-based Internet solution that each of them will offer to their respective customers for that period.
Last month WildBlue secured $350 million debt financing and just announced the launch of a national advertising campaign to support its dealers across the United States. Target publications include Country Living, Outdoor Life, Progressive Farmer, Farm Journal and Rural Life--all aimed at consumers who embrace "the rural lifestyle".
Using WildBlue at Mike's House
We know through our son Mike how critical the availability of installers and dealers is to the growth of WildBlue. Mike and his wife Crystal live near Colorado Springs in a community called Black Forest, which fits the "rural lifestyle" demographic with low population density and heavy tree cover. Mike works in high tech and would be lost at his office without broadband. But for years all he could get at home was dial-up.
Every time something new came along, we pointed it out to Mike, but none of the options worked. We kept mentioning WildBlue, but he couldn't get it because there was no dealer in his area. He was also concerned about whether he would be able to access his company's VPN--which often has problems with latency issues--through the satellite link.
This spring the area was covered by a dealer/installer. Mike visited the dealer and satisfied himself that he could use WildBlue to get into his company's VPN, and arranged to have it installed at his house.
Following the installation, Mike wrote: "I think the installer was a little surprised when we were determining the best mounting location. Many of the possibilities were totally blocked by trees. One of the best/easiest locations only had a partially-obstructed view. I said I could easily fix that. A few minutes later with chain saw in hand, one less ~75' tree on the property, and the problem was solved. We got the ProPack (1.5 Mbps). Anyway, we have finally entered the broadband era."
We visited Mike and Crystal after our meeting at WildBlue, and had the opportunity to play with WildBlue for a weekend. The WildBlue service seemed a little slow, but we've had a cable modem for five years, and a T1 line before that.
Dave measured the speed of email downloading over WildBlue at about 1.5 seconds for each message--about twice as long as over a Wi-Fi connection at a hotel, and about five times as long as over our cable modem at home. That's probably due to the satellite link rather than the speed of the WildBlue service: PC-based email involves a lot of interaction between the PC and the remote email server; the WildBlue satellite is in a geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles above the earth's surface, and adds a round-trip delay of about a half a second to each interaction. Email is likely the worst case, and Web browsing would do much better by comparison.
Wildblue may be slower than cable and DSL, but these aren't available to WildBlue's target market. Compared with dial up, WildBlue is always on and much faster. While those of us accustomed to blazing speeds might turn up our noses at Wildblue's "Satellite Speed Internet", when you view the alternatives for many customers, "satellite speed" starts sounding pretty good.
( www.wildblue.com )
We were in Silicon Valley last month and had the opportunity to visit several companies. Two of these--MobiTV and Orb Networks--specialize in mobile TV services. We saw demos of both services and are looking forward to playing with them later this year when we get new mobile phones.
As we went to set up the meetings with MobiTV and Orb, we found both headquartered in the same building in Emeryville, directly across the bay from downtown San Francisco. Emeryville must be the world center of mobile video!
We have been following Orb Networks for some time, and first wrote about them in CES 2005--The Next Big Thing: Video-on-the-Go (BBHR 1/24/2005).
Orb is directed to people who use their PCs to store their music, photos and videos; the PC may also have live video from an attached tuner card, perhaps (but not necessarily) using Windows XP Media Center Edition. Orb's software and service enables the user to listen to their music and view their photos and video anywhere in the world--from any suitably-equipped "web-connected mobile device" including PDAs, portable PCs and mobile phones.
We met with Hervé Utheza, who recently joined Orb as Vice President and Executive Producer, TV Properties. Hervé started by describing how Orb is different from other "place-shifting" systems. While some other systems (such as Sling Media's Slingbox) require the user to purchase a special piece of hardware, Orb is software that users download and run on their broadband-connected PCs. Orb's software catalogs all of the user's media content and provides a guide to the live video services. When a user connects through the Internet from a remote location, the Orb software transcodes the PC's media content into the most appropriate format. They refer to what the user does as "my casting" -- bringing your content to you, wherever you are.
The advantage of the Ajax approach over more traditional web interfaces is that it fully exploits the processing power of the user device. By placing much of the processing within the browser rather than the web server, user applications can respond quickly and intuitively to user requests. Google Maps is a good example of an Ajax application.
We talked briefly about content protection. Orb's approach is to validate the DRM of the media that’s being streamed on the PC at home to make sure the user has the right to view (or listen to) the stream. Orb is a member of both the Digital Media Association (DiMA) and the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA).
Mobile video is an important part of Orb. From a remote device, a user can access any of the video content available on the home PC. This can include user-created video; streaming video from the Internet such as YouTube; and live video from broadcast, cable or satellite. The Orb software on the user's PC transmits the video content from the PC to the mobile device in a format and at a speed appropriate to the attributes of the remote device and the quality of the connection between the PC and remote device. When Orb 2.0 is released, the new Ajax approach will be used on remote PCs; less-capable mobile devices will continue to use a simpler interface more suitable to the small screen size and lower bit rate.
Orb users can share content with others. As a demonstration, Hervé used his mobile phone to send us an email message sharing some of the photos on his PC. When we got home, we received his email, visited the Orb website, established an account, and viewed Hervé's photos.
Orb is now free. Originally introduced as a pay service, Orb switched to a free model for both software download and service more than a year ago. Instead of charging the consumer, Orb says it now makes money by licensing its software and service to equipment vendors and service providers. As examples, Hauppauge Computer Works packages Orb with its tuner cards; AMD uses Orb to power its AMD LIVE! On Demand service; and EMBARQ (formerly Sprint Local) uses Orb as the basis for its Personal Media Link service.
Orb's architecture seems very clever. By fully exploiting the horsepower of the user's PC and mobile devices, Orb's web servers are lightly loaded, so Orb should have relatively low operating costs compared with more server-intensive service models.
The new Orb interface looks very nice. We're looking forward to using it once Orb 2.0 is released, probably within a few months.
In Emeryville, we met with Benjamin Feinman, MobiTV's Director, Product Management. MobiTV is directed to people who want to watch live TV and listen to music on their mobile phones--Ben described it as "a phenomenal media experience wherever you are." In the United States, MobiTV currently includes about 25 channels of mobile video and 50 channels of music; the video channels include commercial channels such as MSNBC, ABC News Now, and Fox Sports, plus other channels created specifically by MobiTV. MobiTV has different channel lineups for other countries such as Mexico, Canada and the UK.
The MobiTV service runs on a variety of video-capable mobile phones, including Palm and Windows Mobile smart phones. The service runs at the highest frame rate with phones equipped for 3G services, and at lower frame rates on older phones. There's also a version for lap-top PCs used at AT&T hot spots.
MobiTV's service is available both from wireless carriers and directly from MobiTV. In the US, Cingular and Sprint offer versions of the MobiTV service under their own brand names. There are many different pricing plans, depending on the selected channel lineup and the service provider. Carriers bundle selected video channels with their data services; for example, the entry-level Sprint Power Vision Access Pack includes two channels--ABC News Now and a preview channel--of Sprint TV (which is powered by MobiTV).
Ben described MobiTV as "snack TV" -- TV watched in short bursts of available time and very different from traditional TV targeted to the "couch potato".
Ben said MobiTV has "a world-class service and applications platform". Because devices vary in their capabilities and there is a wide range of data rates, the MobiTV service varies the bandwidth and the bit rate dynamically. Right now the fastest services operate at 300 kbps; Ben expects "a half meg and beyond in the future".
As we left our meeting with Ben, we noticed the glass window of the Network Operations Center control room in the lobby. As we looked through the window, we could see racks of flat-panel displays showing the on-air channels and the network configuration. It looked like what we would expect at a world-class operation.
Two Approaches to Mobile Media
MobiTV and Orb Networks represent two very different approaches to mobile video. They are not the only ones in this exciting market -- other companies are following approaches similar to theirs.
MobiTV's service lets subscribers receive specially-formatted video channels on their mobile phones or laptop PCs. MobiTV aggregates commercial video services and produces some of its own, formats the video specifically for small screens and fairly low bit rates, then streams the video from its servers to the mobile device. It charges subscribers a monthly fee for the services, and wholesales its channel lineups and delivery platform to service providers which sell them at retail to their own customers. (smarTVideo is another aggregator with a similar approach.)
By contrast, Orb does not have a channel lineup. It reformats the video content and other media that users have already stored on their home PCs for use on their remote devices. Orb's users have already paid for the video services and broadband connections at home, and the data services on their mobile devices; Orb does not charge an additional fee for them to use these services from remote locations. (Sling Media has a similar approach, but requires the user to purchase a piece of equipment.)
While we enjoyed the demonstrations of Orb and MobiTV, both seem like the kinds of services you can only understand by using them on a regular basis. Over the next few months we plan to get new video-capable cell phones, and will start using both services.
Ruckus Wireless is a Silicon Valley startup with a different approach to Wi-Fi--based on smart antennas and smart software. Until now, all of their products were designed to improve the range and quality of Wi-Fi in the home, especially for networked video such as IPTV delivered by telephone companies. So we were surprised to receive a recent press release announcing a new Ruckus product designed to improve the performance of Metro Wi-Fi networks.
To follow up on the press release, we visited Ruckus and met with Selina Lo, President and CEO, and Hans Pang, Technical Marketing Engineer, at their headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA.
MediaFlex for IPTV
We first discussed the current MediaFlex products designed to facilitate IPTV and data distribution from a DSL modem. The MediaFlex Router connects to the DSL modem and routes data and media content throughout the house over 802.11g Wi-Fi. The latest model 2825 5-port multimedia Wi-Fi router provides four Ethernet ports for PCs and other wired devices plus 802.11g for remote wireless devices.
At the other end, a MediaFlex Adapter is connected to an IPTV set top box at each TV. Both devices uses Ruckus's innovative antenna technology and software--as we described in Wireless Video Networking - Ruckus, Metalink and EWC (BBHR 10/17/2005)--to provide reliable transmission.
Hans said the system could handle "three streams of standard-definition video in a 2500 square foot home" with an aggregate data rate of 15 to 25 Mbps. He told us these MediaFlex products are being deployed by telephone companies around the world, including PCCW in Hong Kong, Magnet Networks in Ireland, and "lots of rurals in North America" such as Pioneer Telephone.
MetroFlex for Metro Wi-Fi
We then discussed the new MetroFlex product. This is designed to overcome the limitations of Metro Wi-Fi when used to provide high-speed data services inside people's homes. Even a high-power Wi-Fi access point has relatively limited range. Walls and windows of houses tend to block signals, sometimes requiring the costly professional installation of an outdoor antenna to get a good signal. Even if the signal is received successfully inside the house, most consumer Wi-Fi devices have very low power transmitters, and can't be heard back at the Metro Wi-Fi access point.
The Ruckus MetroFlex wireless access gateway overcomes these limitations with a modified version of the antenna and software technologies used in MediaFlex. Selina said that although the MetroFlex device uses the same packaging as the MediaFlex units, it has a different interior. It has a 200 mw transmitter--considerably higher power than most consumer Wi-Fi devices.
Ruckus says MetroFlex is compatible with "any standard metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network" and is compliant with wireless mesh network systems sold by Tropos Networks and BelAir Networks. Selina said that with MetroFlex a Metro Wi-Fi system could serve a range of 1 kilometer from each access point, and could expect real data rates of 7 Mbps at that range.
Selina said Ruckus strives to engineer its products so they can be sold at an attractive price; the MetroFlex gateways have a list price of $129. Ruckus has announced initial MetroFlex deployments in several cities, including Cheetah Wireless in Las Vegas and ILS.net in the suburbs of Toronto.
Ruckus and 802.11n
We asked how Ruckus technology would work when 802.11n--the next generation of Wi-Fi now in development--comes to market. We observed that the 802.11n standard already includes several smart antenna features, and asked whether Ruckus still had a role to play.
Selina said that Ruckus expects to be "a layer on top of 11n". She observed that "the amount of interference in the environment will increase"--especially in the 2.4 GHz band--and that the Ruckus antenna and software technologies would help to overcome the interference.
With many "draft 11n" products already coming to market, Ruckus expects to demonstrate its "value add on top of 11n" during the first quarter of 2007.
DLNA Latency Requirements
Ted Archer, one of our subscribers and the Director of Marketing at Coaxsys, wrote to us about DLNA networking latency requirements: "Coaxsys has been selected by the DLNA as the only networking technology that meets their DTCP latency requirements. Even after the DLNA increased its latency threshold from 3ms to 7ms, no other technologies could meet the spec. Comparatively, TVnet/C has a latency of only 1ms, so we are receiving a great deal of interest from DLNA members for the purpose of video distribution in media servers, etc."
We have talked with other coax networking groups about this claim and have been told there are "ways around the problem" but don't have additional details at this time. We'll continue to follow up.
( www.coaxsys.com )
Peak vacation time is drawing to a close in the northern hemisphere and the conference circuit is swinging into high gear for the next several months. As you plan your conference and travel schedules, here are some conferences that sound particularly relevant to our readers.
Digital Entertainment World 2006
Digital Entertainment World 2006 will be held September 19-21 at the Disneyland Hotel in Hong Kong. It will explore digital content and the new distribution channels emerging to profit from it. Industry experts in the digital economy from Asia and around the world will provide the latest information about global business models and trends. The event will bring together expert discussion, advice and business opportunities to a global audience. You’ll have the opportunity to meet, interact and do business with people who are making a difference in the world of digital entertainment. For more information and to register, please call +65 6322 2701. ( www.terrapinn.com/2006/dew_hk )
2006 FTTH Conference & Expo
The FTTH Conference & Expo will be held October 2-5 at the Venetian Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas. Presented by the Fiber-to-the-Home Council, this is the showcase to assess emerging trends, key government legislation, innovative technology and high-value services associated with fiber-enabled broadband. 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. ( www.ftthconference.com )
In preparation for the conference, the FTTH Council invited us to write an article on the state of home networking and what it means for service providers--see Whole Home Networking: Video Changes the Game on the FTTH Conference "What's New" page.
TelcoTV 2006, to be held November 6-8 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas, provides in-depth information on the much talked about area of IPTV. Over the past couple of years this topic has gained a much higher profile, as increasing numbers of telephone companies have moved into the video services business. The conference and expo will cover the areas of researching, building, marketing and successfully selling IPTV experiences from the service provider's point of view. It is targeted for telecom professionals with stakes in all aspects of the IPTV value chain. ( www.telcotvonline.com/telcotv06 )
Also consider the following conferences which we plan to attend:
Please look for us if you're at any of these conferences.
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