BBH Report Home Page
December 13, 2006 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Holiday Wishes

Heard on the Net

Briefly Noted
Updates, Observations and Trends

TelcoTV 2006
Start of the Second Wave

Ultrawideband and the Unwired Home
A Guest Article by Billy Brackenridge

Wireless Video Distribution in the Home

2006 Trend Spotting

Your Voice -
Readers Comments

Upcoming Conferences


Holiday Wishes

We wish all our readers a wonderful holiday season and offer our prayers for a peaceful year in 2007.


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Michael Brunsveld has been appointed Managing Director for Cedar Point Communications' new European subsidiary. Brunsveld was previously with Nortel Networks Germany. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )

Randy Falco has been named chairman and CEO of AOL. Falco previously spent 31 years at NBC. ( www.aol.com )

Jason Hirschhorn and Ben White have joined Sling Media. Their role is to take the company, which is known for place-shifting TV content, into what Hirschhorn calls "phase two"—letting users work with content in ways that haven't been done before. Both were previously with MTV Networks. ( www.slingmedia.com )

Jeff Lindholm was named senior VP of worldwide field operations at BigBand Networks. Previously, Lindholm was chief marketing officer at Juniper. ( www.bigbandnet.com )

Robin Main has been named senior VP of application software development at TANDBERG Television. Main was previously with Movaz Networks. ( www.tandbergtv.com )

Tony Werner has been appointed CTO of Comcast starting January 1, 2007. Werner is presently senior VP and CTO at Liberty Global. ( www.comcast.com )


Company News

Acquisitions

Alcatel and Lucent Technologies have completed their $13.5 billion merger transaction. They will operate under the name Alcatel-Lucent. ( www.alcatel-lucent.com )

Alvarion has sold its Cellular Mobile business unit to LGC Wireless for $15 million. Alvarion now intends to focus all of their resources on their WiMAX business. ( www.alvarion.com ) ( www.lgcwireless.com )

BSkyB has acquired a stake of 17.9 per cent in ITV plc for approximately £940 million. The acquisition came shortly after NTL had approached ITV about a potential merger. ( www.sky.com ) ( www.itv.com )

Motorola agreed to purchase broadband gateway provider Netopia for $208 million. ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.netopia.com )

NDS Group Plc is acquiring Jungo Ltd., a residential gateway software provider, for up to $107.5 million in cash. This includes a $17 million earn-out payment contingent on the attainment of certain targets in the 12 months following completion of the deal. ( www.nds.com ) ( www.jungo.com )

Qualcomm is acquiring two wireless networking companies: WiFi/MIMO chip vendor Airgo for an undisclosed amount and the majority of RF Micro Devices Bluetooth assets for $39 million. ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( www.airgo.com ) ( www.rfmd.com )

Funding

Artimi, a developer of ultra wideband chip technology, has raised $26.5 million in Series B funding. ( www.artimi.com )

BitTorrent has closed $20 million in Series B financing. ( www.bittorrent.com )

Digital Bridge Communications a WiMAX broadband service provider to underserved communities, has raised over $11 million in Series A venture financing and $6.25 million in debt from Comerica Bankregions. ( www.digitalbridgecommunications.com )

Intel Capital announced it has surpassed $1 billion worth of investments in 2006, a significant increase over the previous two years. Intel Capital invested $265 million in 2005 and $130 million in 2004. Clearwire, which received $600 million in July 2006 accouncts for a significant portion of this investment. ( www.intel.com )

SEQUANS Communications, a WiMAX semiconductor vendor, has received a "substantial investment" from Motorola, through its venture capital arm. ( www.sequans.com ) ( www.motorola.com )


Other News

3 Group, which has 3G licences in 11 markets, has announced the launch of their new flat-priced mobile broadband service. They also announced global partnerships with Sling Media, Orb and Google, which supplement previously announced agreements with Skype, Microsoft and Yahoo. Customers will pay their basic subscription fee plus an additional flat fee to access basic mobile broadband services such as Skype calls and text messaging. Customers taking broadband-rich services such as Orb and Sling Media will pay an additional access fee. ( www.three.com ) ( www.slingmedia.com ) ( www.orb.com ) ( www.google.com )

BSkyB and Google announced a set of multi-year agreements to partner in three areas: a User Generated Video (UGV) portal; a customized version of Google Mail as well as contacts, calendar and instant messaging; and search and advertising. The companies agreed to explore additional areas such as VoIP services in the future. ( www.sky.com ) ( www.google.com )

BroadLogic Network Technologies has announced its new TeraPIX video-processor chip which is capable of decoding dozens of digital video streams and generating a full analog and digital service tier that any number of cable-ready devices can view. The TeraPIX processor powers a Residential Gateway, which allows the network to be all-digital while subscribers continue to receive cable-ready analog video, digital video, high speed data and voice services. ( www.broadlogic.com )

CableLabs has published new testing procedures to verify that retail “Plug and Play” devices can receive multiple streams of programming from new multi-stream CableCARD™s (or M-Card™s). The CableLabs effort was supported by TiVo, Motorola, Digeo, Solekai, Digital Keystone, and ViXS. ( www.cablelabs.com )( www.tivo.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.digeo.com ) ( www.solekai.com ) ( www.digitalkeystone.com ) ( www.vixs.com )

CETECOM Spain, which does testing of mobile and wireless technologies such as WiMAX, has been renamed AT4 Wireless. As part of the differentiation within Cetecom, all other CETECOM companies and laboratories in Germany, France, the USA and Asia will continue to act under the name of CETECOM. ( www.cetecom.com )( www.at4wireless.com )

Comcast has launched wireless service in partnership with Sprint Nextel in two markets: Boston and Portland, Ore. Comcast's wireless is an add-on for subscribers of its "triple play" of cable TV, telephone and high speed Internet. Time Warner also offers a Mobile Access service that links cable TV, Road Runner and home Digital Phone services with Sprint wireless phone, and Cox expects to offer similar serices early in 2007. ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.sprint-nextel.com ) ( www.timewarner.com ) ( www.cox.com )

Microsoft has announced agreements with content companies such as CBS, MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures as part of its plan to distribute content thorough the Xbox Live network. By year end they expect availability of over 1,000 hours of content in both standard and high-definition formats. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.xbox.com )

Orb has started offering users a program that lets them view, search and create media channels from the Internet and direct it onto cell phones and laptops from sites like YouTube or Google Video. The service works on advanced smartphones such as Nokia's N80. ( www.orb.com )

TeliaSonera is restructuring itself into four divisions: mobility services; broadband services; integrated enterprise services; and Eurasia. ( www.teliasonera.com )

TiVo announced five enhancements that allow consumers to select their own content and bring it from the Internet to their TV. These include: a "unified search" across broadcast, cable and broadband content sources; celebrity talent recommendations for automatically recording content; an easy way to share home videos with friends on a private channel; new PC software to transcode Web video for TV sets; and new TiVoCast service programming partners. ( www.tivo.com )

WildBlue Communications has successfully launched its Ka-band spot beam satellite, WildBlue-1. WildBlue provides high-speed Internet connectivity via satellite to homes and small businesses in communities where terrestrial broadband access is either limited or unavailable. ( www.wildblue.net )


Industry Alliances

HomePNA released the HomePNA 3.1 specification that increases data rates over existing home wiring to 320 Mbps. It is intended to allow service providers to simultaneously distribute triple-play IPTV, voice and Internet data. ( www.homepna.org )

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance has added Texas Instruments, LG and TCL to its leadership. ( www.homeplug.com ) ( www.ti.com ) ( www.lge.com ) ( www.tclhk.com )


Countries

Canada - The Canadian government has over-ruled a decision ( canadagazette.gc.ca/partII/2006/20061129/html/sor288-e.html ) by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC 2005-28). The government is calling on the CRTC to refrain from economic regulation of certain Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. ( www.crtc.ca )

UK - Ofcom announced proposals for the UK’s largest single release of radio spectrum, which could be used for a range of new services such as mobile broadband and advanced wireless services. The consultation document seeks views on proposals to auction licences to use three spectrum bands: 2500-2690 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz and 2290-2300 MHz. In total 215 MHz will be available. ( www.ofcom.org.uk )


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs include the correlation between broadband usage and a decline in TV viewing, and the impact smartphones are having on US mobile email growth.

Decline in TV viewing

Ofcom's recently published International Communications Market Report found that:

  • Broadband usage appears linked to a decline in conventional television viewing in every country surveyed
  • China leads the world in viewing music videos and TV programs over broadband; 76% of Chinese broadband users watch downloadable or streaming music video clips and 70% watch TV over broadband
  • The UK is second only to China in its enthusiasm for online video among 18-24 year old broadband users
  • UK adoption of new services like VoIP and IPTV is slower than in other countries
  • UK consumers buy more music online than consumers in any of the other European countries in the report
  • The Internet attracts almost 10% of all advertising spending in the UK; a higher proportion than in any other country surveyed.

Additional conclusions are contained in the report ( www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/icmr06/ ).

U.S. Mobile Email Growth

According to the NPD Group's Mobile Consumer Track, personal e-mail usage on U.S. consumers' mobile phones increased from 3 percent of mobile phone users in March 2006 to 6 percent by the end of the third quarter. They attribute the growth to an increase in smartphones and the introduction of more unlimited data plans. Consumers with household incomes above $100K per year represent the largest share of mobile personal e-mailers. Of the major carriers, Sprint led with 12 percent of their subscribers using personal e-mail the prior month, followed by T-Mobile with 9 percent. ( www.npd.com )


TelcoTV 2006: Start of the Second Wave

TelcoTV is always a place for us to go and catch up on what’s happening in IPTV, particularly in the US. “Catching up on IPTV” has meant looking at TV based on Internet protocols and provided over managed networks. Our visit to TelcoTV 2006 in Dallas last month provided a couple of interesting observations compared to what we saw and wrote about from TelcoTV 2005 a year ago in Switching Channels at TelcoTV ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0509_5.html ) (BBHR 12/15/2005).

First, it's clear that the "second wave" of IPTV is now under way. The first wave was characterized by pioneering vendors and telephone companies, standard definition television, and getting the most out of ADSL and early VDSL. The second wave features many of the world's largest telephone companies and vendors, high definition television, and early deployments of VDSL2.

Second, although the show is still largely focused on IPTV delivered over managed networks, there was increasing attention being paid to "online video" provided over the unmanaged Internet. This was a reflection of the emergence over the past year of a plethora of new services, ranging from user-generated content to delivery of commercial content over the Internet; we discussed these in VON: "V" Is For Video ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0608_6.html ) about the Fall VON show.

We listened to many keynote speeches and panel discussions, and talked with many vendors on the show floor. We saw people from many of the second and third tier telephone companies who have already deployed IPTV and were happy to share their pioneering experience. We also saw first tier players who are just starting to roll out their services.

We have grouped what we learned into a few topics:

  • Advanced Video Codecs and SoCs ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5a ): Most of the new IPTV deployments are based on high definition television and use the latest video codecs in advanced set top boxes. These have been late coming to market.
  • Video Quality Issues ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5b ): IPTV customers sometimes complain about poor video quality. Tools to isolate the problems are just coming to market. Vendors and telcos disagree on the best way to avoid these problems or correct them so consumers don't see them.
  • AT&T U-verse ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5c ): The big story at last year's TelcoTV, the widespread launch of U-verse started only after this year's show was over. These has been much industry speculation about why the launch was so late; we think some was a general problem, and some specific to AT&T and Microsoft. There are signs that AT&T may be moving too fast in their effort to make up for lost time.
  • Verizon FIOS ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5d ): While AT&T chose fiber to the neighborhood and IPTV, Verizon chose fiber to the home and RF television. A senior Verizon executive talked about progress in Verizon's rollout of its FIOS infrastructure and FIOS TV.
  • Packaged Solutions for Smaller Telcos ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5e ): IPTV suppliers and especally middleware vendors have found that the "mix and match" approach is a misuse of resources and time. Several are now offering packaged solutions for smaller telcos.
  • TV Over the Internet ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5f ): While most of the show focused on television services delivered to the TV over a managed network, some sessions covered Internet video delivered first to the PC and soon to the TV. These seem to be becoming more complementary.

Advanced Video Codecs and SoCs

Most phone companies now see the need to deliver multiple streams of HD. Unless they've deployed fiber to the home, they've had to adopt AVC and VC-1, the most advanced video codecs, to get a low enough bit rate for HD over DSL. (AVC is also called "Advanced Video Coding", "MPEG-4 Part 10," and "ITU-T H.264"; VC-1 is also called "Windows Media Video 9 (WMV-9)").

The decoders for AVC and VC-1 are implemented as highly integrated system-on-chip (SoC) chips. These chips reduce the parts count and cost of advanced set top boxes for IPTV. While the SoCs sharted shipping to box makers earlier in the year, the advanced set top boxes have only recently started shipping to customers, much later than forecast. The main delay seems to have been the complex software integration getting the new chips working in the boxes.


Video Quality Issues

Several sessions at the show focused on video quality issues. From the session presentations and our discussions with vendors, it appears that most customer complaints of poor video quality are caused by jitter and lost IP packets somewhere between the video headend and the set top box in the home. It also appears that the appropriate test equipment to isolate the problems has only now become available.

Learning from the Real World

In a session called "IPTV: Making the Internal Transformation", two senior telco executives--Mike Knoll, Chief Technology Officer of Hancock Telecom and Keith Galitz, President of Canby Telcom--talked frankly about the real-world issues of setting up and operating an IPTV system. This was a great opportunity to learn from the smaller telcos who have been the IPTV pioneers in the US.

The discussions covered a wide range of topics. We were struck by their reported difficulties of dealing with video quality. When a customer complained of poor video quality, they sometimes found it difficult to determine whether the problem was coming from the video headend, the DSL link, or the home networking technology linking the residential gateway and the set top box. It could take them repeated service calls to identify and fix the problem, and sometimes they lost the customer back to cable or satellite before they could isolate the problem.

As we talked with other people at the show, we learned that many think the home network is the primary source of packet loss, and the DSL link is next. While installing a dedicated Category 5 cable between the residential gateway and the IPTV set top box works very well, many telcos are trying to reduce the cost and time required to install dedicated wiring, and are using other technologies based on existing cabling or wireless. Jitter and lost packets in these networks show up as customer reports of poor video quality. Technical leaders at the show said the first priority was to engineer the DSL and home networks properly to minimize jitter and interference.

Troubleshooting the IPTV Network

At the show, several vendors displayed test equipment to measure packet loss and isolate the source of video quality problems. Some is designed for lab simulation, other for actual measurement.


Perhaps the most impressive diagnostic product was announced by IneoQuest Technologies shortly before the show. Their new Video Quality Management System (iVMS) is an end-to-end IPTV video quality and service assurance solution. It monitors the video quality in the headend, the core network, the edge network and the home, and integrates with the telco's existing management systems.

Tools like iVMS should provide telcos with much better information than they now have on the source of video quality problems and the best approach to resolving them.

"Loss Concealment" Algoritms

Several people told us that the software in IPTV set top boxes differs a lot in how well it copes with lost packets. They said some set top boxes include "loss concealment algorithms" which try to mask the lost packets by creating the best possible image from other video information stored in the video buffer, and by quickly resynchronizing video and audio streams to restore lip synchronization. We were told that there are "orders of magnitude" differences between how well different set top boxes cope with packet loss, and that this should be one of the major criteria telcos use in selecting between the many set top boxes on the market.

FEC and "Resilient UDP"

A common way to reduce the impact of packet loss is to include some form of forward error correction (FEC) in the packet stream. If FEC is applied in the video head end, it can substantially eliminate the impact of packet loss at any point in the network.

At the show, a company called Digital Fountain showed its FEC solution. Its DF Raptor FEC technology has been adopted by several international standards bodies for video transmission over wireless networks. To use DF Raptor in IPTV networks requires encoding equipment at the video headend, and decoding software in the IPTV set top box. Digital Fountain says their system can be implemented in today's IPTV set top boxes, and can be "tuned" to find the best balance between network bandwidth and video quality.

Since FEC requires additional bandwidth for the redundant packets, some telcos have been reluctant to use it. Microsoft's IPTV system, being deployed by many tier one telcos, uses a proprietary approach called "resilient UDP". When a set top box is missing a packet, it requests a replacement from a nearby server; both the server and the set top box maintain fairly large buffers to provide time for the server to respond to these requests.


AT&T U-verse: Deployment Finally Under Way

The biggest story at last year's TelcoTV show was the "impending launch" of AT&T's ambitious U-verse service. Announced with great fanfare at CES nearly two years ago (see CES 2005--SBC Goes Big for Video ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0501_6.html )), AT&T had set expectations that U-verse would launch in 2005. Instead, at the time of the TelcoTV show in early November 2006, U-verse was still only in a trial in San Antonio, with high definition service not yet available and users receiving the service for free. The trade press has been full of speculation on why the launch has been delayed for so long, with many fingers pointing to the Microsoft IPTV middleware system at the heart of U-verse.

At the show, we met with Jeff Weber, AT&T's VP, Product & Strategy. He told us that by the end of 2006, equipment will be in place to serve 2.5 million homes, up from 1.3 million at the end of the third quarter; by the end of 2008, this will expand to 19 million homes. Each home will be able to receive 25 Mbps, enough for two high-definition and two standard-definition video channels; homes closer to the central office will be able to get 40 to 60 Mbps, but AT&T is limiting the maximum to 25 Mbps for now.

Weber said AT&T was preparing to "turn up service" very quickly. U-verse will launch in San Antonio and Houston during November, and then expand to reach 15 markets by the end of 2006.

We asked Weber whether the initial applications would include the "cross service" applications he had talked about in his speech at TelcoTV last year ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0509_5.html#link5b ). He said AT&T's initial focus was on getting the initial service rolled out, but that the IMS systems were in place to support the cross service applications.

He also mentioned that Microsoft would soon publish the APIs for the IPTV platform in the form of an IPTV software development kit based on Microsoft's .NET framework. Since Microsoft's IPTV solution is being deployed by first-tier telcos worldwide, Weber thinks many developers will be attracted to the opportunity to develop innovative IPTV applications in a familiar client-server environment.

In a later panel session, Weber said AT&T will "create an application environment that allows easy fast turnaround of applications. We're open to third parties so the market can work the way the market ought to work. I don't know and I don't care what people will do three years from now. If we do a good job--make sure the capabilities are in place across applications and devices--we will be in great shape. We will let the market talk to us and it won't matter."

Why So Late?

Weber was not willing to discuss why U-verse was launching so much later than had been projected. Our guess from talking with many people at the show is that both Microsoft and AT&T had been rather optimistic about how long it would take to get this complex hardware and software solution working.

The first SoC-based set top boxes, a central element in the solution, were only delivered in early November, much later than expected; we hear that getting all the software working reliably has been challenging. This is not a unique AT&T or Microsoft problem--all telcos that based their deployments on the new SoC set top boxes have been equally delayed.

Alcatel's IPTV Integration Labs: U-verse In the Making

Derek Kuhn of Alcatel and some members of Alcatel's staff offered us and some of the other analysts attending Telco TV the opportunity to visit Alcatel's IPTV Integration Labs in Plano. This is the site where Alcatel assembles and tests an IPTV system identical to that being used by AT&T.

The goal of the integration lab is to put the system through complete testing, not just pairwise, but assembled end-to-end. Alcatel first tests new system elements and their integration in a lab in Kanata, Canada. Once that has been completed, the next step is testing in the Plano integration lab. The concept is that there are "network solution releases" in addition to hardware and software releases. The intent is to find and fix problems in the lab, rather than in the field.

Our first stop on the visit was to see the area where they demonstrate home networking and how AT&T delivers their TV service around the home using HPNA. The major stop on the tour was an enormous area filled with all the components that make up AT&T's IPTV system. These include a huge number of servers, miles of simulated network, set-tops, switches, encoders, video subsystems, test equipment, VDSL loop simulators, etc.

The lab was impressive for both its enormous size and scope of equipment. One less-than-ideal side effect of having all that equipment assembled together was a very high noise level. The air-conditioning required to keep everything at an appropriate temperature made conversation within the labs very difficult.

After the lab tour, we went to a conference room where we were reminded of the many successes Alcatel has had in providing elements of IPTV systems around the world, including ones at Belgacom, Swisscom, Auna, KPN, BT, Telefonica, Alliant and FastWeb. Before our bus ride back to Telco TV we were served drinks and hors d'oevres--but only after we listened to several presentations, including one on regulatory issues. I guess we earned those drinks!

Deployment Under Way Now

True to Weber's claims, the U-verse deployment is indeed under way. Shipment of the Motorola VIP1200 set top boxes started in mid-November, and HD was turned on shortly after. San Antonio and Houston were launched during November, although only in limited service areas. We expect that U-verse will become available in many more markets by the end of the year, as promised, but only in limited areas and only with a few customers.

AT&T may be moving a little too quickly. Users on U-verse blogs such as UverseUsers.com ( www.uverseusers.com ) report that HD is often not being enabled on the promised dates, even though this appears to be just "throwing a switch" by entering an HD order into the system.

Users also report that AT&T is not communicating very effectively with its early users. For example, AT&T is only providing one HD channel now, which means that users cannot watch one HD channel while recording another. This appears to have taken early subscribers by surprise.

Users have also reported problems with video quality in some homes, although this seems to be getting better over time. AT&T has preferred not to deploy FEC, but could change its mind if the problems persist.

Interview With a U-verse User

As part of trying to understand how well the U-verse rollout is proceeding and how customers view the service, we interviewed Alan Weinkrantz. Alan is a PR professional who lives in San Antonio where AT&T is trialing their service. He decided to be a U-verse trial user and share his experiences in his blog ( www.3screens.net ). Although Alan has a technical background which he uses in representing his technology company clients, he told us his goal is to write from the perspective of the end-user ("a combination Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey").

Because of this perspective, Alan answered any of our questions that verged on the technical by saying something like "Martha Stewart doesn't need to be able to tell you the technical specs of the oven in which she bakes her cakes". Although Alan says he is not acting an advocate for the U-verse service, he sounded much more forgiving than many of the users who post on the U-verse blog. He pointed out that he is not paying for the service and knows that it has been a trial, so is forgiving of some problems. In contrast with the views expressed by many users in the U-verse blog, Alan said that AT&T has kept him informed of the status of various things and has conditioned his expectations in a realistic way. However, people are much more likely to take the time to write and complain about things than to praise something when it is going right.

On the topic of the delays in HD and in the question of when a second HD channel will be available to users' homes, Alan wrote in his blog: "I was advised that for now, with two HD sets, we'd only be able to get one HD stream at a time and that it would be some time next year, when we would get two or more streams. I was really OK with it, for while I am personally very much into this whole IPTV experiment, as a family, we're not really glued to to the TV all the time."

When we asked Alan about the HD delays, he told us about "the ice cream letter". He said AT&T sent a letter to U-verse trial users telling them that it would be a while before they could get a second stream of HD, and included a coupon for two free gallons of ice cream. Earlier in the trial they had sent out free ice cream bowls so now the users had something to put in them. Trading HD for ice cream is certainly a unique approach to marketing!


Verizon FIOS

Verizon's approach to TV is very different from AT&T's. While AT&T chose to run fiber only to the neighborhood, Verizon is running fiber all the way to the home. While AT&T is using IPTV, Verizon--at least initially--is using mature television technology similar to that long employed by cable providers. With practically unlimited bandwidth over fiber, Verizon can deliver any number of simultaneous HDTV channels and as much high-speed data as is needed to meet competitive offerings.

In a keynote address at TelcoTV, Brian Whitton, Verizon's Executive Director - Access Network Design & Integration, reviewed the status of his company's FIOS TV rollout and what he believes Verizon's users expect. By year end, Verizon will have passed 6 million households with fiber. They are increasing by 3 million homes passed per year and by 2010 will have passed 18 million homes.

To support video services, they have built 2 "super-headends" for broadcast content. They have 9 video hubs--one per region--and will build more in 2007. They now have 292 "video serving offices" and 1.8 million households which are "open" for selling video. Their delivery mechanism allows them to send linear broadcast content (analog and digital) on one wavelength and interactive services on another. Their current offering has 450 linear broadcast channels--of which 25 are HD--and 3000 video on demand titles.

Verizon'a goals include category leadership in the areas of VOD, HD, multicultural programming and multi-room DVR. Their 2007 focus will be to add more multimedia and personalization. Whitton says that Verizon will be a "top ten" video provider by the end of 2006. They aim to have 20-25% FIOS TV penetration in areas where they have been available for 5 or more years.

Whitton said Verizon's vision of the home is one in which all client devices can become "sources or sinks" of information. "There is no reason to restrict a device to its original function"--for example using a TV only for seeing video. Their goal is to provide any service on any screen. In terms of "what's next for IPTV", Verizon sees the imperative for advertisers, content providers and network service providers is to move up the value chain.

Whitton spent some time talking about how the evolution of the home and home network are critical to delivering on this vision. In their view, the lowest common denominator of a service is the home router. For that reason they provide a purpose-built home router which can also do remote management. Verizon has chosen to use MoCA for home networking because it provides the necessary bandwidth and QoS.

Whitton talked about the role of IPTV. He said there was no value in "taking TV and wrapping it in IP". Rather, he said "the real value is up the value chain. IPTV has the opportunity to completely disrupt all business models--content providers, advertisers, network service providers, and customers. The full range of opportunity lies in networking all human beings to create video content like YouTube."

Verizon has been trying hard to convince Wall Street that spending the extra capital to go with fiber all the way to the home will be the winning strategy. Whitton ended his talk by saying "in the new battleground, bandwidth is the key enabler."


Packaged Solutions for Smaller Telcos

Many of the larger US telcos have rolled out IPTV or are getting ready to do so. With small specialists providing each hardware and software component, each telco has had to select the individual components and then select another company to act as the system integrator.

At TelcoTV we saw many smaller telcos getting ready to roll out IPTV. Most of these don't have the resources to evaluate all these hardware and software options.

Minerva Networks

In this "mix and match" environment, middleware vendors often find themselves working with very complex combinatorics. Matt Cuson of Minerva Networks told us that with 100 customers they were working with six different set top boxes, three conditional access systems, and five VOD servers; while they didn't support all 90 possible combinations, they did have a lot of them. Integrating and supporting all these combinations of hardware and software requires a lot of resources from a small company like Minerva.

The middleware vendors have found that they need to limit the possibilities to make it possible to deploy IPTV more broadly. Matt told us that Minerva was now offering prepackaged solutions from a much smaller menu of options. Minerva's middleware is also included in the Nortel IPTV Ecosystem ( www.nortel.com/corporate/news/newsreleases/2005d/collateral/iptv_ecosystem_backgrounder.pdf ), which also includes specific solutions for VOD servers, content security, video encoders, web browser, set top boxes and more.

IP-PRIME

SES Americom has created another packaged solution. Americom is one of the largest providers of satellite video services. Its IP-PRIME service delivers the complete IPTV program lineup over satellite to a "micro headend" at the telco, avoiding the cost and complexity of building and maintaining a complete headend.

The IP-PRIME ecosystem includes middleware from Siemes/Myrio, set top boxes from Scientific-Atlanta and Amino, content protection from NDS, etc. Americom operates an IPTV broadcast center and satellite uplink in Vernon Valley, NJ.

Americom sells IP-PRIME directly to the larger telcos; BellSouth is using IP-PRIME in its IPTV trials. For smaller telcos, Americom has signed an agreement with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA). Both will offer IP-PRIME to their members.

NRTC includes 1,300 rural utilities and telecommunications companies. At the TelcoTV show we met with Don Mathison, NRTC's executive director, Marketing and Programming, and Joe King, director of systems services. Don and Joe told us that NRTC is negotiating program distribution rights on behalf of its member companies and is running service trials with several rural telephone cooperatives. These are currently beta trials in "friendly" customer homes. There are 200 video channels, being expanded soon to 300; high definition is part of the plan and will be available within a year.

At the VON conference a few months ago, we heard a talk on IPTV by Trevor Bonstetter, CEO of West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative which serves about 17,000 customers in the western part of Kentucky. His cooperative is one of the beta sites for NRTC and IP-PRIME, and we understood how well this solution would make sense for a small telco like his. We're hoping to visit western Kentucky some time soon to report on this service.


TV Over the Internet--The End of the "Walled Garden"?

Although TelcoTV's main focus was on television delivered over managed networks, TV delivered over a user's broadband connection was also addressed. This was confronted most directly in a panel session titled "Broadband TV: Bypass Villain or Golden Opportunity" which included Mike Hudack, CEO of blip.tv; Josh Goldman, CEO of Akimbo; and Trey Gaskins, COO of Dave.TV.

In Goldman's view, services like Akimbo are a great way to provide "long-tail" content and do not need to be a threat to service providers. He pointed to the offering of Akimbo's content by AT&T HomeZone as a place where the relationship with a service provider is complementary rather than adverserial. Goldman also observed that the "traditional" model--in which managed video services go to the TV and Internet content goes to the PC--is weakening. In his view, 2007 will be the year that broadband video delivered to the TV reaches critical mass.

Mike Hudack's perspective on broadband video comes from his experiences in working with both established content (in his case from the National Hockey League) and user-generated materials. He believes that the service provider's need to control and limit content for traditional TV programming comes from the relatively scarce bandwidth available to deliver video content. Service providers go after properties that attract large audiences; thus you get TV's "walled garden". Now that video can be delivered over any broadband service, the available bandwidth for delivery expands, so that content which attracts only small audiences can still be delivered. The new model will be "any content to any device."

The panel agreed that we are at the point where the historical links of "professional content on the TV" and "any content on the PC" are being broken. In their view, service operators have the opportunity to deliver the choice of content to the user. "If they don't, consumers will go around them the way they did with PVRs".

Goldman expressed the view that the service providers have an imperative to get this right: "There is nothing more motivating than seeing your core business rapidly going away."

Addressing this pressing issue is what the Telco TV show is all about.

( www.ineoquest.com ) ( www.digitalfountain.com ) ( www.att.com ) ( www.alcatel.com ) ( www.belgacom.com ) ( www.swisscom.com ) ( www.auna.com ) ( www.kpn.com ) ( www.bt.com ) ( www.telefonica.com ) ( www.alliant.com ) ( www.fastweb.com ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.minervanetworks.com ) ( www.ses-americom.com ) ( www.ip-prime.tv ) ( www.nrtc.coop ) ( www.ntca.org ) ( www.wktelecom.coop ) ( www.blip.tv ) ( www.akimbo.com ) ( www.dave.tv )


Ultrawideband and the Unwired Home: A Guest Article by Billy Brackenridge

Note from the Editors: We have interviewed many executives of UWB companies and have heard their views of the potential applications of UWB. We invited Billy Brackenridge of Staccato Communications to share his view of where UWB is going.

Billy Brackenridge is a product system architect at Staccato Communications, where he helps customers build innovative products using Staccato’s Ripcord™ family of products, a single-chip, all-CMOS solution based on Certified Wireless USB. Earlier in his career, Billy helped pioneer multimedia at the Voyager Company in Santa Monica developing CD-ROM and laser disc interactive titles, and then worked as a program manager in the operating systems group at Microsoft where he worked on USB, audio and Bluetooth.


Ultrawideband (UWB) is a new technology that will enable digital wireless connections. Market researchers are predicting several hundred million UWB chips will be sold in 2008. Most of these chips will end up in the home. How will they be deployed?

I am writing this in December 2006. To date no UWB chips have been sold. Is this another ‘zero billion dollar a year’ industry? How can I be so confident in my predictions?

The answers lie in a combination of physics, business and law.


The Physics of UWB

In 2002 the FCC opened up a large portion of spectrum for use in consumer devices. The spectrum ranges from 3.1 GHz to 10.7 GHz. This is an unprecedented amount of spectrum and hence comes the name ‘ultrawideband’.

While traditional radios concentrate energy at a specific frequency and ‘tune’ to that frequency, ultrawideband radios spread energy at low power levels over a wide range of frequencies. Since there is very little energy at any one point in the spectrum, ultrawideband transmissions neither interfere with nor are blocked by conventional radio signals.

Conventional radio has not changed much since the 1930s. Transistors and later integrated circuits replaced vacuum tubes and discrete components, but the principles of radio are pretty much the same.

The change from analog to digital has completely changed how we can build radios. Ultrawideband radios are only practical using digital signal processing. UWB radios take the signal from an antenna and digitize it. The digital signal processing is basically looking for patterns of energy over a wide area of frequencies.

Digital radio can be implemented today in a single-chip special-purpose computer. In the past, radio transmitters were all about sending large amounts of power into an antenna. Today, the individual transistors on a computer chip operate at microscopic power levels.

Large amounts of transmit power mean long range transmission. In order to double the distance, you must square the amount of power. This law of physics works in our favor when we want to build a radio that will stay confined to a single room. We can build practical UWB radios that can transmit at 100 megabits per second at a range of 10 meters. These radios are limited by law to less than a millionth of a watt in any megahertz of spectrum space.

Because there is so little power at any single point in the spectrum, UWB radios don’t interfere with conventional radios. Because the signal is spread over such a wide range of frequencies, a strong signal at any given frequency will not bother a UWB radio.

The result of all this is that UWB radios are legal in the United States and can be used for consumer devices without an individual having to get a license to operate a radio. Other countries are following with similar laws.


The Business of UWB

The physics and approval from regulatory authorities are a necessary first step, but in order to make practical products there has to be a business. UWB radios have been standardized by the WiMedia Alliance. This is a non-profit association of more than 100 companies large and small that have gotten together to standardize UWB radios.

More than $250 million dollars of venture capital has been invested in startup companies promising to build WiMedia compliant devices. This doesn’t count money in larger corporations where the R&D expenses are not publicly disclosed.

WiMedia compliant devices will start to appear on the market early in 2007, and the market is expected to expand rapidly.

Cable replacement will be the first market for WiMedia, and the USB cable will be the first to be replaced. The USB Implementers Forum has released a specification called Certified Wireless USB, and several companies are building product. The first products will be "dongles" that plug into computer USB ports, and wireless USB hubs that will let you plug in peripheral devices such as printers on the other side of a room without stretching a cable across the room.

In the not too distant future, Certified Wireless USB will come built into PCs of all varieties—just as USB ports are built into all PCs today. Modern laptops have a socket under the keyboard called a PCI Express Mini Card slot. The socket is designed to support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapters, and provides a connector to an antenna built into the laptop lid. At Staccato Communications, we are building a UWB Mini Card where a WiMedia radio shares the antenna with Bluetooth; because the two radios do not interfere with one another, both can operate sharing a single antenna.

The traditional PC in the home won’t change much. Kids still need PCs to do their homework. PCs will get cheaper, smaller and quieter. Wi-Fi will remain as the main method for internet access in the home. The VGA cable is an unnecessary cost as the main CPU and memory is small enough to be built into the flat panel display. Printers may use Certified Wireless USB, but they might use Wi-Fi. Whichever camp produces the cheapest and easiest to use solution will win. I think Certified Wireless USB has the edge on ease of use, as everybody understands wired USB. In any case, cables on conventional computers are a thing of the past.

Once WiMedia radios are built into PCs, consumer electronics manufacturers will start embedding them in devices. Digital cameras will probably be the first consumer devices with embedded WiMedia radios. All digital cameras come with USB connectors today, but using a cable with a camera is particularly cumbersome, and it’s easy to forget to bring the cable with you when you travel.


Wireless Video Everywhere

Another relentless trend is that processors are running at lower and lower power, and this enables portable media players. Intel believes that audio and video will be played on Intel processors, and the trend is to get them to run in smaller and smaller packages that don’t require fans. Intel’s competition believes special-purpose architectures will allow lower power and lower cost video encode and playback. There are numerous examples of these sorts of chips: Texas Instruments uses the trade name DaVinci™ for its line of video processing chips; ATI (now part of AMD), Broadcom, Qualcomm and Micronas also make video-capable chips than can fit in portable players, mobile phones and TV sets.

One thing all of these media chips have in common is USB interfaces. More than three billion USB sockets have been shipped to date, and another billion are expected to ship in the next twelve months. Software drivers for USB are well understood and widely available for every family of processors. USB is not just for Intel processors and PCs anymore.

Thus the transition to Certified Wireless USB won’t require redesign of existing media processing hardware. A decade ago planners believed 1394 would be the cable of choice for video, but USB won in the marketplace. As John Lennon put it "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."


Wireless CATV

The next big issue is what becomes of the CATV cable itself? Today CATV provides a thousand video and audio channels as well as internet access all on one cable.

The first step in accessing CATV is the TV tuner. Until February 2009 when analog TV broadcast will cease, the US government requires that CATV still carry analog TV channels. You can hook your 1950s black & white TV to a modern cable, and it will work. No cable box is required.

While most TV channels are now digital, a TV tuner is still required. Several digital TV channels are packed into conventional channels that are backward compatible with standards from the 1950s.

Microsoft’s Media Center has created a market for USB TV tuners. Today these have shrunk to the size of a USB memory stick. One can attach a cable to one of these tuners and watch TV on a laptop. The wholesale cost of parts necessary to make a modern USB TV tuner are about $25, and the resulting product usually sells for less than $100. Media center supports up to four TV tuners, and will support multiple displays, picture in picture, or combinations thereof.

USB tuners don’t have to be associated only with Intel processors or Microsoft software. Nearly every video decoder chip used in set top boxes and TV sets already has a USB interface. With the addition of Certified Wireless USB, it is possible to separate the TV tuner functionality from the viewing experience. There is no need for the TV tuner to be in the same box as the display or set top box.

For example, the TV tuner could be in a box on the wall near where the TV cable enters a room. Certified Wireless USB means you don’t have to tear out a wall or route cable under the rug. You could easily send several encoded TV streams across a room with Certified Wireless USB. One tuner could service several sets or a Media Center with several displays.

This scenario sounds very sensible, but this isn’t how it was supposed to be. A decade ago planners believed there would be one video decoder chip in the set top box. The idea was that TV sets would be ‘dumb glass’ and connected to the set top box by some sort of digital or analog cable. Then MPEG decoding got very inexpensive and consumers demanded higher and higher TV resolutions. Cables that carry raw digital video (DVI, HDMI) can cost between $30 and upwards of $200. Digital video cables are significantly more expensive than USB cables.

But the whole point is to get rid of the cable. The highest quality compressed video requires about 20 Mbps, but raw video can require up to 6Gbps. Some people are promising proprietary ultrawideband systems that can carry raw video at these rates, but Certified Wireless USB can carry compressed video for a lot less money.


Mobile Phones in the Home

Bluetooth is used for communications in mobile phones and other battery powered devices. Since it consumes very little battery power, Bluetooth is a good fit for these devices. But Bluetooth is limited in its maximum bit rate and is inadequate for transfer of media files. Attempts to build MP3 players with Bluetooth have proved unsatisfactory. Video is completely out of the question.

The Bluetooth SIG has adopted the WiMedia radio as the basis for their next standard, which they are calling Bluetooth 3.0. With WiMedia as part of “high speed Bluetooth,” consumers should be able to share media files between battery powered devices nearly instantaneously.

Intel has claimed that Certified Wireless USB will be able to download a ‘full length motion picture’ in 80 seconds. The Bluetooth SIG has not made similar claims, but the prospect of keeping videos or motion pictures on phones or iPod like devices is a real possibility. Consumers will demand the ability to share video between phones and PCs, TV sets or other phones in the home.

Bluetooth 3.0 addresses three major concerns of mobile phone operators: handset battery life, cost and efficiency of cell operation.

Because UWB transfers files faster than any other radio technology to date, it consumes far less battery power to transfer a given number of bits. As consumers demand media files on their phones, UWB is the only practical wireless technology for the next decade.

Nokia recently announced a new technology called Wibree, which complements UWB nicely in that it is power efficient for keeping connections open or transmitting a few bits. We expect to see Wibree, conventional Bluetooth and WiMedia used synergistically in Bluetooth 3.0. Wibree provides an extremely low power standby mode, and WiMedia provides an extremely power efficient way to transmit large media files.

This leaves ‘efficiency of cellular operation’ as the major factor, and is part of a broader issue of potential interference between UWB and wide-area communications.

Ultrawideband in general and WiMedia in specific were designed not to interfere with conventional radio transmission, but extremely weak signals are susceptible to even low levels of noise. By the time a signal travels from the mobile phone operator’s tower and through the walls of your home, it is very weak and subject to interference even from very weak signals. In most cases simply moving a device a few feet closer to a window will clear up interference, but frequently radios will be collocated in the same phone or laptop. There are many use cases where two devices will be near one another. For example you may download music from the phone and transfer it ‘on the fly’ to your iPod.

What this means for the consumer is that it should be possible for a battery-powered media player to download content just by being near a mobile phone. This isn’t easy. The radios for handset to cell tower communication and other wireless communication systems in the home must all operate at the same time without interfering with one another.

Today ultrawideband, Wi-Fi and mobile phones operate in separate frequency ranges and don’t interfere with one another, but spectrum is limited and we are building radios into more and more products. As consumer demand for bandwidth increases, UWB is the most promising technology that can meet the demand in a non-interfering manner.

We expect to see WiMedia systems built into mobile phones, set top boxes, automobiles, laptops, cameras, media players and general appliances. These devices will be mains powered and battery powered. As wireless becomes ubiquitous, it is essential that steps are taken such that devices don’t interfere with one another. The consumer shouldn’t care what is going on ‘under the hood’, but will demand that appliances ‘just work’. The WiMedia Alliance is taking the necessary actions today to make sure our radios scale for the future and ‘play well with others’.


WiNet

The WiMedia Alliance is developing a standard called WiNet for Internet protocols over WiMedia. Today Wi-Fi is the dominant wireless technology for carrying internet protocols. WiNet differs from Wi-Fi in several significant respects.

First, WiNet uses modern hardware encryption, and encryption is turned on by default. While the newest versions of Wi-Fi use the same encryption technique, millions of Wi-Fi access points are deployed that operate in the clear and represent a continuing security risk.

Second, WiNet can communicate with several network access points and form peer-to-peer connections with several nearby devices at the same time. This may seem rather obscure, but Microsoft’s new Vista operating system is supporting new modes for PC-to-PC sharing that can exploit this feature; for example, you could give a PowerPoint presentation without a projector and the presentation would appear on everybody’s laptop screen. WiNet can provide a fast peer–to-peer connection so that screen images can be shared over the wireless link.

Ad hoc networking is a powerful new concept. The idea behind ad hoc networking is that devices find each other and assign themselves ‘ad hoc’ addresses without relying on a network administrator or centralized server. With secure ad hoc networking, devices establish a secure relationship so that they can send encrypted messages that others can’t decipher.

WiNet’s short range and high bandwidth make it ideal for secure ad hoc networking, but the experience of the internet has taught us that networking prospers best with open standards. China, Japan and Korea are pushing IPv6 as a matter of national policy. Rightly or wrongly the US is perceived as ‘dominating the internet’ and restricting Asian countries from their ‘fair share’ of IPv4 internet addresses.

Microsoft listened to their customers and implemented secure ad hoc networking based on IPv6 in Vista. WiNet will exploit IPv6 secure ad hoc networking. WiNet equipped media players will be able to exchange media files much faster than Wi-Fi. As WiMedia moves into more consumer devices and secure peer to peer ad hoc networking becomes more important WiMedia will gain market share over Wi-Fi.

We can’t predict all the ways WiMedia ultrawideband radios will be employed in the home. As with all new technologies, inventors come up with new applications that were totally unanticipated by the people building the technology in the first place. We are attempting to make WiMedia as flexible as possible so that people may find new and unexpected uses of the technology.

( staccatocommunications.com )


Wireless Video Distribution in the Home

When we were at TelcoTV, we were struck by the many different approaches to distributing video throughout the home. While Category 5 cabling is viewed as providing the best video quality, telcos are understandably reluctant to bear the expense of running new cables.

Many telcos have chosen to use existing cables. Recent deployments have leaned toward existing coaxial cables, which typically run between the TV sets in North American homes. While Verizon has chosen MoCA--which runs only over coax, AT&T has chosen HPNA 3--which runs over both coax and phone lines, providing more flexibility.

At TelcoTV, many vendors were showing how various wireless technologies could be used for video distribution. These included two flavors of Wi-Fi--the current 802.11g and the future 802.11n--and ultra wideband (UWB).

Ruckus Wireless was at the show with their MediaFlex technology based on 802.11g. We've written before ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0607_7.html#link7a ) about Ruckus, whose technology has been adopted by several telcos in Europe and Asia. MediaFlex appears well suited for standard definition TV, but really doesn't have enough bandwidth for high definition.

Now ultra wideband (UWB) and the new 802.11n "flavor" of Wi-Fi are getting ready to slug it out in the market for wireless video home networking.


Video Over UWB

At the show, we met with two chip companies--Tzero Technologies and Sigma Designs--that are promoting their versions of UWB technologies for HD video distribution. We've also talked many times with Pulse~LINK about this application.

Tzero

Matt Keowen, Tzero's senior director of corporate marketing, told us that while most UWB companies are focused on USB cable replacement, Tzero is focused on video distribution. He said their "ultraMIMO" UWB technology could reliably carry three HD streams over 10 meters. Their TZ7000 chip is based on the WiMedia radio, and recently completed testing and registration in the WiMedia certification program.

Tzero claims that its approach performs much better than other UWB implementations, providing increased range, increased reliability, and better interference cancellation. It further claims to provide a packet error rate several orders of magnitude better that either 802.11n or other versions of UWB.

Tzero has created a Wireless HDMI reference design, which uses UWB to provide a wireless HDMI link for high definition television. UWB doesn't have nearly enough bandwidth for uncompressed HD video, so the reference design uses a JPEG2000 video codec chip from Analog Devices, which compresses the video stream so that it can be carried over UWB.

Several companies have announced products incorporating Tzero chips. Amedia recently announced that it would include Tzero UWB in its advanced residential gateways for IPTV. Gefen, a leading provider of audio/video connectivity systems, is building a Wireless HDMI extender.

Sigma Designs

We visited with Sigma Designs to see the Secure Media Processor SoCs used in many of the advanced IPTV set top boxes, and were surprised when they also showed us their new Windeo UWB chipset for video distribution. In early 2006, Sigma acquired Blue7, a Silicon Valley startup developing UWB chips for wireless video/audio streaming within the home.

Like the Tzero chipset, Windeo is based on the WiMedia Alliance specifications. Windeo uses multiple antenna technologies and claims to double the usable range of UWB. At the show, Sigma showed us a demo transferring HD video across a room with a Windeo prototype with three antennas at each end.

Pulse~LINK

We have written several times about Pulse~LINK, one of the UWB pioneers. While most of the industry has rallied behind the WiMedia radio standard, Pulse~LINK has continued to pursue its own approaches to UWB.

Pulse~LINK has long promoted the use of UWB radios over coaxial cable and powerline as well as over the air. We have seen several demonstrations of its CWave technology combining UWB over coax and over the air to provide a very high speed "whole home" network.

Pulse~LINK recently announced that it would be demonstrating CWave at CES next month. It said the demo would show "room-to-room distribution of multiple HDTV streams and multimedia content over both coax and wireless connections simultaneously from the same chipset" to "allow HD/Multimedia content located anywhere in the home to be shared across the existing coax backbone with wireless networking connections in each room."


802.11n for Home Video

While UWB is the new player on the block, the Wi-Fi players are regrouping to bring their next generation products forward more quickly. 802.11n has always been positioned as the wireless technology most suitable for "whole home" networking including multiple channels of high definition video.

But 802.11n has been a long time coming. The IEEE standards process tends to run at its own deliberate speed, and conflicts between major players have slowed down the standardization process even more than usual; final approval of the 802.11n standard is now not expected until the middle of 2008, slipping another year over the past year.

When we wrote 802.11n--Next-Generation Wi-Fi Back On Track ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0601_5.html ) almost a year ago, the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) was adamant that it would not start certifying 802.11n products until the final standard was approved. But the further slippage, the appearance of many mutually incompatible "draft 11n" products on the consumer market, and new entrants such as UWB, have caused WFA to reexamine its plans.

While WFA has not formally announced the change, several key players have told us that WFA now plans to start certifying "draft n" products based on a draft 802.11n specification. This will probably be based on the "Draft 2.0" spec which will likely be voted on by the IEEE members in the first half of 2007. WFA seems determined to move forward and will set its own timetable for certification, with initial certified products expected by the summer of 2007. Many chip makers are now more focused on the WFA certification process than the IEEE, and are determined to be part of the first wave of certified chips.

Metalink

Metalink, a fabless chipmaker based in Israel, has long been focused on HD video networking. Early this week, they announced the availability of their second-generation WLANPlus chipset designed specifically for video networking.

We talked last week with Ron Cates, Metalink's Vice President, North American Sales & Marketing. Ron told us that the new chipset is based on the latest draft of 802.11n and is targeted to WFA certication. It chipset includes many advanced features Metalink says are required to preserve video quality.

Ron said that the first-generation chipset had been proven to work well for IPTV set top boxes and other consumer electronics applications, and the second-generation chipset was designed for size and cost reduction and volume production as well as full compliance with the expected WFA certification procedures.

We expect to see specific product announcements and demonstrations at CES next month.

Airgo

Not to be outdone, Airgo made a pair of announcements last week. The expected one was the availability of its first 802.11n chip. The unexpected one was its acquisition by Qualcomm.

We interviewed Greg Raleigh, Airgo's CEO, on the date of the announcement last week. Greg pointed out that Airgo has long said that it would not release a chipset based on the early 802.11n drafts, since those would fail to win approval in IEEE balloting and products based on them would not be compatible with later drafts. With draft 2.0 moving forward, and WFA moving toward certifying products, Airgo now felt ready to release its draft 2.0 chipset.

The AGN400 chipset is a two chip solution which supports 802.11n draft 2.0 in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, and is fully back compatible to the earlier 802.11a/b/g standards.

The press release for the AGN400 was coupled with the announcement that Qualcomm had acquired Airgo as well as the Bluetooth assets of RF Micro Devices, and said both technologies would be integrated into Qualcomm chipsets for mobile telephony. We asked Greg whether the acquisition would diffuse Airgo's drive on consumer networking applications, and he said that Airgo would benefit from Qualcomm's scale and financial stength in the coming competition as 802.11n chips pass upcoming WFA certification tests.

The Qualcomm/Airgo announcement said nothing about the financial terms of the acquisition. We asked Greg, who said only "my investors are delighted."


What to Watch

Both UWB and 802.11n video networking solutions are coming to market at the same time. We expect to see many products at CES next month, and will see many in retail stores by the summer.

As shown by AT&T's difficulties with IPTV, video quality is very critical for television delivery. Data networking is very tolerant compared with video, where pictures pixelate and audio and video get out of synch with each other. Many people are skeptical that any wireless technology can succeed in the real world of the home.

We have been writing about "whole home"networking for many years. The coming year will be important in sorting out winners and losers.

( www.ruckuswireless.com ) ( www.tzerotech.com ) ( www.analog.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.pulse-link.com ) ( www.wi-fi.org ) ( www.metalinkbb.com ) ( www.airgonetworks.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com )


2006 Trend Spotting

We are generally so busy looking at what broadband will mean going forward that we don't have much time for looking back. The end of another year seems to be a good time to pause and think about how effectively we spotted some of the trends over the past twelve months. Since the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of our barometers for what's coming during a year, we went back to see what we wrote after last year's show ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0601_4.html ) and how those areas have fared over the year. Here's a quick look at the areas we highlighted from last year's CES.

  • Whole home entertainment, whole home networking and networked storage: There has been solid progress in all the forms of home networking designed to move multiple streams of HD around the home. We're now seeing IPTV rollouts based on HomePNA, MoCA and HomePlug. For 802.11n we had warned that although "pre-n" products provided benefits in speed and range, "consumers may be unpleasantly surprised if they try to mix and match different products"--exactly what has happened. As we discussed in the article above, the Wi-Fi Alliance has acknowledged the need for action and is stepping up to the task of certifying "pre-standard IEEE 802.11n" products in 2007. At the application level for whole home entertainment, progress has been slow and steady. Whole home PVR and the ability to see any content on any device are in process, but still need some maturing time.
  • Portable media players and content: This has been an area of enormous growth with video added to the iPOD, video on mobile phones, Microsoft's Zune, and services like Slingbox and Orb bringing user's content from home onto their portable media devices anywhere they have a broadband connection. Portable media is hot and it looks like the growth and innovation will keep coming.
  • Viiv and Vista: We all know what happened with Vista for consumers--it was the 2006 event that wasn't. And although Viiv stickers now abound on all the new Intel-based machines, it certainly has not revolutionized anything. This seems to be an area where the hype has exceeded any short-term reality.
  • Google: From all the focus on Google during 2006 and their many forays into new areas, we were glad we decided to spend our "standing in line time" at CES last January waiting for Larry Page's keynote and not for the one by Bill Gates. (We have only so much patience to spend in long lines and one mega-star talk a year is generally our limit for long lines). Advertising, communications and content were all areas in which Google has had major developments. Google's acquisition of YouTube, their trial with MTV (Google inserts clips from MTV Networks into Google's AdSense targeted advertising system) and their agreement with eBay to integrate "click-to-call" advertising using both Skype and Google globally in each company's shopping and search platforms are but a few examples.

What key areas weren't visible to us last January? Looking back, we missed the rapid growth of Internet video--both the appeal of "user generated content" (and social communications more generally), and the rush by traditional media companies to adopt Internet video as a legitimate way to distribute and gain interest in their content.

As we note below, CES is coming soon, so we'll have the opportunity to see where the signals point for trends in 2007.


Your Voice -- Readers Comments

One reader wrote to agree with many of the Heilbrunn's comments about broadband while traveling in Europe ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0609_5.html ) and contributed some of his own thoughts. In addition to agreeing about good Internet access but high fees (25 Euro/day in Munich last month) he said:

"One thing I have learned (the hard way) is that all recent construction uses recessed outlets. 220V to 110V transformers that mount flush to the wall no longer work. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that most new consumer electronics have transformers that work with either power. Just be sure to have enough European to US style plug converters and you're all set. And ALWAYS carry your own CAT 5 cable. Wireless is often an extra charge above wired access or sometimes not available at all.

Having broadband available is also a boon for digital photographers. I upload photos from each day to a domestic site, or simply mail them to myself. If my camera gets lost or stolen, all but one day's pictures are preserved."


Upcoming Conferences

During December, we look forward to the coming New Year and try to rest our feet in anticipation of the Consumer Electronics Show in January. This year's CES takes place in Las Vegas January 8-11, 2007 and is THE place to see and learn about content, technology and everything in between. Last year's event had 150,000 attendees from 110 countries and more than 2,500 exhibitors. We hope to see some of our readers there, so please come over to say "hi" if you see us.