In This Issue
Your Voice -
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
David Novak, formerly at MediaREADY, has been named President at Convergen.
Ericsson of Sweden has offered $1.6 billion to acquire Norway-based IPTV solutions developer Tandberg Television, topping an earlier offer by Arris. ( www.ericsson.com ) ( www.tandbergtelevision.com ) ( www.arrisi.com )
Chinese Web-based video site UUSee, said to be the world's largest Web TV operation, has raised $23.5 million from a group of U.S. venture capitalists including Disney's venture arm. ( www.uusee.com )
AT&T launched AT&T OnTheGo, a new premium service that will allow AT&T U-verse customers to view live television on a PC using any high-speed Internet connection. ( www.att.com )
BitTorrent launched an e-commerce venture to sell and rent encrypted video content from several major studios and TV networks over its peer-to-peer networking software. Available only to subscribers in the United States, the BitTorrent Entertainment Network will rent movies at prices from $3.99 for new releases and from $2.99 for catalog titles. ( www.bittorrent.com )
Orb Networks says it has integrated the Orb PC application (sitting on the PC) with the Futarque DVB IPTV set top box reference platform based on a chipset from STMicro. Orb says this will "bridge the gap between the PC and the low cost STB, and bring the true value of IP delivered and personal media to the operator service." ( www.orb.com ) ( www.futarque.com )
Pivot has been chosen as the brand name for the quadruple-play integrated services offered by the joint venture between Sprint and four cable MSOs: Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Advance/Newhouse Communications.
Verizon Wireless launched V CAST Mobile TV, a broadcast TV service for cell phones, in about 20 US markets, charging $15 to $25 a month for the initial lineup from eight leading networks. Verizon's service is based on Qualcomm's MediaFLO technology and network. Verizon's launch came a day after a demonstration of the rival Modeo service offered by tower operator Crown Castle International. ( www.verizonwireless.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( www.mediaflo.com ) ( www.modeo.com ) ( www.crowncastle.com )
Satellite broadband provider WildBlue began offering Ka-band service from its new WildBlue-1 satellite. It said the new satellite will allow it to more than triple its customer capacity, and that service "will be available to all areas of the contiguous United States by the second quarter of 2007." ( www.wildblue.com )
XM Canada and Rogers Communications have formed a partnership to bring XM programming to Rogers customers while they are using a wireless handset, watching cable television or surfing the Internet. The Rogers-XM Canada service is part of the Rogers VISION suite of services. ( www.xmradio.ca ) ( www.rogers.com )
Digital Fountain's DF Raptor technology has been adopted as the enhanced application layer FEC option for the Digital Video Broadcasting Project’s (DVB) global IPTV standard. This new option will enable IPTV providers to deliver broadcast-quality service while eliminating many of the common problems associated with existing IPTV services, including video and audio degradation. ( www.digitalfountain.com ) ( www.dvb.org )
DVB also approved DVB-SH, a new specification for the satellite and terrestrial delivery of mobile television and multimedia services to handheld devices. ( www.dvb.org )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on FTTH in the US and global broadband growth.
US FTTH Passes Nearly 8 Million Homes
A new study, done by RVA Market Research and jointly released by the Fiber-to-the-Home Council and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), found that nearly 8 million homes are now passed by fiber to the home (FTTH), up from 4 million a year ago. Of those, 1.3 million are connected to the fiber, better than double the 671,000 that were connected in March 2006.
The report says more than 340 companies now offer FTTH services. Verizon's FiOS service is by far the largest, with nearly 900,000 connected homes. ( www.rvallc.com ) ( www.ftthcouncil.com ) ( www.tiaonline.org ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.verizonfios.com )
Report Predicts Rapid Growth in Broadband Penetration and Factory Revenue
A recent study by market intelligence researcher iSuppli predicts that "global broadband subscribers will grow to 622.7 million by 2011, more than double the 270.4 million in 2006. ... Household broadband penetration is expected to exceed 50 percent in the United States and Japan for the first time this year, and will do so in Europe in 2008."
iSuppli also predicts continued growth in broadband equipment factory revenue "set to rise to $15.1 billion by 2011, expanding at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 6.2 percent, up from $11.2 billion in 2006." ( www.isuppli.com )
"Draft 802.11n"--On Track for Wi-Fi Certification
After many delays and confusing product claims, IEEE 802.11n--the next generation of Wi-Fi--now seems to be heading solidly in the right direction. IEEE Task Group 802.11n and the Wi-Fi Alliance have set a common path toward an agreed standard and interoperability testing. Although scheduled publication of the final standard is still more than a year away, certified interoperable products are expected to reach the market this summer. This should end the consumer confusion caused by the many incompatible "draft n" devices that flooded the market last year.
For those who have not been following the story, 802.11n promises 100 Mbps throughput--4 to 5 times faster than the real-world throughput of its predecessors 802.11a and 802.11g. 11n gets higher throughput by running at higher data rates, combining several 20 MHz channels, and concatenating packets to cut down on dead air time. It gets greater range by using MIMO "smart antenna" technology to overcome multipath distortion. It supports both the 2.4 GHz spectrum used by 802.11g and the 5 GHz spectrum used by 802.11a, and is backward-compatible to simplify migration.
IEEE and WFA
When the IEEE 802.11n Task Group started its standards-making efforts in September of 2003, the projected publication date was October 2005. Two years ago, the date had slipped to early 2007. Now it is October 2008.
IEEE standards efforts are often slowed down by vendor infighting and factionalization, with vendors promoting specific approaches that leverage their intellectual property. The IEEE standards process requires a 75% affirmative vote to approve each drafting stage; in the absence of broad consensus, any individual faction rarely has enough support to reach the 75% affirmative votes required to go forward, but can often rally the 25% negative votes required to block other factions. Factionalization has sometimes killed a standard--we wrote last year about the demise of IEEE 802.15.3a, which was attempting to set a standard for UWB. In 802.11n, the factions have jockeyed for years without being able to bring a draft to a affirmative ballot.
In mid-2005, one large faction got together outside the IEEE meetings, put together a proposal of their own, started shipping chips loosely based on it, and submitted their proposal to the IEEE task group as a proposed draft for 802.11n. By early 2006, many equipment vendors were selling so-called "draft n" products based on those chips. As we wrote last June, these products did not work well with each other, and some were not "good neighbors" to nearby 802.11b and 802.11g networks. One of the most respected reviewers wrote "The industry had better stop hyping and start fixing this crap...and fast."
The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA)--the certification and marketing side of the Wi-Fi juggernaut--looked with dismay at these negative reviews. WFA had long declared that it would not certify 802.11n products until the finished standard was published. But with market confusion over the "draft n" products, and little sign of the IEEE process moving toward convergence, WFA reversed its position. In an announcement last August, WFA said it would "certify interoperability of Wi-Fi products that include baseline features from the developing IEEE 802.11n standard in the first half of 2007" and that after publication it would certify standards-compliant products to bring "full alignment with the ratified standard". To avoid confusing consumers, WFA said "The certification marks used for the first phase of the program will clearly indicate that the certified products are pre-standard, so that consumers will understand that what they are purchasing is not based on a ratified IEEE standard."
The announcement raised the question of which draft would become the basis for pre-standard testing. Late last year, we were told that although the Alliance preferred to base its certification program on an approved draft, it had made it clear that it would stick to its announced "first half" timetable and proceed with certification based on a working draft, whether or not that draft had achieved the required 75% affirmative vote.
The WFA announcement shifted the center of gravity of 802.11n development. Most companies seem to have decided that Wi-Fi certification will be necessary to clarify the marketplace confusion, and moved quickly to ready chips and products for the certification program. At CES in January, many companies told us they would soon ship chips and devices that were "on track" for certification, and expected that these devices would be software upgradable to conform with the "pre-standard certification" tests. Some of these devices have already reached the market; many more are expected in the next few months.
The IEEE group seems to have paid attention--the 802.11n drafting process quickly converged. In February, Draft 1.10 passed with 98% affirmative, setting the stage for the long-awaited Draft 2.0. This passed a few weeks ago with 83% affirmative. The projected publication date is still more than a year away, but hopefully will now remain stable.
We recently talked on the telephone with Karen Hanley, WFA's Senior Marketing Director. She confirmed that the WFA program is "on track" and that as planned there will be a "second phase" when the final standard is published next year. She said WFA expects that "the bulk of equipment in 2007 will go to consumers. The program will be one of our largest uptakes" and there might be "1 to 15 million end products in 2007." She said WFA expects enterprises will mostly wait for second-phase products, although those for which "range is important" might adopt the early products.
We asked Karen whether these first-phase products were likely to be upgradeable to the final standard; she said "that would be up to the individual vendor."
Intel's "Connect with Centrino" Program
In late January, we received an announcement from Buffalo Technology saying that Buffalo had "joined Intel's 'Connect with Centrino' program" and that its "AirStation Wireless–N Nfiniti Dual Band Router & AP is fully interoperable with any dual-band Centrino Mobile Technology notebook with Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N technology." That seemed like an interesting twist on the certification question, so we followed up with Buffalo and Intel.
A few days later, we talked on the telephone with Mark Grodinsky and Ashish Gupta, both product managers in Intel's wireless group. Mark started by reassuring us that Intel's program was complementary to the WFA certification program. He said that as chair of the marketing task group of WFA, 11n certification is under him. "I used to work for Frank [Hanzlik-WFA's Managing Director] way back. He is very comfortable with what Intel is doing. WFA is responsible for interoperability - making sure the products interoperate. Intel wants to be sure that Centrino notebooks equipped with Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N will work with other devices you buy.
"It's more that just interoperability. We start with interoperability and test to make sure all devices interoperate. Then we go to the next level. We have a 4200 square foot home and an office environment. We use real-world functionality scenarios. We test usage models, obstructions, and interferers. The whole point is to make it complementary to WFA.
"Devices will have a logo on the box. Customers will be able to buy logoed products in early February from Netgear, Buffalo and others.
"The Wi-Fi logo says it will work with other products with the Wi-Fi logo. 'Connect with Centrino' will assure a good experience for users, analogous to 'Verified for Centrino' hotspots."
And it sports the "Connect with Centrino" logo.
For further reference:
While high-speed wireless networking is moving rapidly to fully-interoperable products, powerline networking seems to be going in the opposite direction. Three entrenched groups with comparable but non-interoperable product lines are coming to market simultaneously. The products appear attractive, but consumers will find it hard to sort through the conflicting claims, and nearly impossible to figure out what will work with what.
Three Warring Camps
We have written many articles about the evolution of home powerline networking. In tests we conducted at our house more than four years ago, we found that the original HomePlug 1.0 products worked more consistently than the early versions of Wi-Fi available at that time.
As the second generation of powerline networking was being developed, the industry split into three camps: the HomePlug Powerline Alliance (HomePlug), with Intellon as the major semiconductor provider; the Universal Powerline Association (UPA), led by chip maker DS2; and High Definition PLC (HD-PLC), led by Panasonic. All three groups now have similar products on store shelves.
We're planning to conduct tests of these new products similar to the tests we ran four years ago. Our earlier experience suggests that they will work quite well, but will probably fall well short of their touted speeds.
Unfortunately, the standards war may make their performance irrelevant. Devices from one camp do not interoperate with devices from the others. Even worse, they interfere with each other if they're connected to the same electrical lines. While the powerline camps compete against each other, other networking technologies are likely to win the market.
HomePlug is the oldest of the powerline networking industry groups. Products based on its original standard, HomePlug 1.0, reached the market more than four years ago.
At CES in early January, we visited the HomePlug booth and talked with Oleg Logvinov, President & CEO of semiconductor maker Arkados and HomePlug's Chief Strategy Officer. Many of the products on display were based on the original HomePlug 1.0 (advertised as 14 Mbps) and on Intellon's 85 Mbps HomePlug 1.0-compatible "turbo" chips. A few products were based on the new HomePlug AV, operating nominally at 100 Mbps.
Most of the products shown were various forms of HomePlug Ethernet adapters--using HomePlug to extend an Ethernet network throughout the home. We were taken by one new product from Asoka--a combination surge-protected power strip and Ethernet hub based on HomePlug 1.0.
After a long gestation period, products based on HomePlug AV have started appearing. Typical of these is the Linksys PLK200 PowerLine AV Ethernet Adapter Kit. One online retailer describes it as conforming with the "HomePlug AV PowerLine network standard" and providing "up to 100Mbps data rates". Various online retailers show prices between $200 and $235 for a kit with a pair of units; individual units are priced at about half that.
Originally focused on high-speed chips for access BPL, DS2 has had considerable success in serving the IPTV market in Europe and Asia. The UPA standard based on DS2's technology is now appearing in retail networking products.
At CES, we met with Victor Dominguez, DS2's Director of Strategy and Standardization. We thought that DS2 was a fairly new company, but Victor--one of its founders--said the company started in early 1998. He said DS2 provides a broad range of firmware and software for developers, and told us the company has about 140 people of which "90% are engineers and 65% are working on R&D". He said the company has a strong focus on IPTV, using both coax and powerline wiring to provide full-house coverage for several standard-definition or high-definition television streams.
Typical of recent DS-2 based products is the Netgear HDX101 Powerline Ethernet Adapter. One online retailer describes it as a "Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter" with "data rates up to 200 Mbps". A kit with two devices sells for about $165; a single adapter is about $84.
A recent example of home networking devices based on Panasonic's technology is the Panasonic BL-PA100KTA HD-PLC Ethernet Adaptor Starter Pack. One online retailer says it provides "speeds up to 190 Mbps" and sells a pair for $200. It cautions "This product may interfere with ... other PLC adaptors which do not use the HD-PLC standard."
How to Choose?
These devices are all powerline to Ethernet adapters operating at about the same claimed speeds. They appear next to each other on store shelves and on retail websites such as PC Connection and CompUSA. All are offered as kits of two adapters and as single add-ons, and all are close to the same price point.
How will the customer choose between them? If they choose based on the speed claims (100, 190 and 200 Mbps), they're likely to find that none will achieve more than a fraction of its claimed speed.
Even worse, unless the customer has researched these technologies, it's nearly impossible to figure out what works with what.
This is a great formula for a marketing disaster.
The End Game
Since we ran our first tests more than four years ago, we have believed that powerline networking had a good chance to become the default winner for "no new wires" high-speed home networking. Since most home devices are plugged into an electrical outlet, we think most consumers would prefer to use PLC if all it took to connect devices together in a network was to plug them in. If PLC chips were embedded in most devices, wireless communications would probably be relegated to supporting the relatively few mobile devices used in the home.
But the standards war makes it very difficult for makers of PCs, set top boxes, TV sets and the like to commit to embedding powerline chips.
HomeRF versus Wi-Fi
Wireless networking was once also divided into two warring camps. When "Wi-Fi" got its name in April 2000, it faced a formidable competitor in HomeRF. HomeRF was arguably a better standard for home networking--it had built-in quality of service mechanisms to separate time-dependent voice traffic from data--and Intel was one of its strongest proponents. Although Wi-Fi was primarily directed to--and optimized for--the enterprise data market, its proponents argued that employees would bring their laptop PCs home, and would not want to swap wireless cards each time they moved between the office and home.
Wi-Fi and HomeRF products sat right next to each other on store shelves, and neither retail employees nor consumers could sort out the conflicting claims. The lack of volume kept prices high. To nobody's surprise, very little wireless networking technology sold through to the consumer--until Intel reversed its position.
When Intel abruptly switched camps in April 2001, Wi-Fi took off quickly as chip makers focused their attention on a single standard. The Wi-Fi logo assured consumers that products would be interoperable, and prices dropped quickly as volumes increased. When Wi-Fi chips started appearing in notebook PCs, and Intel started its Centrino program to make everybody aware of Wi-Fi, the game was over and HomeRF disbanded.
"All Fall Down?"
We think the competing powerline networking camps will be fortunate if the scenario plays out like wireless, with one camp "winning" against the others. It seems more likely that all will lose.
As we wrote last year, these various powerline devices interfere with each other, competing for the bandwidth of the electrical lines. If several different technologies are used simultaneously in the same home, neither will work properly. This is unfortunate because different technologies might try to share the same electrical lines:
The CEPCA group, which includes most major consumer electronics manufacturers, has pleaded for the widespread adoption of a "coexistence" standard--thus far to no avail. Members of the HomePlug camp feel that interoperability is the only valid approach.
Many other technologies are competing for the same market niche. Cable and telephone companies have already deployed MOCA over coaxial cables, and telephone companies have deployed HomePNA 3.1 over phone lines and coax. As we discussed in the previous article, IEEE 802.11n will be on the market later this year with a "Wi-Fi" certification logo. With the powerline camps at war with each other, there's a substantial risk that they will kill each other off--clearing the path for these other approaches to home networking.
A Way Forward
In the past few days, we raised these points in telephone discussions with Oleg Logvinov of HomePlug and Chano Gomez, DS2's Vice President for Technology and Strategic Partnerships and head of its US office. Both agreed that confusion was building in the marketplace, and felt the HomePlug and UPA groups could play a role in educating retailers and consumers.
HomePlug and UPA have developed "badges" that appear on retail products that have passed their conformance and interoperability tests. Chano said the UPA badge appears on many products on retailer shelves: "Go to Best Buy and Frys, you will see our logo."
Both Chano and Oleg agreed that consumers--and retailers--could better understand what works with what by positioning these badges on retail products sold online. But both also pointed out that semiconductor companies and trade groups have little leverage over equipment makers and even less over online retailers. So it's likely to be an uphill battle.
Several retail websites claim the HDX101 is "powerline-friendly — easily coexists with NETGEAR's Wall-Plugged or HomePlug compatible products". We didn't think DS2 and HomePlug products would work properly when sharing the same powerline, and asked Chano whether Netgear's claim was true. He said Netgear has the largest share of the consumer powerline networking market, with a large installed base of products based on HomePlug 1.0. He said Netgear "took advantage of our software to customize our chip, so the software is different from our default. HDX101 automatically detects whether a HomePlug 1.0 device is there or not. It can coexist with HomePlug even with degraded performance, reducing bandwidth by half or something like that."
In our discussion, Oleg placed the priority on interoperability, and said coexistence will take just as long: "If you have to respin the silicon, you can do interoperability as quickly as coexistence. Industry analysts have to educate the public that it's important to unify the interoperability standard."
Chano reiterated the need for coexistence between home networking, access, and television products. "UPA and CEPCA have filed a joint coexistence proposal with ETSI, and most likely will also file one with IEEE." He was hopeful IEEE P1901--the IEEE Task Group on BPL standards--would resolve both issues: "We have the right forum in P1901. They have created three clusters - access, in-home, and coexistence. Proposals are to be submitted in June or July."
Major potential customers such as broadband service providers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and power utilities clearly prefer a single interoperable standard. We think all three powerline camps should be able to agree on the need for interoperability as a mutual long-term objective. If they can agree to that, perhaps they could then agree to work together on a fast track to coexistence--if it can be implemented faster.
There's not much time left.
For further reference:
( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.upaplc.org ) ( www.ds2.es ) ( www.hd-plc.org ) ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.arkados.com ) ( www.asokausa.com ) ( www.cepca.org ) ( www.mocalliance.org ) ( www.homepna.org )
When we received an email saying that the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) was meeting in the Bay area during the same week we planned to be there, we contacted Paulo Pastorino to try to get an invitation to attend the meeting. We had been corresponding with Paulo for more than a year, and were interested in learning more about HGI's status. He told us that the meeting was closed, but agreed to meet with us after the meeting to bring us up to speed.
Founded in late 2004, HGI is an ambitious effort "to boost the market of home communication services to the millions of broadband customers served by its founding members" which include many of the world's largest telcos: Belgacom, BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, KPN, TeliaSonera, NTT, Telefonica, and Telecom Italia.
HGI brings both telcos and vendors together to create gateway requirements. On HGI's website, we counted 66 members, a diverse group that now includes 2Wire, Alcatel, DS2, Ericsson, Fastweb, Intellon, Intel, Linksys/Cisco, Microsoft, Netgear, and Philips.
Paolo acts as HGI's Chief Technology Officer & Chief Business Officer. This has proven to be a full-time job, and he is on leave from Telecom Italia.
Paolo told us that HGI has two goals: "to reduce the cost of the box, and to increase the value of the services that can be delivered."
HGI prefers not to develop its own standards, but rather to leverage existing standards from organizations such as the DSL Forum, DLNA, and UPnP. If needed standards do not exist, HGI works with other organizations to frame the requirements and define the standards.
Paolo said HGI issued Release 1.0 last July, and member telcos started using it as the basis for gateway procurements "about three months ago."
HGI expects that its common gateway requirements and specifications will leverage volumes to drive down the cost. Paolo said telcos expect to buy these gateway devices "at volume prices of 50 to 75 Euros--the cost of triple play in Europe"--and expect a three-year lifetime.
Managing Multi-Service Flows
Release 1 says "The aim of HGI is therefore to specify a small range of low cost, high capability Gateways which will provide multi-service communication support for the residential and SOHO environments." A major issue in providing multiple services--which include voice, video and data--through the same gateway device is that different flows have different requirements. Voice and video are time sensitive, while data generally is not.
An important part of Release 1 is devoted to the mechanisms for controlling quality of service (QoS) in flows from the WAN (the operator access network or AN) to the LAN (the home network or HN); flows from the LAN to the WAN; and flows between LAN devices. The following diagram (Figure 6 from Release 1) shows the complex connectivity between the Access Network (on the left) and the Home Network (on the right).
In the diagram, flows 1 and 2 connect between the WAN and the LAN; 3 and 6 are between LAN devices through the gateway; and 4 and 5 are between LAN devices bypassing the gateway. As an example, flow 1 might be a voice call; flow 2 an IPTV stream; flow 3 a video being played back from a DVR; and flow 4 a data file being transferred between PCs. The HGI QoS mechanisms need to handle these flows properly so that operator services such as flows 1 and 2 work as expected, while not interfering with the LAN flows.
Release 1 addresses a specific set of issues, and leaves others (such as interoperability with DLNA and UPnP devices) to later releases. Paolo told us that Release 2 is moving toward publication later this year, and will be the basis for operator tenders in 2008. HGI is now in the process of launching Release 3.
Holger Boswijk of the Netherlands recently subscribed to our newsletter, and wrote (in part):
"Let me explain why I find your site of interest. I am working in a medium sized Dutch historic town, Deventer. Almost 100.000 inhabitants. ... Together with 13 other municipalities we formed Stedenlink (aka Citylink); the combination of municipalities with an offensive broadband policy.
"My task is to promote broadband. We already have FTTI and will have FTTH to all houses by the end of 2009. In the rural areas we will use Wimax. By the end of 2009 we will have a 100% coverage with a minimum speed of 20/20mb. ...
"Last task to be mentioned: we favour open networks, not carrier owned networks. In that respect we will set a standard for open networks (technically and politically) for the Netherlands. Then we will be able to connect all the local initiatives to form a real big open Dutch network. Later on European and global, I hope.
"By working on these topics I find your site of use: to follow new initiatives and related news!"
Thanks Holger--we're glad to help!
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