In This Issue
Wireless Broadband -
Your Voice -
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
Ed Knudson has been named VP of sales and marketing at WildBlue. He was previously with OpenTV. ( www.wildblue.com )
Jon Kovalhas joined Vyyo as VP of Sales. Koval was previously with BigBand. ( www.vyyo.com )
Charles Persico has joined Entropic Communications as VP of RF engineering. He was formerly a senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm. ( www.entropic.com )
Phill Robinson has joined CacheLogic as CEO. He was previously at Salesforce.com. ( www.cachelogic.com )
Blockbuster has acquired Internet movie download service Movielink, formed in 2002 as a joint venture of five movie studios. Terms of the deal were not announced. ( www.blockbuster.com ) ( www.movielink.com )
NDS has announced it is acquiring CastUp, a Tel Aviv-based provider of end-to-end solutions for acquisition, processing, distributing, serving and monetizing of rich media content over IP, for $11.3 million. ( www.nds.com ) ( www.castup.net )
Bay Microsystems, a maker of processors for broadband networks, has closed a $16 million Series E round of funding. ( www.baymicrosystems.com )
BridgeCo, a system-on-chip company, has taken in $8 million in the second tranche of its Series D round and $9 million in debt financing to expand its business in home networking. ( www.bridgeco.com )
BridgeWave Communications, a supplier of gigabit wireless solutions which can be used for 4G/WiMAX backhaul, has secured $7.8 million in Series 3 financing. The funding round includes existing investors and Intel Capital. ( www.bridgewave.com )
Building B, a new television and Internet video on demand service, has raised $17.5 million in funding. The company will combine programming from existing basic and premium cable networks with video delivered from Internet content providers, delivered through new hardware inside a home. ( www.building-b.com )
ScanScout, a startup that provides technology to target video advertising, has received an investment from Time Warner. The amount of the investment was not disclosed. ( www.scanscout.com ) ( www.timewarner.com )
Xtendwave has received $10 million in private financing to develop a business to extend the reach of high-speed Internet signals on copper wire phone networks. ( www.xtendwave.com )
CableLabs has reached agreement with four Hollywood movie studios and the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator to approve a technical specification, Digital Transmission Copy Protection over IP (DTCP-IP), that will encrypt digital cable content to run over in-home IP networks. Cable-ready devices will be able to distribute cable TV programming, including pay-per-view and video-on-demand. ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.dtcp.com )
DirecTV reached agreement with Current Group, a BPL vendor, to offer Current’s Internet access and VoIP services to DirecTV’s subscribers in Current’s coverage area which now consists of approximately two million homes. Current investors include Google, EarthLink, Goldman Sachs, and Hearst. DirecTV is also using powerline-based in-home distribution. ( www.directv.com ) ( www.currentgroup.com )
The Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) and the Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA) entered a formal cooperation agreement for widespread availability of fully interoperable home gateways, access points and devices. HGI’s Release 2.0 and the FMCA’s Product Requirements Definition, PRD Release 3.0, are the basis for this work. ( www.homegatewayinitiative.org ) ( www.thefmca.com )
MTV Networks and RealNetworks announced a digital music joint venture. MTV will merge its Urge music service into the Rhapsody offering from RealNetworks Inc., forming a new company called Rhapsody America. Verizon Wireless' V CAST Music will become the mobile platform for the integrated Rhapsody service. ( www.mtv.com ) ( www.realnetworks.com ) ( www.verizonwireless.com )
South Korea's SK Telecom is becoming the second-largest China Unicom shareholder, by swapping convertible bonds worth one billion dollars for full shares. ( www.sktelecom.com/eng ) ( www.chinaunicom.com.hk )
Sprint Nextel has dropped out of SpectrumCo, the wireless spectrum bidding consortium composed of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House Networks. Sprint had earlier provided notification of its intent to do so. ( www.sprintnextel.com )
Sprint announced that its WiMAX services will be branded with the name Xohm. It also indicated that these services will be rolled out first in the Chicago and Baltimore/Washington markets. Commercial service is anticipated in 1H2008. The service is expected to generate $2.5 billion in revenue by 2010, at which time it will cover 125 million people, not including their partner Clearwire's coverage area. ( www.sprintnextel.com )
Tzero Technologies, an ultra wideband (UWB) technology provider, announced that its ZeroWire technology has been approved for use with content protected by HDCP. The technology is available in products for both wireless and coax solutions as an HDMI cable replacement. ( www.tzero.com )
Israel has canceled its planned auction of fixed wireless broadband spectrum. The rules, particularly one stipulating that no cellular company with greater than 25 percent of the country's market share would be allowed to bid, were a source of political controversy. The rule potentially prevented the country's three largest mobile operators from bidding.
Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has announced that it will accept applications between September 12 and October 12 for new licenses to use the 2.5-gigahertz bandwidth for next-generation wireless data communications services. ( www.soumu.go.jp/english/ )
Urban Wimax announced a partnership with Nortel to build and trial a user-ready mobile WiMAX service prior to Ofcom's 2.5/2.69GHz WiMAX spectrum auction in early 2008. ( www.urbanwimax.co.uk ) ( www.nortel.com )
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has awarded IBM a $120 million contract to provide services for DTV converter box deployment. NTIA has $1.5 billion for distributing $40 coupons for consumers to buy DTV converter boxes needed to receive over-the-air DTV signals after analog broadcasts cease on February 17, 2009. ( www.ntia.doc.gov ) ( www.ibm.com )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on fiber to the home penetration, Internet traffic composition, a legacy of weighty bills, and a new site for connected health information.
Asia's Lead in Fiber-to-the-Home Penetration
A global ranking of FTTH market penetration, issued jointly by the FTTH Councils of Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, showed that Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are the world leaders in the percentage of homes receiving broadband communications services directly over fiber, with percentages respectively of 21.2, 19.6 and 16.3. Scandinavian countries Sweden, Denmark and Norway hold the next three spots. ( www.ftthcouncil.org )
Ellacoya Networks has published results, based on usage data of one million North American broadband subscribers, indicating that HTTP traffic has overtaken P2P in terms of bandwidth consumption on the network. Their statistics show that HTTP is about 46% of total network traffic, P2P comes next at 37%, followed by Newsgroups (9%), non-HTTP video streaming (3%), gaming (2%) and VoIP (1%). Within HTTP, Ellacoya's data shows that traditional Web page downloads are 45% of all HTTP traffic, with streaming video at 36% and streaming audio at 5%. YouTube alone is about 20% of all HTTP traffic and nearly 10% of all Internet traffic. ( www.ellacoya.com )
Bulky Bills Redux
Technology may change fast, but billing often trails behind. Back in the dark ages when we had ISDN service, we used to receive monthly bills from Bell Atlantic comprised of hundreds of pages with every line item recorded and billed at zero. Fast forward ten plus years and what do we read? A flood of publicity over iPhone users receiving bills as long as 300 pages, delivered in boxes from AT&T. An evidently red-faced AT&T sent text messages to iPhone users indicating that "simplified bills" will be issued from now on. ( www.att.com )
Connected Health's New Website
The Center for Connected Health has launched a new website and online Resource Centers for healthcare providers, patients and other healthcare and policy leaders. The website provides a platform for discussions, comments, and resources to help make connected health a reality and establish new models of care for delivering quality patient care. ( www.connected-health.org )
We have been covering the application of broadband and wireless technologies to healthcare for more than four years. We attended the Fourth Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference in San Francisco this summer to see how much progress has been made in "healthcare unbound" over the last two years.
A study published by Forrester in 2002 defined "healthcare unbound" as "technology in, on, and around the body that frees care from formal institutions". The basic premise is that information technology can improve access to heathcare, and its quality and cost effectiveness, by moving some aspects of healthcare away from institutions and doctor's offices and into wherever people live, work, and play.
Everything related to healthcare changes at a glacial pace, but we did see some signs of progress in addressing the major issues. We also started to see the beginnings of a sorting out of the different market opportunities for healthcare information technology.
Why Health Care Delivery Must Change
The underlying situation remains much as we described it in our article on a symposium at Harvard Medical School two years ago. The population is aging. Growth in chronic diseases will put increased pressure on ALL healthcare systems. Health care delivery must change because patient demand is increasing and resources are shrinking. People would like to take better care of themselves, but the reimbursement systems are designed to reward doctors and medical institutions to treat people when they're sick, not for keeping them well.
Although there have been anecdotal successes and activity over the last two years--especially in personal health records and remote patient monitoring, the picture of progress overall is that we still have a long way to go. Jay Srini, VP Emerging Technologies, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in her opening address, pointed to the following facts:
Rising healthcare costs are not just a US issue. The lifestyle, health and demographic trends that are contributing to skyrocketing health care costs are worldwide. According to the World Health Organization:
While we were at the conference, we started thinking that the "healthcare unbound" market has several segments, including:
Each of these segments addresses somewhat different customers and willingness to pay, and we found it helpful to think about them when looking at the issues and opportunities discussed at the conference.
These segments are not independent. Older people often suffer from chronic diseases, and they represent a substantial percentage of hospital stays. But many younger people also have--or are at risk for--chronic diseases, and spend time in the hospital. People of all ages would rather be well than sick, and many are willing to pay for help.
Addressing An Aging Population
Liz Boehm, Principal Analyst at Forrester presented a talk amusingly titled "Designing Experiences For An Aging Population: Are Old People Getting Wired, or Are Young People Just Getting Old?" By exploring what drives technology adoption among seniors and what obstacles affect seniors' technology adoption, her work concluded that the key is to design for ability, aptitude, and attitude -– not for age. As with populations of any age, all seniors can't be treated the same.
Majd Alwan, Director, Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) reminded us that US seniors are expected to double over the next 25 years and 75% of people over 65 have one or more chronic conditions. At the current rate of growth, health care costs in the US will rise to 20% of GDP or $4 trillion in 8 years. He pointed out that home healthcare costs several orders of magnitude less than hospital care. He said the conclusion is simple: "The way we care for seniors today cannot scale to meet the looming global 'age wave'."
CAST--a coalition of over 400 technology companies, universities, and aging service providers--is "working on a future paradigm for senior care". CAST is taking an active role in launching pilot projects which evaluate the various outcomes of technologies on the stakeholders in different care settings. It is also exploring and evaluating eldercare service delivery models suited for technology-enabled care. The bigger technology challenge is "no ecosystem is yet in place".
Who Pays the Bills?
The key issue of reimbursement--who pays for care?--is still the biggest hurdle. Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Harvard School of Public Health, believes that employers, who are a significant portion of healthcare purchasers in the US, are moving healthcare plans toward those that are information technology rich. They will provide real-time information and decision support for providers, payors, patients, and pay for performance.
He said that leading health plans are moving quickly toward "member facing" systems and applications, like benefit accounts and reward programs, which will enable more consumer-directed healthcare. For a reality check, he pointed to the Aetna Website, which already embodies some of these attributes, including a comprehensive online Personal Health Record.
Another Disruption From the Web
Over the past year, the term "healthcare 2.0" has come into use for describing a disruptive movement which brings together Web-based technologies and a personalized approach to health, wellness, and medical care. In his talk, Dr. David Kibbe explained that Health 2.0 "is about reuseable, repurposable, and reconnectable health data, and tools consumers can use to live healthier and longer lives." The end result will be a consumer's ability to access their own health information in electronic format and the disintermediation of some groups in the healthcare industry. Or as Gordon Norman, EVP of Alere, pointed out: "one person’s cost savings is someone else’s revenue reduction."
Ecosystems Need Standards
Standardized heath care records and system interoperability are needed to establish a broad health care ecosystem. Right now, our health records are distributed across doctors, hospitals, healthcare plans, pharmacies and labs. "We have not had an MP3 format for health information" said Dr. Kibbe. What we need is portable and compatible electronic medical health record formats.
However, that is starting to change. The Continuity of Care Record (CCR) was developed jointly by a number of leading medical associations and Dr. Kibbe said "the CCR standard will be the format for personal health information in the future."
Promoting interoperability of personal telehealth systems is central to the mission of the Continua Health Alliance, an open industry group comprised of 125 companies involved with connected personal health and fitness products and services. David Whittlinger of Intel, Continua's President and Board Chairman, talked about Continua's recent progress in establishing a market of personal health and fitness products and services to aid patients, caregivers and healthcare providers more proactively manage ongoing healthcare and wellness needs.
Whittlinger's presentation described Continua's approach to developing standards, starting with formal definition and document ion of use cases and requirements, and then selecting standards to meet these requirements. Continua's planned path from Guidelines to Certification to Logo is based on that used by industry marketing organizations such as the Digital Home Working Group and the Wi-Fi Alliance, and Whittlinger's presentation used the highly-successful Wi-Fi Alliance process as a template.
Continua's Version one standards create a baseline from selected connectivity standards, with gaps identified. They include elements derived from the Bluetooth SIG, the USB Forum, IEEE and the Health Level 7 Electronic Health Records (EHR). The goal, according to Continua's press release of September 12, 2007, is for consumer devices to be able to "share information through common communications channels such as telephones, cell phones, PCs, TV set top boxes and dedicated health devices".
The Version One guidelines are scheduled for completion by the end of 2007 and a test, certification, and logo program is under way. Continua plans a pavilion at CES in January to showcase the logoed products, and we look forward to seeing them there.
The Role of Information in Compliance
Many programs for healthcare unbound depend upon individual compliance with the prescribed regimen. The World Health Organization promotes the idea that information is necessary to build motivation and guide behavior, leading to compliance. But sometimes people don't want to know the information.
Michael Barrett of Critical Mass Consulting--who co-authored the 2002 Forrester report that coined the phrase "Healthcare Unbound"--gave an amusing and thought-provoking presentation on why individuals are likely to sabotage their own compliance. Barrett bases his view on a concept from economics called "loss aversion": as individuals evaluate the uncertain prospects of potential losses and gains, they dislike losses much more than they like gains. His thesis is that "information aversion"--a form of loss aversion--undermines self-management of chronic disease.
Barrett explained that asking a person to self-manage their health--for example, by going on a diet and weighing themselves daily--asks them to give up ignorance ("I eat too much and gain weight") and gratification (the joy of that wonderful cake and ice cream). If you dislike bad news more than you like good news, you will avoid stepping on the scale. Loss aversion leads to patient self-mismanagement.
Barrett said that behavioral economics suggests some effective responses once we are aware of people's predictable information aversion. Pointing to the effectiveness of alarm clocks, we said automation and shifting from self-management to device management are two of the keys here. Successful solutions will use technology and social forces to encourage "the right behavior."
Wireless Is Critical
Since people are by nature mobile, rather than tethered to any particular place, the role of wireless in health care is a given. With its huge interest in the wireless world, Qualcomm, represented by Don Jones, Vice President Health & Life Sciences, has been a continuing presence at each Healthcare Unbound conference.
Jones sees wireless devices acting as "dashboards, controllers and communication gateways for health." One example is LG's cell phone with a blood glucose monitor, which acts as a blood test for diabetics in Korea. A wireless device helps individuals with their health by providing access to the right information to know what to do next--especially in addressing the biggest question people have in any health-related situation: "Do I need to see a health care professional?"
We have long thought that broadband connectivity and home networking would play a major role in personal healthcare, and have increasingly come around to the view that wireless broadband and personal area networking will play a critical role. Cellphones are not only for making phone calls, but for providing local connectivity to monitoring devices, local processing, and remote connectivity to systems and people. Bluetooth and its successors provide standardized local connections, and cellular wireless permits connectivity virtually anywhere.
Wireless devices are especially suited to encouraging compliance. Behavior change (like monitoring our glucose level, or remembering to take the right medication at the right time) requires that we always have something at hand that keeps us on track.
Foodphone and Babyphone
The products shown in the exhibit area by Myca, based in Quebec City, Canada, provide concrete examples of these concepts. Myca provides "mobile health applications" to consumers using standard smart phones with cameras and video screens. Unlike most other applications at Healthcare Unbound, Myca's products and services are not targeted to health care providers, but rather to consumers interested in their own health and wellness.
Foodphone, Myca's first product, helps people who are on a diet. Unlike conventional approaches, which require dieters to keep a written journal of what they eat, FoodPhone uses the camera on the smart phone to create "a visual 'photo album' of every one of your meals". It captures biometric data such as weight, blood pressure and exercise level into an electronic health profile, and provides video feedback from a nutritionist acting as "personal nutrition coach." Launched in 2006, Foodphone was recently reported to have 5,000 customers each paying $10 a month.
Babyphone will provide support for "expecting and new moms and their children." It captures and saves relevant biometric data, and provides consultation with medical professionals. Doctorphone will provide similar support for adults. Myca says it will handle reimbursement for those few health plans that reimburse for video visits.
Myca's concept--"bringing healthcare consumers face-to-face with experts - anywhere"--seems very appealing. We'll watch to see if they can turn this into a successful business.
The Bottom Line
In the four years we have been covering healthcare, technology has become more capable and less expensive. Companies like Myca can go directly to the consumer market, and other companies are developing products whose lower cost promises a much larger market. Good progress is being made in defining standards for health care records, system interoperability, and device connectivity. But technology is no longer the limiting factor in Healthcare Unbound -- business models and reimbursement are.
Continua is likely to play a key role in accelerating the pace. Its 125 members include leading technology organizations such as Cisco, Dell, IBM, Intel, Nokia, Oracle, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Siemens. In addition to working together on standardization, Continua is now working on reimbursements. A working group is developing reimbursement mechanisms, including plans to "eat our own dog food" by deploying personal telehealth systems to their own employees.
Early successes from individual organizations are encouraging, but we have to agree with the opening remarks by Vince Kuraitis of Better Health Technologies; we are still some way from sighting the tipping point for Healthcare Unbound.
A Personal Postscript
[Sandy]Healthcare is personal. We all have stories about our dealings with the medical system and its shortcomings. Here's one of ours.
In March, our adult daughter Allison had open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart condition at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We can't say enough good things about the hospital, the staff, and the quality of care and attention she received there.
"Healthcare unbound" technologies could have aided in Allison's recovery process, reduced the anxiety for both Allison and her family, and reduced the number of trips to the doctors and the emergency room. But during the months of recovery after Allison's return home, we did not encounter a single example of any of this technology being used to provide remote care.
Perhaps if we hadn't been attending conferences on health care technologies and been aware of the kinds of things that are becoming feasible, we wouldn't have identified the interventions that could have greatly reduced Allison's stress during the early stages of recuperation. They could include some of the following, all using Allison's webcam and broadband connection:
We would gladly have paid for some of these touchpoints out of our own pockets in return for the peace of mind they could have delivered.
The bottom line: lots of possibility but still no reality.
( www.forrester.com ) ( upmc.com ) ( www.agingtech.org ) ( www.continuaalliance.org ) ( www.criticalmassconsulting.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( myca.com ) ( e-caremanagement.com ) ( www.help4hearts.com )
We didn't understand Ubicom very well when we showed up in July for a visit. We knew they did something to help media content work better over home networks, but it wasn't clear just what it was. Several pieces we read suggested that it might be worth visiting with them on a recent trip to California, and we were glad we did.
What we heard is that Ubicom's combination of hardware and software is the secret sauce that permits some new 802.11n wireless products to carry an MPEG-2 HDTV stream longer distances and through more walls than products without their solution. We also learned that Ubicom's chips and software are embedded in many of the major networking manufacturers' products and was the first routing platform to achieve Windows Vista certification.
At Ubicom's headquarters in Silicon Valley, Keith Morris, VP of Marketing, and Kevin Gee, Senior Product Manager, started our discussion with a reminder that media applications like VoIP, gaming and IP video are highly sensitive to latency and jitter. Their quality deteriorates as people use more and more applications over home networks and over the broadband Internet.
All of Ubicom's efforts are directed toward maintaining the quality of media streams without user configuration. Keith said "We measurably improve the experience of the end user. We do pattern recognition of what the stream is."
Accomplishing this requires a combination of software and hardware--software to implement the algorithms which keep each media stream working properly, and hardware to provide sufficient "horsepower" for the complex algorithms.
Ubicom uses the name StreamEngine® for its suite of hardware and software technologies. It has designed and sells special-purpose "network processors" optimized for efficient processing of time-sensitive media streams. It has implemented a complete software environment to maintain the quality of media streams as home networks expand and evolve. It offers a variety of reference designs that hardware companies can use to create finished products--either by manufacturing to the reference design, or by using the reference design as a starting point for a customized differentiated product.
On one level, Ubicom is a fabless semiconductor company, designing and marketing chips to be embedded into products like broadband gateways and wireless access points. Like any modern chip company, it provides reference designs and firmware drivers to its customers.
On another level, Ubicom is a very sophisticated software shop that also supplies hardware. It has created a complete software architecture for media networking, built a real-time operating system, and developed individual software modules to support a wide variety of wired and wireless networking applications. It recruits software partners to provide specialized applications.
Ubicom has delivered three generations of StreamEngine network processors. The latest, the 5000 family, is optimized to provide the processing core for 802.11n products. Ubicom calls the 5000-series devices "communications and media processors" (CMPs) to emphasize their role in processing high-speed communications streams and optimizing media performance.
Ubicom's processors are distinguished by having dedicated hardware to support multiple independent processing threads. Unlike conventional processors, the Ubicom processors switch between threads with no delay. The instruction set is specifically designed for optimum processing of communications protocols and media streams.
Intelligent Stream Handling (ISH)
Ubicom uses the term Intelligent Stream Handling (ISH) to describe its media-processing technology for wired media, and Wireless Intelligent Stream Handling (WISH) for wireless media. ISH/WISH identifies latency-sensitive media traffic and prioritizes it ahead of normal data traffic. Ubicom says "ISH/WISH minimizes the impact of large packets, modifies the WLAN radio speed for optimum throughput, overcomes interference from other devices such as microwaves, and reduces dropped packets typically caused by network congestion and manages competition for network resources."
Software Architecture and Reference Designs
Ubicom has developed a complete software architecture for its processors. At the heart is a special purpose real-time operating system, with software modules to support many different types of networking hardware and applications. Ubicom currently supports Ethernet, USB, HomePlug and 802.11 (including draft n).
Ubicom offers reference designs ranging from access points and print servers to complete digital media players and home gateways. The latest gateway design is targeted for 802.11n wireless networking and claims to be able to support HDTV, "toll quality" VoIP and online gaming simultaneously "with no degradation of service".
Adoptions and Reviews
Ubicom has shipped more than 5 million processors, with more than a million shipped so far this year. Its chips and software have been adopted by many networking manufacturers.
Ubicom believes that 802.11n will rapidly displace 802.11g, and is focused on overcoming the limitations of wireless networking for video applications. Ubicom's website shows the results of a study it commissioned, which predicts that 802.11n will overtake 11g by the middle of 2008 (see graph at the right). Ubicom's chips and software are embedded in several "draft n" products including wireless routers from D-Link, SMC Networks, TRENDnet, and ZyXEL.
A report Competitive Test of Draft 802.11n Products published in June by Octoscope, a Boston-based consulting company, compared several draft n routers for overall performance and specifically for high-definition video performance. A D-Link DIR-655 wireless AP/router based on Ubicom's technologies was included in a series of tests Octoscope conducted in simulated office and home environments. Octoscope concluded that the DIR-655 was suitable to carry an MPEG-2 HDTV stream at 110 feet and through 5 walls. It also concluded that the other tested draft n products could not carry the HDTV stream over this distance, and attributed the difference to Ubicom's WISH protocol. Although the study was funded by Ubicom, D-Link and Atheros (whose chips are used in the DIR-655), the published results appear credible.
We're always intrigued by companies that look for opportunities to apply their distinctive expertise. In the ideal world, home networks would all be built from the most up-to-date components incorporating the latest technological advances. In the real world, networks have a variety of legacy components, many of which do not comply with the latest standards. Ubicom says its technologies get the most out of what's already there.
We're looking forward to testing some of these Ubicom-based devices in our own home network.
An article about municipal Wi-Fi networks in the Wall Street Journal last month Wireless -- With Strings Attached got us thinking about the realities of wireless broadband. The article said "some of those projects are running into hurdles," some are running over budget, and cities are starting to discover the true costs of constructing and operating these networks. EarthLink and MetroFi, two of the leaders in building and operating municipal Wi-Fi networks, are now asking their customer cities to share the risk in constructing the networks. EarthLink is said to be scaling back its ambitious efforts, with EarthLink's new CEO quoting as saying "The Wi-Fi business, as currently constituted, will not provide an acceptable return".
All the hype around wireless broadband could lead people to believe that these services--whether Wi-Fi, WiMAX or 3G cellular--will be as capable as wireline broadband and will cost less or even be free. They should stop deluding themselves.
Back in the dark ages, people in the industry talked about "toll quality" telephone service as the gold standard. Everyone using cell phones has learned that mobility comes with a price--usually lower voice quality and some chance of calls being cut off.
Wireless broadband will have the same tradeoff. It will never be as good as wireline--you'll have to give up something to get mobility.
Physics is a reality--wireless signals don't penetrate well through hills, trees and walls, and wireless communications don't work nearly as well when you're moving fast as when you're standing still.
There's much less spectrum available for broadband wireless than is available to both the cable and telephone companies over the wires they already have to nearly every home. Sadly this isn't about to change any time soon -- see 700 MHz: Unrealistic Expectations in last month's issue of this report.
It will be a long time before any kind of broadband cell sites are nearly as commonplace as cellular sites are today. Dave installed his first cellphone in his car in 1983 and used it for more than ten years while driving each day between his office and home--a distance of 60 miles or so. The signal would always drop out half a dozen times or more due to spotty coverage. Don't expect early broadband wireless devices to work much better.
Finally, we read a lot of hype about wireless broadband providing video services competitive with those provided by existing video providers. There's no doubt that wireless broadband will be used for video, but it's not the same kind of video you get at home. The video signal required to provide an "acceptable" image on your 3" cellphone screen is a completely different beast than that required to provide a high-definition picture on your 50" flat-screen TV at home. The idea of using wireless broadband for large amounts of high-quality multi-channel video is laughable--there's simply not enough spectrum.
Please don't take this as our being negative on mobile broadband. On the contrary, we continue to be very bullish and expect it to dominate the next decade in much the same way cellphones and wireline broadband dominate this decade.
But it's high time to become realistic about what it will and won't do, and how much effort and money will be required to install and maintain systems for commercial services. There's no free lunch.
Andrew Kreig, President & CEO of the Wireless Communications Association, called our attention to the association's website on US Broadband policy. He wrote: "We invite you to look at the contrasts between the 2008 Presidential candidates on broadband."
With the US media and rhetoric focused largely on Iraq, healthcare coverage, and a host of other priorities, broadband is not necessarily top and center in everyone's political thoughts. The WCA site provides a starting point for evaluating what each of the candidates has deemed worthy of mention in this highly-charged political climate.
The material, assembled from public records, the media, and press releases, "provides a review of broadband, telecommunications and related technology issues under debate by the 2008 candidates, with links to websites covering a range of topics, including rural deployment of Broadband and interoperability for first responders." ( www.wcai.com )
Conference time is back in full gear and there are some worthwhile events you should consider attending over the next few months. We hope to see some of you at our presentation and workshop at the FTTH conference in early October in Orlando. We'll also be attending TelcoTV in Atlanta later in October.
2007 FTTH Conference & Expo
Mark your calendars for the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Conference & Expo, sponsored by the FTTH Council, on October 1-4, 2007 at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort, Orlando, FL, USA. The sessions will focus on the content that will fill the fiber pipe, as well as the technical, business and implementation decisions that service providers, developers and municipalities are making.
We hope you'll join us on Wednesday, October 3, when we will be speaking about "Home Networking Technologies for Today and Tomorrow". On the morning of October 4 we'll hold a half-day post-conference workshop "Everything You Needed to Know About Home Networking and Were Afraid to Ask".
Click on these links to to see the full conference schedule and to register for the conference and/or the workshop.
TelcoTV Conference & Expo 2007
This year's TelcoTV Conference will be held October 22-25 at the Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Now in its sixth year, the show is devoted to exploring the converging ecosystems of broadband and entertainment. Its focus on telephone company provision of TV services has expanded to include Mobile TV, IPTV and NetVideo, and their impact on service providers. ( www.telcotvonline.com )
The IPTV Forum Middle East and Africa
The Middle East and Africa promise significant telecom growth opportunity in the next five years, and as competition intensifies, operators are expected to employ attractive services such as IPTV to both retain customers and attract new ones. The IPTV Forum Middle East and Africa takes place at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, over the 5th - 6th November, 2007. ( www.iptv-mea.com )
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