BBH Report Home Page
October 19, 2007 Provided by System Dynamics Inc.

IN THIS ISSUE:

Heard on the Net

Briefly Noted
Updates, Observations and Trends

The 2007 Fiber to the Home Conference
Heaven for Bandwidth Hogs

UPLC Conference
Powerline Communications In the "Lone-Star" State

Upcoming Conferences


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Charlie Nooney has been appointed CEO of mobile TV service provider MobiTV. Nooney was previously CEO of Premier Retail Networks. ( www.mobitv.com )

Dano Ybarra was named CEO of Asoka USA Corp. Founder and former CEO T.K. Chan will continue to serve as CTO. ( www.asokausa.com )


Company News

Acquisitions

2Wire has acquired Kenati Technologies, a provider of home networking software products and services. ( www.2Wire.com ) ( www.kenati.com )

Alcatel-Lucent has acquired interactive TV tool software provider Tamblin. Financial terms were not disclosed. ( www.alcatel-lucent.com ) ( www.tamblin.com )

ARRIS is acquiring C-COR for approximately $730 million in a mix of cash and ARRIS stock. The merged company will be a "pure play solutions provider to the global cable industry." ( www.arrisi.com ) ( www.c-cor.com )

Ciena has purchased the technology and intellectual property of PhyFlex (formerly called Narad Networks). The price was not disclosed. ( www.ciena.com ) ( www.phyflex.com )

Cisco Systems has announced a purchase agreement for Cognio, a firm specializing in wireless spectrum analysis and management for wireless networks. Financial terms were not disclosed. ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.cognio.com )

Danaher has announced it is buying Tektronix, a telecom test company, for about $2.8 billion. Danaher already owns Fluke Networks and other manufacturers of test equipment. ( www.danaher.com ) ( www.tektronix.com ) ( www.flukenetworks.com )

US pay-TV provider EchoStar has agreed to acquire privately-held Sling Media. The deal values Sling Media at approximately $380 million, payable in cash and EchoStar options. ( www.echostar.com ) ( www.slingmedia.com )

Funding

Alereon, a provider of ultra-wideband chips, has received a $16 million second tranche of its Series B round. ( www.alereon.com )

Arraycomm has signed agreements for funding with Merrill Lynch PCG and Ygomi. Each company purchased approximately $15M in equity with an option for an additional $10M. ( www.arraycomm.com )

Asoka USA, a maker of powerline networking devices, reported $7 million in new investment led by Storm Ventures and Venrock. ( www.asokausa.com )

Azul Systems, a provider of network processing technology, has secured a $40 million round of funding. ( www.azulsystems.com )

BlackArrow, a provider of ad-management systems for video content, has closed a $12 million Series B round of funding. Comcast Interactive Capital, Intel Capital and Cisco participated in the funding. ( www.blackarrow.tv )

Bluestreak Technology, a platform provider for mobile and digital TV, has raised $20 million in Series D financing. ( www.bluestreaktech.com )

BroadLight, a provider of passive optical network equipment components, has closed a Series E with $12 million in new capital.( www.broadlight.com )

CloudShield, a security and service control platform provider, has raised $15 Million in funding led by Tektronix. ( www.cloudshield.com )

Drew and Boyd Craig of Craig Wireless Systems have announced that they have raised $40 million to create a WiMAX network in British Columbia and Manitoba. ( www.craigwireless.com )

Firetide, a provider of wireless mesh-networking equipment, has raised $14.4 million in Series D financing. ( www.firetide.com )

Spanish wireless startup FON has received an investment of undisclosed amount from BT. FON and BT have also partnered to create the BT FON Community across the U.K. FON also has deals with Neuf Cegetel in France and Time Warner Cable in the US. ( www.fon.com ) ( www.bt.com )

Staccato Communications, an ultra wideband wireless technology company, closed an additional $17.5M in equity financing. ( www.staccatocommunications.com )

Veoh Networks has completed a $25M Series C financing. ( www.veoh.com )

Verimatrix, a content security technology provider, has raised an additional $5 million of capital. ( www.verimatrix.com )

WiChorus, a developer of intelligent gateways for WiMAX/4G services, has received $15 million in Series B funding. ( www.wichorus.com )

YuMe Networks, an advertising network for broadband video, has closed a $9 million Series B round of funding. ( www.yumenetworks.com )


Other News

AT&T is paying Aloha Partners LP $2.5 billion for their 700 MHz spectrum. The 12 megahertz of spectrum is UHF TV channels 54 and 59, with a footprint covering 196 million people in 72 of the top 100 U.S. markets. ( www.att.com ) ( www.alohapartners.net )

Ipera Technology is rolling out its PixelMagic video enhancement technology that claims to deliver high per-pixel clarity at low power consumption. Ipera’s embedded software and SoC solutions are designed to improve mobile TV, IPTV and broadcast video entertainment picture quality. ( www.iperatech.com )

Qualcomm subsidiary MediaFLO USA has completed a licensing agreement to use Gemstar-TV Guide International's interactive program guides for MediaFLO's mobile-TV service. ( www.qualcomm.com ) ( www.mediaflousa.com ) ( www.gemstartvguide.com )

Reuters Labs has launched facial-recognition video search capabilities on Reuters.com using Viewdle Inc. technology. The technology automatically looks inside video streams, frame-by-frame, to recognize and index appearances of people on-screen. ( www.labs.reuters.com ) ( www.viewdle.com )

Sprint has launched its new Airave femtocell base station in two markets. The technology hooks into your home broadband network connection to boost your cell signal in the house and provide unlimited minutes when making Airave calls. ( www.sprint.com )


Standards

USB 3.0

Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, NEC, NXP Semiconductors and Texas Instruments have joined together to form the USB 3.0 Promoter Group. The proposed USB 3.0 specification aims to deliver 300 Mbytes/second of usable data at the applications level. It could also add new quality-of-service capabilities. The new link would also support multiple flows per device and is capable of maintaining separate priority levels for each flow. A completed spec is expected by the first half of 2008. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) will act as the trade association for the USB 3.0 specification. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.nec.com ) ( www.nxp.com ) ( www.ti.com ) ( www.usb.org )

WiMedia UWB

The WiMedia Alliance announced the registration of six additional Physical Layer chipsets (PHYs), bringing the total number of approved chipsets to 13. WiMedia PHY registration is the first of two parts comprising the Alliance’s certification program.

The WiMedia Alliance subsequently announced the first silicon products certified on its Ultra-Wideband (UWB) Common Radio Platform. A total of 12 platforms from WiMedia members Alereon, Artimi, Intel, Realtek, Staccato, Tzero, WiQuest, and Wisair successfully completed both phases of the Alliance’s compliance and interoperability testing. ( www.wimedia.org )

HomePlug

The HomePlug Alliance announced that more than 40 products passed the HomePlug AV compliance and interoperability product certification "plugfest" testing, including products from member companies Actiontec, Asoka, Aztech, Cameo, Devolo, Fujitsu-Siemens, GigaFast, Intellon, Leacom, Linksys, Sharp, Solwise, Sumitomo and ZyXEL. Separately, the HomePlug Alliance Board of Directors ratified the HomePlug Command and Control 1.0 specification. ( www.homeplug.org )


Countries

Singapore

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has published a regulatory framework for devices using ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. It is expected that it will be ratified by Singapore's authorities within a year. The framework provides for "light-touch" regulation with no licensing requirements for UWB devices that conform to guidelines. ( www.ida.gov.sg )


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on recent WiMAX news; new IPTV statistics from the DSL Forum; Microsoft's new Media Center Extenders and Internet TV Beta; and an outlook on the upcoming holiday shopping season for consumer electronics.


WiMAX News

WiMAX news was plentiful over the past month, with many announcements synchronized with the recent WiMAX World trade show.

Clearwire, which previously used a separate WiMAX modem, has begun selling PC cards for its WiMAX service in Seattle. ( www.clearwire.com )

Intel and Poland-based MCI Management SA have taken minority stakes in Nexcom Bulgaria, an alternative Bulgarian telecommunications operator in the process of rolling out a nationwide wireless broadband network using WiMAX Forum certified hardware. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.mci.pl/indexen.php ) ( www.nexcom.bg/en_index.html )

Italy has launched an auction for three WiMAX licenses, for available frequencies within the 3.4-3.6Ghz spectrum. Each license will cover one or more Italian regions. The licenses will last for 15 years, can be renewed and cannot by sold on to a third party without government authorization.

The Financial Times reports that a joint venture called Wireless Broadband Planning, formed by KDDI, Intel, JR East, Kyocera, Daiwa and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, will bid on a license to build and operate a WiMAX network in Japan. Two licenses are expected to be awarded later this year.

Motorola announced a WiMAX chipset modem for handheld devices. The chipset is designed to deliver high-speed functionality through thin devices and is therefore optimized for both small size and low power consumption. ( www.motorola.com )

Wavesat and IBM have announced a joint development agreement for an 802.16e WiMAX chipset targeting consumer electronic devices. The chipset targets low power consumption and maximizing power efficiency for different modes of operation. Wavesat's UMobile 802.16e chipset will be manufactured by IBM. ( www.wavesat.com ) ( www.ibm.com )

Sprint announced the resignation of CEO Gary Forsee. Sprint has been a WiMAX champion, and some analysts speculated that a new CEO might back off from Sprint's aggressive investments in building out the WiMAX infrastructure for its upcoming Xohm service. ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.xohm.com )


New IPTV Statistics

At the Broadband World Forum Europe in Berlin, the DSL Forum announced new broadband and IPTV statistics. Prepared by Point Topic, the statistics indicate that the number of people using IPTV services increased by 179 percent in the 12 months to 30 June 2007, with more than 8 million people now connected to IPTV services. Europe added more than 3 million subscribers in the 12 months to 30 June 2007, making it the strongest market both in terms of growth (231 percent in 12 months) and total subscriber numbers (almost 5 million by 30 June). ( www.dslforum.org )( www.point-topic.com )


Microsoft Media Extenders

Microsoft and partners Linksys, D-Link, HP and Niveus Media announced details about new Extenders for Microsoft® Windows Media® Center. The devices are expected to be available this holiday season. They will "allow easy access to premium cable, high-definition TV, popular video formats including DivX, music, paid movies, photos and more from any TV in the house, with a wired or wireless network connection."

Microsoft also announced that the Extender technology will be incorporated in HP’s current line of MediaSmart high-definition televisions [see the FTTH conference article below].

Microsoft also launched a beta test of Windows Media Center Internet TV, which will offer over 100 hours of entertainment from MSN® Video, including full-length shows, music concerts and movie trailers. The content is supported by an advertising platform provided by YuMe.

( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ) ( www.dlink.com ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.niveusmedia.com ) ( www.yumenetworks.com )


Holiday Outlook for Consumer Electronics

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) forecasts $22.1 billion will be spent on consumer electronics gift items this holiday season. Its recently released 14th Annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns study indicates that consumer electronics sales dollars will increase by 7 percent during the fourth quarter and that big screen television is in the top five wish list items for all adult survey respondents. The forecast is free to CEA member companies. ( www.ce.org )


The 2007 Fiber to the Home Conference: Heaven for Bandwidth Hogs

We got a call earlier this year asking us to participate in the 2007 Fiber-to-the-Home Conference and Expo. FTTH has started taking off in the U.S., and we gladly accepted the invitation to get involved.

The Fiber to the Home Council, which sponsors the conference, is a non-profit organized to help its members plan, implement, market, and manage their FTTH deployments. Members include vendors, municipalities, utilities, developers and more traditional service providers.

While fiber to the home has been deployed for some time in many parts of Asia and Europe, it has only recently passed the first million home mark in North America. Verizon's FIOS deployment--now in full swing--accounts for much of that.


Educational Program

The conference included a very extensive educational program of general and breakout sessions, with keynote addresses by key players in the FTTH and related industries. It was opened by Cathy Harriman, Sr VP EPB Telecom, the outgoing Chairman of the Council. Cathy said that about 100 people attended the group's first FTTH Conference held four years ago in New Orleans. Things have certainly changed: more than 2000 attended the 2007 show.

The Exaflood

The opening keynote speaker--Bret Swanson of the Discovery Institute in Seattle--talked about the coming consumer-driven bandwidth explosion he terms "The Exaflood". In 1993 the entire Internet handled 100 terabytes a year (just 50 times more than the 2 Tb storage system we just installed in our home). By the end of 2006, Internet traffic was 700 petabytes per month--a run rate of 8.4 exabytes per year. (The sequence in factors of 1000 is mega→giga→tera→peta→exa→zetta.)

This growth trend is likely to continue, with telephone traffic moving to Internet-based services such as Skype and with more and more video traffic running over the Internet and organized into portals such as YouTube. The growth of IPTV (in the sense of television delivered with IP protocols), video telephony and peer-to-peer services will further increase Internet traffic.

Projecting these and other trends forward, he estimated that annual Internet traffic will reach a zettabyte in five to ten years. He cautioned that access networks will be hard pressed to keep up with this explosion in bandwidth demand--and pleaded with the audience to get FTTH for his own home.

Pretty striking for those of us who first started programming with computers whose total memory was measured in kilobytes!

Networked Digital Television

James Sanduski, Hewlett-Packard's VP for the Digital Television Solutions business, talked about HP's connected home strategy. Jim came to HP from Samsung and is focused on networked digital television.

Jim pointed to a Yankee Group study which asked people where they wanted to watch downloaded movies. It was no surprise that most would rather watch on the TV. The study concluded "that bridge to watch a movie download on TV is absolutely critical."

HP thinks networked TVs are the answer. Jim quoted a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) study early this year showing a rapid increase in the percentage of networked TVs, estimating that 5 million would be sold in 2010.

HP sells a line of equipment under the MediaSmart brand name, including a media server and networked TVs. Jim said HP wants to be "the brand of choice in the networked TV space" and is using "networking" as its key differentiator against the traditional consumer electronics companies.

HP is a long-time Microsoft partner, and will support the nest generation of Microsoft's Windows Media Center Extender (MCE) user interface on its MediaSmart TVs early next year. (See "Briefs" in this issue for more on MCE.)

FTTH Market Research

At each year's FTTH Conference, Michael Render, President of RVA LLC, presents an update of his latest FTTH research. This year he noted that his most recent (September 2007) cumulative tally on North American FTTH homes is 1,054,000. Because the US has lagged behind in FTTH installation, its growth is on a relatively smaller base of installation and therefore its current rate of growth (112%) is higher than Japan (55%) and Europe (35%).

One of the key advantages of fiber over asymmetric forms of broadband such as DSL and cable is its larger upstream capacity and therefore the speed of uploading it can support. A review of the actual customer FTTH customer upload speeds showed 63% between 1 and 2 Mbps, with about 11% in the 2-5 Mbps range and 25% at 1 Mbps or under.

Verizon: Inside The Home Matters

Brian Whitton of Verizon provided an update on the rollout of their FIOS service. Whitton talked about the fact that although they have been using BPON, they are moving ahead with GPON, which will allow them to increase downstream speeds by up to four times and upstream by up to eight times. Using GPON, they will transition at some point in the future from using a third wavelength for broadcast video to full IPTV. Verizon sees several benefits in doing this: the ability to more easily converge the PC, TV and mobile experiences; larger channel capacity; and targeted ad insertion with interactive ads.

Since our talks at the conference were focused on the importance of the in-home networking for the end-to-end experience, we were pleased to hear Whitton emphasize this theme. He showed several diagrams titled Home Network Evolution, with MoCA as their in-home networking technology for video, and Wi-Fi for data migrating from 802.11g to 802.11n.

Whitton talked about Verizon's differentiating features, listing picture quality, overall value proposition and category leadership in VoD, HD and multi-cultural programming. One of the enhanced features he mentioned was widgets, a blending of the Internet and the TV experiences, by which the customer gets one-click access to localized weather, traffic, etc., at the bottom of their TV screen. Other enhanced features include multi-room DVR, and "media manager"--displaying digital content from a PC to the main TV screen.

Whitton summarized what he believes the new battleground will be between service providers. It includes converged voice, data, and video applications; advanced gaming; targeted interactive advertising; mobility; and personalization. We expect that working through that list is likely to keep all service providers busy for the next several years!


Exhibits

The show included a large exhibit area, with most of the space devoted to companies selling materials and equipment for fiber deployment. Several exhibits focused on home networking.

Leviton and Telect showed the latest approaches in structured cabling systems, primarily used for new homes. We were familiar with the Leviton system, but the Telect system was new to us. Jeremy Gallagher showed us their color-coded ports and outlets, which simplify matching patch cords within the panel with corresponding outlets throughout the house.

The Home Networking Zone was a self-contained area representing a house. The house was equipped with two fiber feeds and two optical networking units (ONUs), each feeding a home network to provide voice, video and data services. Michael Kunigonis, Product Line Manager-Access, of Corning Cable Systems, was instrumental in putting the Home Networking Zone together and hopes to continue including this area of interest at future FTTH conferences.

The Zone featured several technologies that could be used without installing expensive new twisted pair cabling. Asoka showed its new adapters for powerline wiring based on HomePlug AV, and the HomePNA Alliance showed the use of HomePNA to carry video and data over telephone wiring and coax. The Asoka and HomePNA demonstrations were complementary, showing how either could be used for both IP video and data.

Carina Technology demonstrated how automated meter reading and other energy management applications could be incorporated into a FTTH deployment. This was interesting in the light of our attendance at the UPLC conference a few weeks earlier (see the article below).


Home Networking and FTTH

We were at the conference to conduct a post-conference workshop on Home Networking, and also gave a talk on the same subject during one of the breakout sessions. Our talk ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/ftth_teger-waks_10-3-07.pps ) (PowerPoint, 1.4 MB) is available for download.

We observed that most FTTH deployments use separate home networks to distribute voice, video, and data services--typically with existing twisted pair, existing coax, and Wi-Fi. While this is easy--it follows the traditional approach used for cable and DSL--it separates these services into "islands". This approach made perfect sense in the old analog world, but will be an obstacle as digital media of many types comes into in the home. We think the islands will get in the way of customer wants and needs.

As an example, we pointed to all the sources of video coming through the Internet to the PC. As Jim Sanduski of HP pointed out in his talk, consumers want to watch video on the TV, not the PC. Previous articles in this newsletter have described many new technologies that could make it easier to move video from the PC to the TV. But home networks have to be engineered and installed to do so reliably, without interfering with subscription video services.

In our post-conference workshop, we described each of the new home networking technologies in detail, and discussed how they could be used by service providers in the coming world of competition for the HD screen in the living room.


Jim Farmer: A Well-Deserved Award

At the closing session, the FTTH Council announced the 2007 recipients of its annual FTTH Awards. The Chairman's Award, given at the discretion of the FTTH Council's Board of Directors, was presented to Jim Farmer, CTO, Wave7 Optics. The award singles out "an individual or company that has shown tremendous effort to promote, educate or accelerate fiber".

Farmer, who spent 24 years with Scientific-Atlanta, is a pioneer in video transport and has 90 patents in the field of set top converter scrambling systems and video server systems. He has co-authored two editions of books on cable TV as well as numerous articles.

As one of the founders of Wave7 Optics, Jim was a major player in the FCC decision to free FTTH from unbundling requirements which cleared the way for Verizon to jump start its FiOS initiative.

Congratulations, Jim, on a well-deserved award!

( www.ftthconference.com ) ( www.ftthcouncil.org ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.discovery.org ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.ce.org ) ( www.rvallc.com ) ( www.verizon.com ) ( www.leviton.com ) ( www.telect.com ) ( www.corningcablesystems.com ) ( www.asokausa.com ) ( www.homepna.org ) ( www.carinatek.com ) ( www.wave7optics.com )


UPLC Conference: Powerline Communications In the "Lone-Star" State

The focus at this year's UPLC Conference was on utility applications, not broadband services. Utilities are facing an aging workforce, increasing energy demand and the pressure of green initiatives. Communications networks are key to addressing these problems. Many think "home area networks" will play an important role in energy control and demand response. We went to the recent conference to find out what all this means for the future of BPL.

This year's conference took place in Texas -- the "Lone Star" state. Following last year's conference, we wrote ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0608_4.html ) that all eyes would be on Texas, watching what happened with the BPL Network being built in the Dallas area by Current Communications for Dallas-based Oncor Electric Delivery (previously called TXU Electric Delivery). Current owns and operates the BPL network, and Oncor buys enhanced utility services from Current.

In the past year, Current and Oncor have passed over 106,000 homes and installed about 60,000 BPL-enabled meters. Oncor has started using the information from the meters to bill its customers and manage its electrical plant.


Current/Oncor Field Visit

Oncor hosted a field visit to a BPL-enabled home in Dallas, so that conference attendees could have a real-world look at the equipment. We were told that the first bills using data from the new BPL-enabled meters had gone out that week.

We visited the rear alley of the home to observe the BPL equipment mounted on the poles. We were surprised by the depth of the deployed fiber. The overhead portion of the plant looked largely like a fiber deployment, with BPL used as an auxiliary transport from the fiber injection points into customer homes.

We also visited an apartment complex to see what BPL to a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) deployment looks like and to get a close-up of Current Communications latest couplers for underground wiring.

Monitoring Megawatts by Using Megabytes

Inside the house, Current demonstrated its CurrentLook software, which reports on the network elements and their functioning. Back at the office, a team monitors the actionable information which helps isolate the types and locations of suspected problems. This information is used by Oncor operations to deploy the appropriate type of crew to perform the repair. "Monitoring megawatts by using megabytes" is a mantra for Oncor describing their focus on using BPL to manage their physical plant.


"Home Area Networks" and "Smart Meters"

During the field visit and talks at the conference, we heard a new term--the "Home Area Network" or HAN. Not to be confused with the local area network that may be in the home, HAN in this context refers to a "command and control" network infrastructure that allows display of energy use, and control of thermostat settings and energy-using appliances (like pool pumps or air conditioning systems). (We're a little troubled by this usage of "home area network" since the same phrase is more commonly used to refer to a broadband local area network based on Ethernet or Wi-Fi. However, it's likely to gain traction in Texas, since the state has embedded that language into its formal regulatory documents--see below.)

A "smart" electric meter acts as the control point, or home gateway, for communication with these end-point devices with a low-speed communication mechanism such as Zigbee. With two-way communications capabilities, these new meters also allow for remote connect/disconnect of utility customers, depending on their billing status.

A talk by Ed May, Director of Business Development, AMI at Itron--a major supplier of utility meters and supporting infrastructure--described the role of role of home area networks. A smart meter uses the HAN to communicate with endpoints such as thermostats, other utility meters, and smart appliances.


Ed's talk included an illustration of an "in-home messaging display" shown above. It provides the consumer with current information about electricity pricing, and enables pre-programmed consumer response to reduce the cost of electrical service.

We've personally become very sensitized to the need for this type of technology. Our electricity cost hit an alarming new high this summer. We didn't use much more electricity, but the utility sharply raised the rate when demand was very high, reflecting their cost of buying electricity. We would certainly be willing to reduce our usage at times of peak demand -- if we had a device like this providing an automated way to raise the thermostat setpoint.


Texas is Driving AMI

Texas has adopted an unbundled model for electrical service, with separate organizations responsible for generation, wholesale transmission and distribution, and retail electrical service. As an example, TXU Corp. is now separated into three business units: Luminant generates electric power; Oncor distributes power to end points (homes and businesses); and TXU Energy is one of many retail electric providers (REPs) competing to sell electricity to end customers.

The Texas Public Utility Commission and legislature have taken the lead in pushing utilities to install an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Recent legislation required that Advanced Metering services be provided by transmission and distribution utilities. It directed the PUC to establish a surcharge for advanced metering, so that utilities could offset the costs of meter purchase and installation. Other states have been active as well--nearly half of all US states are implementing or piloting technology for demand response and advanced metering.

A talk by Christine Wright, Industry Oversight Division, PUC of Texas, explained the state's rationale: the potential use of smart meters to increase network reliability, their ability to enable demand response and dynamic energy pricing, and their ability to provide data which would let retail energy providers create market differentiation. Requirements for the metering include providing end users and energy retailers with direct, real-time access to meter data. The regulations require smart meters to be able to communicate with devices inside the premises through a home area network.


Utility Focus

In a talk at the conference, Tom Willie, Current's Senior VP Network Engineering & Technology summed up utility interest in BPL into three areas:

  • reading meters;
  • demand response control of home energy usage via smart meters and the home area network; and
  • the "smart grid": capabilities for remote pinpointing of plant problems to enable fast corrective action.

Broadband services to the end-user were conspicuously absent from this list. Willie said utilities divide into two categories: those interested only in utility applications, and those also interested in playing some role in retail broadband services. While a fiber-rich architecture is appropriate for those that want to enable retail broadband, BPL alone will play a more significant role for the others.

The range of bandwidth Current sees as needed for these networks varies from 500kbps to 10 Mbps. Willie sees the low end needing 500 kbps, 2-way, IP-based networks as demand response networks develop.

Role of Communications for Utilities

Other speakers talked about planning for long-term communications requirements. Utility executives are asking questions like "How much is communications a part of my core business?" and "Should I build new or piggyback on someone else's network?"

Mike Quinn, Oncor's Senior Project Manager, had this perspective: "BPL is a utility piece of equipment that is communications-oriented. The big issue for utilities is that the old departmental silos are still ingrained in the culture and communications planning requires these units to work collectively in future planning. The energy distribution function has also been mandated to be separate from the generation business -- another impediment to end-to-end communications."


Who Will Follow Oncor?

We heard very little from utilities on the subject of retail broadband services. Although Oncor's customers will be offered broadband services in the near future, we heard about it mostly from Current. Many utilities seem to think that focus on very high speed creates unnecessary complexity and cost: "I don't need 200 MBps, I need $10". Most of the Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) appear to be focused on how to fix a disruption in a few minutes rather a few days; on how to read meters and turn them on and off remotely; and on how to control energy use to delay the construction of new generation capacity.

Most of the major utilities have already run BPL trials and/or pilots, and have "learned all they need to know". They are waiting for standards and for technology maturity. Perhaps they are also waiting to see how Oncor progresses as their rollouts continue and Current starts marketing its BPL broadband services. We didn't see any rush to be the next US utility to implement end-user broadband services. Perhaps it's fitting that Oncor is in the "Lone Star" state.


Municipal Utilities and Co-ops Are Different

Last year we wrote about International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC), a company focused on implementing BPL for municipal and cooperative utilities that serve largely rural areas. Steve Turner, COO of IBEC, spoke at the conference and said that his customers were still enthusiastic about BPL. Since these utilities are owned by their customers and most of their customers have few (if any) other options for broadband, their BPL focus is still on retail broadband services.

IBEC had previously received a $19.2M loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) to deploy its BPL solution to the underserved residents of rural America, and has been waiting for FCC approval to start deploying its newest products. Shortly after the conference, Steve informed us that their products had just been certified by the FCC. With this in place, IBEC will proceed with the rural deployments it had previously initiated.


Standards Are Key

We have written before about the issue of BPL standards, which is still unresolved. Utilities are loath to make big commitments to BPL in the absence of standards. As Gary Steubing, Systems Integration Manager - PL Communications, Duke Energy Corporation (last year's UPLC conference host) said: "We don't care what the standard is, we just want one." At this year's conference, we heard some optimism: "significant progress" according to some, "resolution in the next year" according to Tom Willie.

The IEEE P1901 standards committee is working on the standard for BPL. The group met in Boston earlier this week, and we're waiting to hear the outcome.


Effects From the Outside

Recent events outside the utility industry may have an effect of the future of BPL. The first is EarthLink's pullback from the BPL market. Last year EarthLink was one of BPL's biggest advocates and was going to serve as the retail ISP working with Duke and potentially other utilities. Earthlink's deteriorating financial situation has changed that commitment.

The second factor is Current Communications deal with DirecTV. DirecTV will be able to offer its customers high-speed Internet and voice services carried by Current Group over electric power lines, as early as the end of 2007. Initial coverage will be in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area for 1.8 million homes and businesses. DirecTV will be able to expand this offer to other U.S. markets as Current builds out its network.

DirecTV provides a strong marketing arm for distribution of broadband services. The company has been looking for ways to integrate additional services with their video offers in order to better compete with cable companies.

This is a long story--and it is not over yet. We'll have to wait and watch.

For More Information

See SmartGrid: The Road to BPL? ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0608_4.html ) (BBHR 10/17/06) for our report on last year's UPLC conference, and Topical Index: Broadband Access to the Home: Powerline (BPL) ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/guide_access_powerline.html ) for all our writing on this subject.

( www.uplc.org ) ( www.currentgroup.com ) ( www.txuelectricdelivery.com ) ( www.zigbee.org ) ( www.itron.com ) ( www.puc.state.tx.us ) ( www.ibec.net ) ( www.duke-energy.com )( grouper.ieee.org/groups/1901 ) ( www.earthlink.com ) ( www.directv.com )


Upcoming Conferences

TelcoTV Conference & Expo 2007

This year's Telco TV 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 MobileTV, IPTV and NetVideo, and their impact on service providers. ( www.telcotvonline.com )

IPTV World Forum

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 )

The IPTV World Forum Asia takes place in Singapore, 5-7 December, 2007 ( www.iptv-asia.net )