In This Issue
Cable Meets CE
Wireless Home Control Coming of Age
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
James Armstrong has been promoted to EVP and GM of Symmetricom's Telecom Solutions Division. ( www.symmetricom.com )
Mark Cranwell has been named Director of Content Acquisition of Babelgum. Previously, Cranwell was Director, Business Affairs, for BT Vision. ( www.babelgum.com )
Ruchir Godura has been hired as Vice President, Global Customer Service and South Asia Sales at Aperto Networks. Mr. Godura was previously at Bharti Airtel, India’s largest GSM operator. ( www.apertonet.com )
Chris Gordon has been appointed Director of Product Management at Imagine Communications. Gordon was previously with EGT, a manufacturer of video processing equipment for the cable industry. ( www.imaginecommunications.com )
Dirk-Willem van Gulik, former CTO of Joost, has joined the BBC as chief technical architect of its future media and technology group. ( www.bbc.co.uk )
Curt Hockemeier, a member of Cedar Point Communications board of directors, has been named interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) following the departure of Andy Paff as President and CEO. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )
Victor Koretsky has joined Provigent as Senior Vice President Worldwide Sales and Business Development. He was previously with DSP Group. ( www.provigent.com )
Arbor Networks is acquiring Ellacoya Networks, which has expertise in deep packet inspection technology and broadband service optimization. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. ( www.arbornetworks.com ) ( www.ellacoya.com )
Carlyle Group is buying half of Cinven Group Ltd.'s 70% stake in Numericable and its related operator, Completel, as part of the consolidation in telecom and cable in France. The price was just over €1 billion ($1.44 billion). ( www.carlyle.com ) ( www.cinven.com )
Broadband Enterprises LLC, an online video ad company, has secured a $10 million round of funding from Velocity Interactive Group. ( www.broadbandenterprises.com )
Hillcrest Labs, a developer of tools for navigating television content, has closed a $25 million Series D round of funding. ( www.hillcrestlabs.com )
NetStreams LLC has raised an $18.2 million Series B from its investor Austin Ventures. ( www.netstreams.com )
Sequans Communications, a WiMAX chip maker headquartered in Paris, has raised a $28 million round of equity and debt financing. ( sequans.com )
Ubicom, a fabless semiconductor firm, has raised an $18 million Series 4 round of funding. ( www.ubicom.com )
Next.TV, operated by Dave Networks, has launched a private beta test of its Web video service, which is currently bundled with Hewlett-Packard’s Pavilion consumer notebooks. The beta has more than 100 video-on-demand channels provided by partners that include CBS, HSN, TV Guide and Showtime. It is scheduled to be available publicly in March 2008. ( www.next.tv ) ( www.dave.tv ) ( www.hp.com )
Sony has unveiled TransferJet, a short-range wireless technology competitor to wireless USB. TransferJet has a potential maximum data-transfer rate of 560 Mbps in the 4.48GHz band. Wireless USB offers a maximum rate of 480 Mbps. ( www.sony.net )
Tata Group, India's multi-industry conglomerate, is integrating all of its communications businesses, including telco VSNL and service providers Teleglobe, Tata Indicom and Cipris, under the Tata Communications brand. ( www.tata.com )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on a wide range of subjects, including DTV growth in the US, George Bush's broadband promise, digital set top sales and my favorite quote of the month.
DTV Growth in US
More than 50% of U.S. households now own DTV sets, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. DTV sales in the U.S. are expected to reach 32 million units in 2008. ( www.ce.org )
What Happened to "Universal, Affordable Broadband"?
In March 2004, U.S. President George Bush said "We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007." At year end 2007, a Benton Foundation report
In our September 16, 2007 newsletter, we wrote about a visit with Ubicom and why we thought their technology was an important contribution to multimedia networking. The people at CES evidently agreed, because five of the show's Innovations Honorees products--from Logitech, D-Link, NETGEAR and Silicondust--featured Ubicom technology. ( www.ubicom.com )
2007 Digital Set-top Sales: 100+ million
Worldwide sales of digital TV set-top boxes surpassed 100 million for the first time in 2007, according to research from Strategy Analytics. Their report, "Digital TV Set-Top Boxes: Global Market Forecast," found that sales reached 102.4 million units last year, an annual increase of 12%. Of the four markets served by digital set tops, two (IPTV and cable) gained share and 2 (satellite and terrestrial) lost share. In 2008 the firm expects that the Asia-Pacific region will overtake North America and Europe, accounting for a third of this year's 129 million sales. ( www.strategyanalytics.net )
From Our "Best Quote" Department...
We didn't attend NAPTE, so missed hearing Jeff Zucker, NBCU President and CEO, observe "technology is transforming every part of our business". He said that moving to the broadband space means "Our challenge with all these ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies." It is more than the broadcast industry that faces this challenge!
New US Rural Broadband Site
The FCC and USDA have created a new "broadband home" website Broadband Opportunities for Rural America as a source of information about broadband for rural areas of the U.S.
The WiMAX Forum made several announcements about its growing ecosystem and their plans:
NextWave Wireless announced they are collaborating with Finish firm Elektrobit on a WiMAX handset reference design, based upon NextWave's WiMAX chipset. The device made its debut at the 2008 GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. ( www.nextwave.com )
Duke University is planning to deploy an enormous 802.11n WiFi network across its campus using more than 2,500 Cisco access points. The network will cover more than 6 million square feet of its Durham, N.C. campus. Press releases say it will be the largest planned deployment of an 802.11n network by any organization to date. ( www.cisco.com )
Love him or hate him, Bill Gates has had a profound effect on our world. That made his last CES keynote a "must see" at the 2008 CES. Gates talk--focused on "the next digital decade"--provided a fitting umbrella under which to highlight this year's show.
Much of our CES reporting in past years has focused on chip makers--mostly those developing chips to support networked high-definition video. We did talk with many of these chip makers again this year. But with many devices based on their chips now on the market, we devoted much of our attention this year to the devices and their applications.
At the start of the "next digital decade," the worlds of personal computers, consumer electronics, home networking, and broadband and video services all overlap in many ways. All the industry players are jockeying for position. Nobody knows how the game will play out, so each player is leveraging their strengths and introducing products they hope will keep them in the game.
This issue covers the "next digital decade" in three articles:
We also cover wireless home control in Wireless Home Control Coming of Age: Z-Wave and Zigbee.
Every CES since 1994 has featured a keynote speech by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Gates steps down in July to devote full time to his Foundation and its work on health care and education, so 2008 was his last CES keynote--or at least his last as Chairman.
We spent more than an hour in line with the rest of the media to get good seats for Gates's speech. In what has become a yearly pattern, the speech included comic segments featuring big name stars and politicians--including George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Bono, Al Gore, Jon Stewart--focused on Bill's last day at Microsoft.
The serious part of the talk included many descriptions and demonstrations showcasing the changes that Microsoft sees coming about through its work. This year, it was focused on what will happen now that the "first digital decade" has been such a success.
Does this sound far out? We remember when Gates's phrase "the world at your fingertips" seemed far out too. But we take it for granted today.
Microsoft's key announcements included:
The last segment of the talk, done jointly with Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft Connected Devices, illustrated 3D visualization on a mobile phone and other forward-looking projects. The tone of the closing remarks suggested that Bach has been tapped to take Gates's place a year from now--but lots can change in a year.
2008 marked the first time a cable industry CEO delivered a CES keynote. Given the long-standing frictions between the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)--which sponsors CES--and the cable industry, it was striking to see CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro introduce Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. This signaled an unprecedented convergence of interests between the cable and consumer electronics industries.
He highlighted Comcast and cable industry advances in many areas where cable competes with satellite and telephone companies. Specifics included:
Roberts was joined onstage by Panasonic President Toshihiro Sakamoto to announce AnyPlay, a portable DVR and DVD combination with tru2way capability. Anyplay will be available in 2009 and will let Comcast subscribers record programming at home and take it wherever they go.
The video entertainment world is in flux. We have been writing about the challenges to the established players for the past few years, and this year's CES was a good place to observe some of the turmoil. The upheaval has come about because
All the players--old and new--want a share of the revenue that will come from monetizing this content. Every industry grouping is jockeying for position:
Where Does Video Content Come From?
The sources of video have blossomed. The cable viewer has ever more choices--Comcast says its viewers will have "more than 1,000 high-definition choices" by the end of 2008 and more than 6,000 movies a month in 2009. Online media is taking an increasing share of eyeballs. Network and cable TV and movies now include user-generated content.
Microsoft joined the "my number is bigger than yours" contingent at CES by announcing that NBC Universal--which owns the exclusive U.S. media rights to this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing--has formed an alliance with MSN and Microsoft to create "NBC Olympics.com on MSN". In addition to NBCU's Summer Olympics broadcasts, Bill Gates's CES keynote described plans for MSN to offer 2,200 hours of live event video coverage, with more than 20 simultaneous live video streams at peak times, as well as more than 3,000 hours of on-demand video content.
Microsoft President of Entertainment & Devices, Robbie Bach, announced that Xbox Live now has 3,500 hours of content available on-demand. Bach said that's twice the amount of any cable or satellite TV operator--which seemed like a pretty overt challenge to the incumbent video providers. Microsoft also announced that they are bringing together BT's Vision next-generation TV service, with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 games and entertainment system for "all in one" entertainment.
Meanwhile, more and more people are trying their hands at video production. Video sites like YouTube and its competitors make it easy to reach an audience. Most of these will be vanity videos for family and friends, but some are starting to break out and find wider audiences. A few have crossed over to the traditional video media, but all can be accessed with an Internet connection.
As these new videos embrace better production values and higher resolution video, viewers would like to see them on a flat-screen TV rather than a PC monitor. That's getting easier. Some people have installed networked digital media adapters to create a bridge between the PC and the TV.
TV Needs PC -- Or Does It?
People have become used to viewing online video content on their PCs, so it's natural to think of PCs as the conduit for getting video to the TV. And it is certainly the default way that people do it today. Increasingly, however, there is a move to Internet connected devices, including TVs, without the PC as intermediary.
At CES, Panasonic introduced their new VIERA® line of Plasma Internet-connected HDTV’s, which do not depend on either PCs or cable set top boxes. They provide viewers with direct access to YouTube videos and to Google's Picasa Web Albums. Equipped with Tru2way technology (previously called OCAP),these TVs will be able to access interactive digital cable video services, including interactive program guides and video on demand, without a set top box.
Samsung is planning multiple options. They already have RSS-enabled HDTVs and announced their See'N'Search set-top box at CES. This box examines channel guide information and closed caption metadata in the background and can suggest video or websites that complement what the user is viewing. Details are sparse, so we're not counting on seeing this in the short term. (It is also not clear whether Samsung will offer Media Center extenders to bridge the PC and TV; after CES, Engadget showed pictures of one they said Microsoft had at the show, but Samsung is not talking.)
H-P showed its latest line of networked digital televisions. Sharp also made connected-TV announcements.
In addition to these announcements featuring "direct to TV" from the Internet, CES certainly had its share of announcements and new products which bridge from the PC to the TV. For example, Netgear debuted their Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000 for streaming HD video from home PCs and storage devices to HDTV sets. The device automatically discovers HD movies, TV shows, music files, and personal photos on a home network, across multiple computers, and organizes these into a single media library displayed on a TV without the need for media server software running on the computer. The EVA8000 can play protected files in both iTunes and Windows Media formats and handles 1080p HD video. It can also play Web-based videos from sites such as YouTube and photos directly from Flickr without a computer.
Not to be outdone, Buffalo and D-Link also showed their solutions. Indeed, D-Link hedged its bets by showing five different "MediaLounge Entertainment Network" devices for moving digital media to the TV. You think Windows Media Center is going to win?--if so, D-Link has a Media Center Extender for you. You like the PC but not Media Center?--three media players don't require Media Center. You don't want to use the PC?--yet another device can play HD videos from the Internet without a PC.
Set top boxes -- Going Away or Proliferating?
Although many of the new HDTVs don't require an external set top box to get cable services, set-tops are certainly not disappearing. Instead, they seem to be coming from all corners of the industry.
We've already mentioned XBox as one of the consumer electronics devices that is getting entertainment content from movie and TV studios. Apple TV, on the market for nearly a year, has similar capabilities.
The retail version of TiVo is another set-top that is increasingly bringing online entertainment content to the TV. In addition to their previously-announced deal with Amazon Unbox--which lets users browse movie and TV titles and have them sent to their "Now Playing" List--TiVo announced that their users will soon be able to subscribe to and watch a broad range of content available on Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. RSS feeds can be part of a viewer’s "season pass" and will appear in the user’s Now Playing List alongside recorded TV shows. TiVo will also provide an on-screen guide of selected web video sources for users to browse and select Season Pass recordings.
The features on the retail TiVo box differ in some aspects from the version TiVO is deploying with service providers. Service providers such as Comcast will download a custom version of the TiVo code to the user's current set-top box; users are likely to be limited to the service provider's on-demand content.
At the show, Digeo, makers of the Moxi® digital media recorder (DMR), announced alliances with four content providers: Flickr, Finetune, Accedo Broadband and CloverLeaf Digital LLC. Digeo said these content sources will be integrated into the user interface, providing one spot for accessing entertainment. After the show, Digeo announced some major cutbacks in staff and in products being developed. It says it expects to maintain its goal of integration with online content, but the timing of its long-awaited retail products is unclear.
The relatively new company VUDU has its own box to bring video entertainment—including an increasing number of HD movies—to the living room TV. It says playback of HD movies can be viewed "instantly" with a 3 Mbps Internet connection, and will still work with delayed viewing over a 2 Mbps connection.
Sling Media is yet another video box maker that had some CES announcements. Announced last year, their SlingCatcher set top box had its first public demonstration at this year's show. SlingCatcher delivers broadcast TV, Internet-based content and personal media to the TV. It can “sling” programming to another TV in the home or to a TV in a remote location without a PC. It can act as a repository for content and can pull content from multiple sources and places, providing easy navigation and playback of the unified content.
Home gateways can do it too
We mentioned Actiontec and 4HomeMedia in our separate article on wireless home control. In addition to controlling Z-Wave devices, the latest 4HomeMedia software also provides integrated digital media content access and management. At CES, 4HomeMedia demonstrated its software running on an Actiontec platform and providing access to YouTube without the use of a PC.
It depends on what you mean by "PC"
Is a "PC" needed to connect a TV to online content? In its simplest terms, a PC is a box with a processor, storage, memory and communications sub-systems, plus an operating system and application software. When consumer electronics devices connect "without a PC," the necessary hardware and software elements from the PC move inside the TV, a set top box, a gateway, or another CE device. Most of these systems use the Linux operating system, with the user interface hidden away. For the user, the biggest difference is that unlike PCs these devices work as soon they're turned on--little or no time is needed to set them up the first time, and then they just work.
Intel is getting into this game too. In his CES keynote, CEO Paul Otellini highlighted how phones, televisions and other CE devices which connect to the Internet are taking on more computing characteristics. Otellini demonstrated the first Intel Architecture-based system-on-a-chip product optimized for a new generation of set-top boxes, media players and TVs. Codenamed "Canmore" and available in 2H08, it will pair a powerful PC-class processor core with dedicated A/V processing, a 3-D graphics unit for compelling user interfaces and technologies to enable broadcast TV.
Where is this all going?
It would be nice to say that it's clear how this is all going to play out. But the only thing that's clear to us is that no one really understands how and in what form(s) the online video world will coalesce. Everyone is trying their own set of options, based on their markets, strengths and assets, hoping that theirs will still be standing when and if the music stops.
It's not likely that there will be a single answer--the global markets are big enough for many viable solutions.
Not very satisfying? That's how technology transitions play out in the real world.
( www.comcast.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.nbcuni.com ) ( www.xbox.com ) ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.engadget.com ) ( www.netgear.com ) ( www.buffalotech.com ) ( www.d-link.com ) ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.amazon.com ) ( www.digeo.com ) ( www.vudu.com ) ( www.slingmedia.com ) ( www.actiontec.com ) ( www.4homemedia.com ) ( www.intel.com )
For More Information
After being on the fence for several years about what technology to use for wireless home control, we're about to test our hypothesis that Z-Wave--despite its lack of an open standard--has the market momentum.
We have been following Zigbee and Z-Wave, both "next generation" wireless home control (WHC) technologies, for several years. They're both low-speed wireless mesh networking technologies designed to connect large numbers of simple devices like light switches, smoke detectors, thermostats, and more.
While home networking needs speed and more speed, home control needs rock solid reliability. Home control systems typically operate at relatively low speeds--Z-Wave chips operate at 9.6 and 40 kilobits per second. A major application for these new home control systems is "battery to battery networks"--interconnecting battery-powered devices. This puts a high premium on very low power consumption so that devices like motion sensors and smoke detectors can last for years without changing batteries. Since the devices being controlled are relatively inexpensive, the control systems should add only a small price increment if they are to be successful commercially.
At CES this year, we again spent some time with both the Zigbee and Z-Wave groups. Zigbee has made good progress with industrial and power utility applications. But Z-Wave seems to be approaching critical mass in the consumer market.
At CES, we met at the Z-Wave booth with Mark Walters, Zensys Vice President of Alliances and chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance. Mark said Zensys has put a lot of effort into creating an ecosystem for its chips. Founded in early 2005, the alliance now includes more than 170 member companies, "100 of which are seriously developing hardware." The alliance provides tools to certify devices for interoperability and logo display; organizes joint efforts at trade shows such as CES; and publicizes the technology and the products.
There are now more than 225 Z-Wave certified products. The Products section on the Alliance website shows many of these, including lighting and application controls, wireless remote controls for audio/video, motorized shades and projection screens, and more.
Many Z-Wave Alliance members had displays in the Z-Wave booth. Kim Scott, Director, Global Wireless, showed us Intermatic's two families of Z-Wave products. HomeSettings is for the retail "do it yourself" (DIY) market, while InTouch is for professional installers. Both include an extensive line of light switches, wall modules, controllers and more.
Brad Kayton, founder and COO of 4HomeMedia, demonstrated his company's software platform for "home control services." The company was formed to bring Web Services to CE products. Designed to operate on home gateways, their system is targeted as a value-added service for broadband service providers such as telephone companies and cable operators. Their initial suite of applications includes home monitoring, media & entertainment management, home health, and energy management.
We met separately with Leslie Kirchman, Director of Marketing at Actiontec, a leading player in DSL and IPTV home gateways. We had noticed one of Actiontec's gateways as the hardware platform for 4HomeMedia's demonstrations, so we weren't surprised when Actiontec showed us their new zControl home management system. The zControl™ series of home automation gateways is designed to centrally manage household electronics such as lights, thermostats and motion detectors. zControl is designed to allow users to control all devices through a common interface at home as well as remotely by PC, mobile phone or Internet-enabled TV.
After we returned home, we visited the Z-Wave Alliance website and saw many more products from companies like Leviton, Monster Cable, Wayne-Dalton, and Advanced Control Technologies. We were impressed with how many companies already offer full lines of Z-Wave devices.
Unlike Z-Wave, Zigbee is based on an open standard. One of several wireless "personal area networking" (PAN) standards published by the IEEE, IEEE 802.15.4 is specifically intended to provide "a low data rate solution with multi-month to multi-year battery life and very low complexity." The first standard was published in 2003, and was superseded by an updated standard in 2006.
At CES, we again met with Bob Heile, who is both Chairman of the ZigBee Alliance and chair of IEEE 802.15, the IEEE working group on wireless personal-area networks. The Zigbee Alliance now has more than 200 members, including major consumer electronics companies like Philips and Samsung. The Alliance's initial markets (according to their Web site) are Energy Management and Efficiency, Home Automation, Building Automation and Industrial Automation.
The Zigbee Alliance focus on the "home area network" (HAN) has gotten the attention of power utilities, which plan to use Zigbee to connect electric meters outside the home with devices like thermostats mounted inside (see our recent article on the UPLC conference). Bob said applications such as utility meter reading and demand management need "bullet proof security" and "multiple sources". He pointed out that many semiconductor companies--including TI, Freescale, STMicroelectionics--supply Zigbee-compatible chips, and there are multiple sources of software suites and other tools.
The alliance has been more successful in industrial and commercial applications than in home control. A glance at the "Products & Certification" pages on the alliance website shows far more chips and other building blocks than products designed for home applications.
Our Home Control Decision
We've used X10 to control the lighting in our house for more than fifteen years. While it works most of the time, devices often stop working when a bulb burns out, and sometimes the entire system fails mysteriously -- we found all of our plant lights off when we returned from a recent trip and it took more than a week to get them working properly again.
So we've been searching for a replacement that does everything we now do with X10, but is much less prone to failure and provides better integration with other applications. We believe that Mark Walters of Zensys is right when he says there four criteria a home control technology has to meet in order to be a success in the market--it needs to be inexpensive, interoperable, have multi-vendor support and be widely distributed. We'd add two other criteria--it has to work reliably and be easy to set up.
The fact that Zigbee is based on an IEEE standard and Z-Wave is proprietary has given us pause--we are concerned about Z-Wave's dependence on one chip maker. This isn't the first time we've seen a situation like this. In CES 2005--The Right Time for Standards we examined three other cases where one chip maker chose to move "ahead of existing standards efforts, trying to get products to market before standards are set in stone and incumbent semiconductor companies can take advantage of their market leverage."
In most cases, the standards-based approach attracts the critical mass of players to its ecosystem, and eventually wins in the market. However, proprietary technology from a single vendor can sometimes obtain enough share in major markets to attract major silicon suppliers, making it available from multiple sources. MoCA, first promulgated by Entropic and now being supported by Broadcom and Conexant, is an example.
Both Z-Wave and Zigbee have lined up an impressive set of market players. But a look at their alliance websites shows that while most of the players in the Zigbee camp make chips and other building blocks, Z-Wave has already attracted a critical mass of players making end-user products.
We came away from CES with the sense that Z-Wave has the momentum in the home market. We're getting ready to plan our switch from X10 to Z-Wave. We'll keep you posted.
( www.zen-sys.com ) ( www.zwavealliance.org ) ( www.intermatic.com ) ( www.4homemedia.com ) ( www.actiontec.com ) ( www.leviton.com ) ( www.monstercable.com ) ( www.wayne-dalton.com ) ( www.act-solutions.com ) ( www.ieee802.org/15/pub/TG4.html ) ( www.zigbee.org ) ( www.mocalliance.org )
Broadband Properties Summit 08
The Broadband Properties Summit 08 will be held on April 28-30, 2008 at the Hyatt Regency DFW, Dallas Texas.
Co-hosted by the FTTH Council, the conference will feature case studies as well as sessions on the analog to digital transition, IPTV, technology trends for MDUs, regulatory updates and more. The Summit offers a venue for developers and property owners to network with broadband industry leaders. ( www.bbpmag.com/2008summit/summo8.php )
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