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The April 8, 2008 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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In This Issue


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Jonathan Barzilay has joined Qualcomm’s MediaFLO USA mobile TV subsidiary as SVP of programming and advertising and Matt Milne is becoming their SVP of sales and marketing. Barzilay was previously at CBS Interactive and Milne was at ViewSonic. ( www.mediaflo.com )

Duncan Campbell has been named Vice President, Business Development, at ICTV. He most recently was general manager and head of United States operations for Two Way TV. ( www.ictv.com )

Steven L. Elfman has been hired by Sprint Nextel, effective May 4, to the new position of President - Network Operations and Wholesale. Elfman was previously President and COO at Motricity. ( www.sprintnextel.com )

Jason Gaedtke has joined Joost as CTO. Previously, Gaedtke was at CableLabs which he joined from Comcast Interactive group. Gaedtke reports to Matt Zelesko, Joost's SVP of engineering who was also from Comcast Interactive Media. Additionally, Gabo Mendoza, also previously at Comcast Interactive Group, has jointed Joost as user experience lead. ( www.joost.com )

Kashif Haq has been named strategic execution officer, a newly created position, at Bright House Networks. The new position expands his previous role as Bright House SVP of broadband technology and services. ( www.brighthouse.com )

David Rubinstein has been appointed VP of media sales at ExpoTV. He was previously with Yahoo! ( www.expotv.com )

Josh Silverman has been named CEO of Skype. He was previously CEO of Shopping.com, another eBay company. ( www.skype.com )


Company News

Acquisitions

DESCA, a Latin American provider of network solutions and system integration services, is purchasing 100 percent of Transistemas, an Argentine network solution provider and system integrator. The acquisition will extend DESCA's direct presence in Latin America from Mexico to Argentina. ( www.desca.com ) ( www.transistemas.com.ar )

Entropic Communications has acquired the assets of Vativ Technologies, a privately-held fabless semiconductor company, for $5.9 million. Entropic has hired 17 employees from Vativ, including 15 engineers. ( www.entropic.com ) ( www.vativ.com )

EXFO, a major provider of portable test and measurement solutions for telecommunications, has agreed to acquire Brix Networks for US $28.5 million in cash plus additional earn-outs based on bookings. EXFO recently also acquired VOIP test specialist Navtel Communications for C$11.0 million in cash. ( www.exfo.com ) ( www.brixnet.com )

Icera, a UK-based chip start-up founded in 2002, is buying Sirific Wireless, a Texas-based CMOS RF transceiver startup. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. ( www.icerasemi.com ) ( www.sirific.com )

Liberty Media has acquired an additional 78.3 million shares of DirecTV stock, raising Liberty’s stake to 48% of DirecTV's outstanding shares. ( www.libertymedia.com ) ( www.directv.com )

Funding

Akimbo has raised $4 million in new funding and added Thomas Frank as new president and CEO. Frank was previously COO of RealNetworks. ( www.akimbo.com )

Aperto Networks has secured $20 million of new equity funding. ( www.apertonet.com )

iControl Networks announced the close of $15.5 million in Series B funding, which will extend its solutions into the security and broadband marketplace. ( www.icontrol.com )

SiBEAM, a fabless semiconductor developer of high-speed wireless communications platforms, announced the closing of $40 million in Series C funding. ( www.sibeam.com )

TidalTV Inc. has raised a $15 million Series A financing. ( www.tidaltv.com )

Tzero Technologies, a provider of ultra wideband (UWB) technology, has raised $18 million in its third round of funding. ( www.tzti.com )

Ubiquisys, a provider of femtocells, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding, including a contribution from the T-Mobile Venture fund. ( www.ubiquisys.com )

Wisair, a maker of ultra-wideband chips, has secured $24 million in Series D financing. ( www.wisair.com )

Zensys has secured an investment of undisclosed amount from Panasonic's venture group. ( www.zen-sys.com )


Other News

Hulu, an online video service, announced the public launch of its Web site which allows U.S. consumers to watch a large selection of free TV shows, movies, and more in high-quality. Hulu also announced new content partnerships with Warner Bros. Television Group, Lionsgate, NBA, NHL and more. ( www.hulu.com )

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in collaboration with Apple announced the launch of the "iFund" with $100 million in venture capital to invest in companies developing applications and services for Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. ( www.kpcb.com ) ( www.apple.com )

NextWave Wireless, a provider of mobile multimedia and wireless broadband technologies, announced a strategic agreement with Alcatel-Lucent to develop WiMAX broadcast solutions for mobile operators. Alcatel-Lucent will integrate NextWave's MXtv technology into their WiMAX solutions portfolio. ( www.nextwave.com ) ( www.alcatel-lucent.com )

Qualcomm has announced that the radio spectrum it won in a recent government auction will be used to double the capacity of its MediaFLO USA mobile television service on both coasts. On the West coast, they will be able to double offerings from Orange County, Calif., to Northern California; on the East coast, they can do so from New Hampshire to Maryland. MediaFLO will have 12 megahertz of bandwidth in those areas, compared with 6 megahertz in the rest of the country. ( www.qualcomm.com )( www.mediaflo.com )

Scientific Atlanta is no more. Cisco has phased out the name, which is now officially Cisco Service Provider Video Technology Group. ( www.scientificatlanta.com ) ( www.cisco.com )

Ireland's Smart Telecom will be soft-launching its anticipated IPTV service, according to siliconrepublic.com. It is planning its DSL-based multichannel IPTV service in the 37 unbundled exchanges in which it currently offers broadband and plans to purchase an MPEG 4 IPTV headend and middleware solution from Thomson. ( www.smarttelecom.ie ) ( www.siliconrepublic.com )

India's giant Tata Communications is rolling out a large WiMAX network with Telsima Corporation. Initially it will provide broadband access and content services to enterprise and residential customers in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Cochin, Chandigarh, and Kolkata. ( www.tatacommunications.com ) ( www.telsima.com )


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 WiMAX news, iTunes Store passes Wal-Mart, updated FTTH statistics, the FCC's broadband definition, the UK digital transition and more.

WiMAX Update

Here are a few of the recent WiMAX news items.

  • Analysts who were hoping for some sort of major announcement from Sprint at the recent CTIA conference came away disappointed. Sprint did not make an official announcement of the Xohm launch, which had been scheduled for April in Washington D.C. and Chicago, but will be missing its target.
  • Motorola announced a new common wireless broadband platform to be software configurable to support both WiMAX 802.16e access points and the Long Term Evolution (LTE) evolved Node-B (eNodeB).
  • Claims and counterclaims were flying after Garth Freeman, CEO of Australian ISP Buzz Broadband told a Bangkok WiMAX conference that the technology is a “miserable failure” that performs at unacceptably low levels on indoor and non-line of sight installations and low latency-reliant applications.
  • Intel has announced pricing on its combination Wi-Fi/WiMAX chips. DigiTimes reports that a wireless module supporting both 802.11 a/g/n and WiMAX will cost device manufacturers between $43 and $54 each. Similar chipsets without WiMAX are $19 to $30. ( www.sprint.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.buzzbb.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.digitimes.com )

iTunes Beats Wal-Mart

Apple announced that the iTunes Store surpassed Wal-Mart to become the number one music retailer in the US, based on data from the NPD Group. iTunes has over 50 million customers, has sold over four billion songs and features a music catalog of over six million songs. ( www.itunes.com )

Updated FTTH statistics for North America

Michael Render of market researcher RVA Associates recently presented updated fiber-to-the-home statistics for North America at a FTTH Council Webinar. As of March 2008, there were almost 3 million FTTH connected homes. These homes are unevenly distributed: areas covered by Verizon and Tier 3 ILECs are approaching 6% connected by fiber; areas covered by AT&T, Qwest, and Tier 2 ILECs have only about one tenth that penetration. Of the fiber connected homes, over half are subscribing to video services. ( www.rvallc.com )

US FCC changes broadband calculation rules

The Federal Communications Commission has finally adopted new data collection and reporting practices to more accurately determine broadband penetration in the U.S. Broadband speeds are now defined as beginning at 768 kbps rather than the old baseline of 200 kbps. Service providers must also organize data based on their different speed tiers and must calculate broadband penetration by census blocks, rather than zip code. ( www.fcc.gov )

UK Digital Transition Nears 90% of Main TV Sets

UK regulator Ofcom's Digital Television Progress Report indicates that the number of UK homes with digital TV on their main set reached 22.2 million, or 86.7 percent of homes, at the end of 2007. Full digital switchover is planned for 2012. Those digital subscribers are comprised of customers from Digital terrestrial TV service Freeview, digital satellite TV service BSkyB, and digital cable TV. ( www.ofcom.org.uk )

South Africa has Exceeded One Million Broadband Subscribers

MoneyWeb South Africa reports broadband subscriber numbers in that country have passed the one million mark. The largest provider is Telkom, with 420,000 subscribers for its ADSL service, with Vodacom gaining ground at 370,000 registered HSDPA users. ADSL and HSDPA users account for over 90% of all South African broadband subscribers, with the other 10% accounted for by fixed wireless access. Broadband penetration of only 2%, compared to the OECD average of 18.8%, leaves lots of headroom for growth.

After Wireless Networks Can Wire-free Power Be Far Behind?

EE Times reports that Israeli startup Powermat and Denpeki Kaihatsu KK, a Japanese developer of construction products, have teamed to develop and install wireless energy capability in surfaces including walls, floors and ceilings. Powermat claims that its technology makes it possible for electronic devices to be used without the need for socket-based or battery-based power. Using principles of magnetic induction, Powermat's technology transmits electrical power via an ultra thin mat embedded in — or overlaid on — a work surface or wall, to portable electronic devices placed randomly anywhere on the surface. ( www.eetimes.eu ) ( www.pwrmat.com )

The Name Game

If Scrabble has become old hat for you, perhaps you'd like to join the new word game -- inventing names for new technology companies. Here are some of the more recent ones that have already been taken: Quanta, OoVoo, Hulu and TwonkyVision.


Internet Content on the TV: Let Us Count the Ways

It seems like a simple question. A friend who knows you work with the Internet and computers says: "I'd like to connect my PC to my TV. How should I do it?" What do you say?

There are a bewildering number of ways to do this, so you first have to find out what our friend actually wants. Does she want to watch Internet content like You Tube or an old episode of Miami Vice on the TV? Does she want to play a DVD on the PC and show it on her big screen TV? Does she want to use her PC-based PVR, such as Windows Media Center, to deliver content to a TV located in another room? Does she have other things in mind? Maybe it's some combination of these. Or maybe she's asking because she has heard it can be done and thinks "it" might be cool.

With answers to these questions, we could point her toward a solution that will do what she wants. To clarify the choices, we created a decision tree detailing the various things people might want to do and some of the solutions available for doing them.

But even the narrower question of watching Internet video on the TV screen presents a lot of choices. For starters, she could use her PC to access the Internet, or could access Internet video without a PC.

Using a PC to access the Internet

A PC seems like the most natural way to access Internet video. If your friend is interested in Internet content on the TV, she probably already has a PC with a broadband Internet connection.

But how does she get the Internet video from her PC to her TV? There are several choices:

  • HDMI cable --> Click for larger pictureIf her PC is close to the TV, she could just connect the PC output to the TV input. Unfortunately, there are six different ways she could make this connection, depending on the available PC outputs and TV inputs. Microsoft provides a nice web page describing the connection choices for Windows Media Center that is applicable for any connection. Picture quality will vary depending both on the type of connection (HDMI has the highest quality and composite video the lowest) and the quality of the original video content.
  • Linksys  DMA2200 --> Click for larger pictureIf she's using a PC with Windows Media Center, she could use an Extender for Windows Media Center. Many of these boxes are available today, including the Microsoft Xbox 360, D-Link DSM-750; Niveus Media Extender; and Linksys DMA2100 and DMA2200.
  • If she's not using Windows Media Center, or would prefer a different user interface on her TV, she could use a different digital media adapter. Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and Buffalo make many of these boxes, with a wide variety of features. They often come bundled with PC software, such as the SageTV client included with Hauppauge's MediaMVP.

If she chooses to use one of these boxes (Extender or other), she'll have many choices of how to connect the box to the TV, depending on the box outputs and the TV inputs (HDMI would be best). She'll also have many choices of networking technologies to connect the PC to the box. Most boxes support Ethernet and some "flavor" of Wi-Fi (802.11n would be best); others may include HomePlug A/V, MoCA or other powerline or coaxial networking. For help in connecting a Media Center Extender to her TV, you could point her to a "how to" video Connecting Windows Media Center to your TV.

Connecting to the Internet without a PC

If all she wants to do is watch Internet video on the TV, she doesn't have to use a PC. Instead, she could

  • Buy a new TV with built-in media connections. As an example, HP has several MediaSmart LCD TVs. These can connect directly to the Internet and display Internet content; they can also act as an Extender for Windows Media Center.
  • Use an auxiliary box to connect the TV to the Internet, such as Apple's Apple TV or D-Link's DSM 520. Some of Tivo's newer boxes also support Internet video.

Either of these requires choosing a networking connection to the home network, and the auxiliary boxes require choosing a connection between the box and the TV.

You might want to tell your friend that this approach could lead to problems in the future. Internet content is targeted to the capabilities of PCs, and evolves quite rapidly. PCs provide a very flexible platform; new formats come along all the time and are downloaded into the Web browser. Will a networked TV or a stand-alone box provide similar capability for growth? Maybe this doesn't matter that much for an auxiliary box--if it's cheap enough, she can always get a new one when it runs out of steam--but it could be a serious consideration for a large plasma TV.

Yet More Choices

The considerations are more complex if it is not just Internet video she wants to watch. She also might want to:

  • Watch broadcast video received by the PC from cable or satellite
  • Watch video recorded on the PC hard drive by a PVR program such as Windows Media Center
  • Watch over the air digital video through the PC or recorded on the hard drive
  • Watch videos she or her friends have recorded with a video camera
  • Watch DVDs played on the PC DVD drive

Each of these presents yet more options and issues for consideration.

In the face of this head-spinning menu of options and their associated implementations and choices, it's no wonder many people throw up their hands in despair. For now, they find it easier to decide to keep life simple and just leave well enough alone.

( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.dlink.com ) ( www.niveus.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.netgear.com ) ( www.buffalotech.com ) ( www.hauppauge.com ) ( www.hp.com ) ( www.apple.com ) ( www.tivo.com )


Diagnosing Broadband Problems--How Do Consumers Cope?

During the past three months, Dave has spent a lot of time coping with one broadband problem after another, including both local networking and broadband access issues. Now that he has finally resolved most of them, we've been thinking about how consumers can possibly cope as they run into similar issues.


Wi-Fi and Cable Issues At Our Condo Complex

As we've mentioned before, we own a couple of rental vacation condos in a beachfront complex on Sanibel Island. Dave's now a member of the condo board, and because of his technical background, he's increasingly acting as the (volunteer) CTO for the complex.

View of the Gulf of Mexico from our rooftop deck-- the main Wi-Fi access point is at the lower right --> Click for larger pictureThe complex has a Wi-Fi network used by owners and renters. There are ten 802.11g access points (APs). Three APs form a point-to-multipoint bridge between buildings, the others are used for client access. The main AP is in the clubhouse in the center of the complex, and other APs provide coverage to condos that do not have direct line of sight to the clubhouse. The network also includes a couple of routers, each connected through a commercial cable modem for high-speed Internet access. Several administrative PCs also use one of the cable modems.

When we first rented condos in the complex, the Wi-Fi network never seemed to work very well. The signal strength was fine outside the units, but fell off very rapidly inside. It was usually unusable at the dining room table, where we liked to work. When we bought our first condo three years ago, our first action was to install our own cable modem in the unit, and we soon set up our own Wi-Fi network as well. (See the Our Broadband Condo: PC and Internet: The Starting Point page for more information.)

After Dave joined the board a year ago, he started hearing complaints about the network. Some people complained about network outages, others about performance. The network seemed to fail ever more frequently; the condo association was spending a lot on service calls; and the property manager had to keep power cycling routers, cable modems, and access points to get the network back working.

During the holidays, we spent a couple of weeks at the complex and rented two more condos for our children's families. We used our own network at our condo, but our children told us the network was failing frequently--more than once a day. It wasn't at all clear what was causing the failures, and the property manager soon asked Dave to look into the problem.

Our son-in-law Jeremy Bennett was there with his family over the holidays. Jeremy is a software architect at Aruba Networks responsible for designing and building Aruba's RFprotect line of wireless security products. He's had ten years of hands-on experience with networking and was willing to get his hands dirty helping Dave track down the root causes of the problems.

AirMagnet showed nearly 100 PCs trying to connect to the Clubhouse --> Click for larger picture

Dave set up a laptop PC with AirMagnet and pointed it out our condo window. On New Year's Day, he found nearly 100 PCs trying to access the network. There are 141 condos in the complex; with more and more people carrying laptop PCs on vacation, that didn't seem too surprising--the seven adults in our family had seven laptops in three condos.

To try to understand why the complex network was crashing, Dave and Jeremy logged into all the active devices. They found most of the firmware was out of date--several access points were still running firmware dating back to the earliest release of 802.11g. The primary router, which also served as the primary access point, was a consumer-grade device. Analyzing its log files, they found it simply could not handle the load imposed by 100 PCs trying to gain access within a day. In particular, the DHCP server in the router appeared to crash and stop handing out IP addresses once it had given out 64 addresses.

During the same week, we also observed several outages of the cable modems serving the complex and our condos. Jeremy did some research on the Web and found a way to interrogate the status of the cable modems; we soon found that most of the modems were reporting marginal downstream and upstream power levels. At our condo we were also having trouble receiving some of the digital and high-definition cable channels, so we suspected there were broader cable problems as well.

Resolving all of these issues took more than a month. Jeremy's experience with diagnosing network problems was very helpful. Dave was able to leverage his own long experience with networking (he installed his first Ethernet network in the early 1980s) and with cable modems (he ran the first consumer cable modem trial) to diagnose and solve these problems. He replaced both routers with more appropriate "industrial grade" devices, upgraded the firmware in all network devices to the most recent releases, and reconfigured the IP addressing. To bring the cable modems within specs, the cable operator replaced some of the equipment in the complex, replaced most of the cable modems, and replaced most of their cabling.

With the access points all upgraded to the latest firmware, 802.11g performance improved substantially. The network has been very stable, with no outages like those we saw several times a day when we arrived.

Lest we believed that only consumers are facing these problems, we took heart in a recent article in Network World on wireless LAN management in the enterprise. It observes that "there is little history to tap into with wireless and most performance problems are reported long after the fact, both of which make it very difficult to find or reproduce the error and stop it from happening again. Their conclusion is that network managers want "more diagnostic tools and more expert analysis built into the products..."


TiVo Problem - Debugging Ethernet

A month or so after we returned home, we found that our TiVo had stopped working. We didn't discover it had failed until the program listings suddenly disappeared, and the TiVo told us that it had not been able to connect to the TiVo network to update the listings for 30 days. We had generally been using a different DVR in the kitchen but wanted the TiVo in our bedroom to also work.

The TiVo in our bedroom is connected to our home network through a 10/100 Ethernet switch in the attic. The TiVo Series 2 does not have a built-in Ethernet port; it has several USB ports and uses an external USB-to-Ethernet adapter to provide the network connection. The lights on the attic switch looked funny; Dave tried moving the Ethernet jack to a different port and the lights didn't change, so he suspected the USB-to-Ethernet adapter wasn't working properly.

Dave disconnected the adapter, installed its drivers on one of his PCs, and used it to connect to our network. It worked like a charm for several days, so that wasn't the problem.

After scratching his head for another week, Dave climbed back into the attic, disconnected a working PC from one of the ports on the attic switch, and connected the TiVo to that port. The lights looked fine, and the TiVo immediately started working again.

Somehow, while we were away, two of the five ports on the switch had failed. Dave replaced the switch with a new one (this is the third time he's had to do this) and we were back in business.


Skype Problem - Debugging Network Performance

About a month ago, Skype suddenly stopped working properly. Skype had been getting better and better, and we had gradually come to depend on it for the majority of our phone calls--both to other Skype users (including video calls with family members) and to regular telephones (using SkypeOut). All of a sudden, we noticed that the call quality was terrible - it was hard to understand what people were saying, sentences would get clipped, and people complained that they couldn't hear us. Since this happened simultaneously to both of us, and on several different PCs, we figured the problem was probably with Skype or with our cable operator.

After looking at both the Skype client application and the online help pages, we didn't find any obvious way to isolate the problem. So we went through the "back door" and contacted Skype's PR agency, who put us in touch with our old friend Jonathan Christensen, now Skype's General Manager for Video and Audio. Jonathan listened to our description of the problem and told us how to turn on the diagnostic tools hidden in the Skype client. As we were talking with him, we could see that the jitter was on the order of 300 milliseconds and the packet loss was around 10% of packets -- both awful. Jonathan said "it's probably your router -- we've seen a lot of router problems with those symptoms." We told him our router was an "industrial grade" device that we'd never had any trouble with, and we hadn't changed anything. He suggested we look more closely.

Searching the Web, Dave found a very helpful software tool called MySpeed PC VoIP Advanced Edition. It installs on a PC, and runs a periodic test to a remote server that measures the network parameters that affect VoIP services. It confirmed Skype's measurements of packet loss and jitter, and indicated that our network setup was unacceptable for VoIP calls.

To isolate the source of the problem, we subscribed to another cable modem service, and Dave picked up and installed the second modem. When he connected the test PC directly to the second modem, MySpeed PC reported that jitter was a few milliseconds, packet loss was zero, and the network was fully suitable for VoIP. Dave then installed a spare router between the test PC and the second cable modem, and ran the test overnight, with similar results. This effectively eliminated the cable network as the source of the Skype problem.

MySpeedPC VoIP Advanced Edition --> Click for larger picture

Our home router supports VPN links to our condos in Florida, and we recently added VPN links to the routers which serve the Wi-Fi network in the complex. One of those VPN links stopped working following a cable outage at the complex, and Dave had not been able to get the link back working. Both routers kept trying to reestablish the link, but it kept failing. Skype had stopped working at home in New Jersey at about the same time as the cable failure in Florida--unlikely as it seemed, perhaps the two problems were related.

Dave finally resolved the VPN problem about a week ago. As soon as the link was stable, he reconnected the test PC to the main router and cable modem. Sure enough, MySpeed PC reported that jitter was now a few milliseconds and there was no packet loss. Skype is back working fine, just as before.

In trying to reestablish the VPN link, our home router had apparently devoted so much of its processor time that it was losing packets and creating jitter in the VoIP link. We had not noticed problems with any other applications--but unlike VoIP, they are not time-critical.


HomePlug Problem -- Debugging Intermittent Failures

In an article several issues ago, we described how we had used powerline networking to solve a problem at one of our condos--we connected a cable modem in one bedroom to a router in another bedroom using a pair of Linksys HomePlug AV adapters (see Network Problem Solving with HomePlug). Soon after the article appeared, we started having intermittent problems with the broadband connection at that condo. From the symptoms, it was very difficult to tell what was causing the problem, since it went away whenever the equipment was power cycled.

Our son-in-law Jeremy stayed at that condo with his family over the holidays. Jeremy had used HomePlug to solve a similar problem in his California home, and worked with Dave to try to isolate the problem. The cable modem was clearly operating marginally; while we were there the cable company changed some equipment and cabling, which brought the downstream and upstream signals for the cable modem well within normal specs. We hoped the problem would go away, but it didn't; the Internet connection in the condo still failed several times a week, requiring power cycling to get it back working again. We both found this very frustrating--Jeremy said "If I have a problem with Ethernet, I know how to diagnose it. If there's a problem with Wi-Fi, I know what tools to use. But I don't know how to diagnose a problem with HomePlug."

In early February, Dave stayed at the condo for most of a week, and was determined to get at the root of the problem. On the way there, he stopped at Best Buy and bought a 50 foot Ethernet cable. He strung it across the floor between the bedrooms, and connected the router and the modem together directly. The network ran for several days without a problem.

ST&T Powerline Ethernet Bridge --> Click for larger pictureThen Dave disconnected the Ethernet cable, and connected the cable modem and the router together with an ancient set of ST&T HomePlug 1.0 adapters we had tested during the summer of 2002--we've used these for five years to connect our AudioTron digital audio player to our home network. The ST&T pair worked fine while Dave was there, so he left them running when he headed home. They're still working, with only one failure in more than two months.

So the HomePlug AV pair appeared to be the root cause of the problem. When he got back home, Dave set them up and ran a test for more than two weeks without a failure. We shipped the pair to Intellon (whose chips are used in most HomePlug devices) for analysis. They reported finding a possible hardware problem, updated the devices, and sent them back to us.

We're heading to Sanibel this weekend, and we're bringing the updated Linksys pair back with us. If they run without a problem while we're there, we'll leave them running.


How Do Consumers Cope With These Problems?

We do operate a more elaborate network than you'd find in the typical home. We have nearly a dozen PCs including two servers, several networked media devices, three DVRs, and a NAS server; these are connected with Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and HomePlug (plus whatever else we're testing). Our home network is connected with VPN to routers at our two condos, and to two routers that serve the condo complex.

Some might feel we deserve the problems we get. But Dave brings an engineering mindset and many years of debugging experience when he sets out to solve problems. He looks for tools to help him isolate problems, in order to find their root cause. Because of our industry experience and contacts, we can call in help that wouldn't be available to the typical consumer.

Many consumers run into similar problems with their cable networks and their home networking equipment. Anyone could have encountered our problems with marginal cable modems, a failing Ethernet switch, and an intermittent HomePlug AV device. Our router problem was apparently not that unusual--we would not have noticed it until Skype acted like the canary in the coal mine--failing when everything else seemed to be working.

Consumers now take high-speed Internet for granted, and install home networks to support voice and video applications. We expect more and more consumers will run into problems similar to ours. How will they cope with them? Who will they call on to fix them?

What is our industry doing to address these issues? Will service providers, retailers, equipment makers, and application providers all point their fingers at each other and say "not my problem"? Will companies that make these products provide effective built-in tools to help consumers figure out what's wrong when they don't work right? Or will someone step up and take charge and provide help?

Cable modems provide an example for how to provide useful information to consumers with a problem. Most modems have a built-in Web server and respond to an http request at the fixed address 192.168.100.1 with all the key information. But it isn't easy to figure out what the normal range is--and it's especially hard if you can't get to the Internet.

Verizon may have the best approach. Verizon is using fiber to the home (FTTH) to provide video, voice and data service, using MoCA to provide home networking, and installing a Broadband Home Router (BHR) as the central management point for all services. In his talk at the MoCA Technology Conference, Verizon's CTO and Senior VP-Technology Mark Wegleitner described "The Verizon Managed Home". He said Verizon will use this infrastructure to remotely manage all video, voice and data communications for PCs and TVs. Since Verizon is already providing the end-to-end infrastructure, it thinks FiOS customers will expect it to solve any problems--even if they're caused by customer-installed equipment and applications.

The rest of the industry should keep an eye on how well this works, and start preparing to follow the same course if it works well.

( www.arubanetworks.com ) ( www.airmagnet.com ) ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.skype.com ) ( www.linksys.com ) ( www.stt.com.tw ) ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.verizon.com )


Upcoming Conferences

IPTV World Forum North America

IPTV is on course to become a credible Pay TV platform in North America, with Verizon FIOS TV and AT&T reporting continuing growth. IPTV World Forum – North America, to be held on July 22-23 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, is part of a series of IPTV events organized by Informa Telecoms & Media globally. It will address the question of where North American IPTV providers are going to find their subscribers and what services must they provide (and evolve) in order to differentiate themselves in the crowded Pay TV marketplace. Confirmed speakers will be representing Verizon, AT&T, SureWest, TiVo, Portugal Telecom and many others.


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