IN THIS ISSUE:
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
Vicki Lins has become chief marketing officer at Canoe Ventures. She was previously Comcast Spotlight senior VP of marketing and communications. Also at Canoe, Michael David has been hired as general counsel. He was formerly with CableLabs.
The Cloud, a U.K.-based Wi-Fi hot spot operator, has closed on a EUR15 million (US $20.6 million) round of financing. ( www.thecloud.net )
DigitalBridge Communications, a provider of wireless broadband services to rural areas, has secured $16.5 million in new financing. ( www.digitalbridgecommunications.com )
Digitalsmiths has closed a $12M Series B round. The company is focused on video indexing and analytics. ( www.digitalsmiths.com )
ExtendMedia, a platform provider for managing, publishing and monetizing video across PCs, televisions and mobile devices, announced a $10 million Series C round of funding. ( www.extendmedia.com )
KickApps,a social media online video provider, announced the closing of $14 million in Series C funding. ( www.kickapps.com )
Kineto Wireless has raised $15.5 million for continued femtocell technology development and unlicensed mobile access. ( www.kineto.com )
Sezmi, which is focused on combining TV content, movies and internet video, has secured $33 million of additional financing. ( www.sezmi.com )
Enablence is acquiring Pannaway Networks, a provider of network access equipment, for approximately $7.5 million in stock. ( www.enablence.com )
Broadband wireless provider Clearwire closed its deal with Sprint Nextel for a $3.2 billion WiMAX venture and quickly changed its brand name from "Xohm" to "Clear". CEO Ben Wolff indicated that he did not rule out using Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology if needed. The company plans to begin operating next year in 50 markets where it offers pre-WiMAX connectivity. ( www.clearwire.com ) ( www.sprint.com )
Intel has halted in-house development of ultrawideband (UWB) chips. There was more bad news recently for UWB since WiQuest, a leading chip developer, also shut down. Intel Capital has investments in UWB firms WisAir and Staccato Communications. ( www.intel.com ) ( www.wisair.com ) ( www.staccatocommunications.com )
picoChip has announced three software reference designs that provide the first integrated network listening (or ‘sniffer’) capabilities for femtocells. The PC8210, PC8211 and PC8810 Radio Environment Scanners (RESs) enable femtocells to detect WCDMA, GSM and TD-SCDMA networks respectively. ( www.picochip.com )
Skyhook Wireless reported that Qualcomm has acquired a license to incorporate Skyhook's Wi-Fi Positioning System in its gpsOne positioning technology platforms. Skyhook's software consolidates GPS satellites, cell phone towers and Wi-Fi access points to improve positioning accuracy. Skyhook's XPS 2.0 hybrid positioning system is included in the arrangement. ( www.skyhookwireless.com ) ( www.qualcomm.com )
TiVo has announced a capability allowing subscribers to set up TiVo DVR recordings from any Internet-enabled cell phone. Its new beta mobile site m.tivo.com, built in conjunction with Mobui, lets broadband-connected TiVos schedule recordings. TiVo subscribers and non-subscribers can browse, search, and discover television shows, independent of mobile platform, carrier or browser. ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.mobui.com )
ATIS VueKey Version of "CableCARD"
The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) announced that VueKey, a CableCARD-like device to conform with the FCC ban on set-top boxes with integrated security, has been validated by ISSI, the IP-Based Separable Security Incubator. Because VueKey is an enhancement of CableCARD, it is harmonized with, and backwards compatible to, the existing unidirectional CableCard standard.
ISSI members include Verizon, Alcatel-Lucent, CableLabs, CCAD, LLC, Hitachi Telecom (USA), NDS Group plc, LG Electronics, MobileComm USA, Verimatrix, Widevine Technologies, Nagravision SA, and Sony. ( www.attis.org ) ( www.atis.org/issi/index.asp )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on the political import of broadband in New Zealand, Embarq's radical decision to use live humans, rural BPL and US DVRs.
Broadband & Politics--New Zealand Style
Broadband may not have been anywhere near the top priorities in the recent US election, but it was a different story in New Zealand. According to New Zealand publication OneNews, the new government's key priorities will be tax cuts in April, increased spending on infrastructure, including roads, and the rollout of broadband internet. One of the incoming National Party's key campaign planks was to promise a fiber to the home network for 75 per cent of New Zealand households. ( tvnz.co.nz )
Embarq Customers--"Are You A Live Human?"
In the US (and probably everywhere) there has been a relentless march toward replacing live customer service agents with Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. Embarq, Sprint's former landline unit, recently gained attention by instituting a trial using live human beings instead of IVR. Embarq thinks customer frustration with automated customer care may result in loss of customers and is monitoring reactions to using US-based rather than overseas representatives. It puzzles us that Embarq is calling this the Live IVR Trial ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSFho5-Geo8 ) when "IVR" is associated with machine automation. Embarq is supporting technology use for other aspects of service, such as its YouTube Channel ( www.youtube.com/embarq ), featuring videos to help answer some top customer service inquiries. ( www.embarq.com )
BPL: IBM and IBEC
BPL (broadband over power lines) ran into a roadblock when it became clear that competing with DSL and cable in major markets was not viable. However, that still leaves an opportunity in unserved rural markets, where government funding can help broadband deployment. IBEC, which we wrote about previously ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0608_5.html ), has signed a $9.6 million deal with IBM, which will be providing and installing IBEC's BPL equipment, with access to 340,000 homes, about 86 percent of which have no cable or DSL access. IBEC currently has only about 1400 customers. ( www.ibec.net )
DVRs Are Big in US
According to US data from Nielsen, 38% of the homes in the San Diego market have DVRs--the largest penetration in the US. 27% of all U.S. households currently have the time shifting, ad-skipping devices and 29 markets have DVR penetration rates topping 30%. ( www.nielsen.com )
Leichtman Research Group adds that 30 percent of US DVR households have more than one DVR.( www.leichtmanresearch.com )
About ten years ago, a cable operator engaged us to help them plan a network operations center (NOC) to manage their planned triple-play services. At that time there were very few tools on the market from which to create a proper NOC; meeting the requirements in our RFP would have required many man-years of custom development.
Over the past year, we've spent time at cable and IPTV trade shows looking at the current tools for triple-play services--especially tools for diagnosing problems with digital video. The good news is that there are now many tools for diagnosing the many things that can go wrong in getting digital video from its source to a consumer's eyeballs. The bad news is that there are so many of them--it's hard to decide what to use.
When we looked at tools ten years ago, only cable operators contemplated offering triple-play services, and service quality wasn't a high priority. Now with satellite competing vigorously for subscription video, and telcos rolling out triple-play services, service quality is one of the key criteria customers use when selecting a provider. The right tools are critical to raising and maintaining consistent service quality in a competitive market.
A Tools Taxonomy
There are so many tools on offer that we found it hard to figure out which tools were trying to do essentially the same thing, and which were doing different things. We found it helpful to sort them into categories. Here's our taxonomy of the tools we've looked at, with a specific example of each type of tool. This is primarily focused on cable, but most of the higher-level tools are equally suitable for IPTV.
Status Monitoring of Active Cable Devices
Status monitoring is the oldest tool in the toolkit. Cable's digital signals are carried to the customer by many linear devices including optical nodes, line amplifiers and power supplies. Early versions of this equipment had proprietary monitoring systems. As standard network management systems such as HP OpenView came into use to monitor IP networks, some cable operators wanted to incorporate the active cable devices in their network views.
The early status monitoring systems acted as adapters to convert the proprietary interfaces in the field equipment into the industry-standard SNMP monitoring protocol, permitting operators to use standard network management systems to monitor their health. Over the years, these systems have evolved from proprietary solutions to using standards-based approaches such as DOCSIS for communications and SCTE-HMS (Hybrid Management Sub-Layer) to define the information exchange.
The Cheetah product line ( www.tollgrade.com/2.solutions_and_products/cheetah.html ), now made by Tollgrade Communications, is an example.
DOCSIS Network Diagnosis
The DOCSIS management information base (MIB) contains a great deal of useful network-related information, including measurements of power levels and signal to noise ratios. DOCSIS devices include cable modem termination systems (CMTSs), cable modems, MTAs (VoIP CPE) and set top boxes. Every cable home has one or more of these devices continuously collecting information about the network.
Several companies have created systems that poll these devices to present an overall view of the health of the cable network. By reading out the MIBs over time, they can alert problems in the network long before the customer complains.
The ServAssure Advanced Solution Suite ( www.arrisi.com/products/oss/servassure/servassure_advanced.asp ), originally developed by Stargus, and now owned by Arris after a series of acquisitions, is an example of this approach.
As opposed to monitoring existing linear and DOCSIS devices, network probes are passive measurement devices inserted into the network to monitor the digital data streams and report on failures.
IQPinPoint ( www.ineoquest.com/content379.html ) from IneoQuest is an example of such a system; it includes various types of network probes and a network management system. We wrote about IneoQuest ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0610_5.html#link5b ) two years ago.
User Experience Measurement
The latest industry buzzword is "quality of experience" abbreviated "QoE". This connotes measuring the experience (for example, of viewing TV) from the user's perspective, usually subjectively by asking people's opinions of quality. Several companies offer products which claim to provide an objective measure of video QoE, typically by attaching probes to monitor the data streams flowing into a digital set top box.
We've recently been most intrigued by the approach used by Witbe to assess QoE for triple-play services. Rather than connecting probes to the network side of the set top box, Witbe connects to the output side of the box. It controls the box through the remote control interface, and measures the quality of the video and audio in a way that it claims models how a person would assess it. We wrote about Witbe ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0805_5.html#link5a ) in a recent issue of this report.
What's the Question?
There's a role for all of these tools. If we were asked to design a NOC today we'd probably recommend using many of them.
Which of these tools an operator should deploy and how much to invest in each depends on their answers to some key questions. If I have a new service rolling out, I'd be inclined to focus on things to help me isolate problems and iron them out. If the service is more mature, the focus probably shifts to how much do I want to shift from reactive to proactive management. In a competitive environment, I'd want to focus on whether service is improving or getting worse, and how my customers' quality of experience compares to my competitor's.
Some suitable questions might be:
While we were researching tools, Comcast invited us to visit an operations center to see the tools they use to investigate problems. Readers may remember that we have a couple of rental condos on Sanibel Island. While we were visiting in mid-August, we drove into Fort Myers and spent an afternoon at Comcast's new headquarters building for Southwest Florida.
When we arrived, Barbara Hagen, Comcast's Area Vice President for Southwest Florida, took us on a walk around the facility. Barb told us that Comcast's Southwest Florida system serves Lee and Collier Counties, with more than 400,000 homes passed and about 275,000 customers. Until recently, Comcast had people working at six locations spread out many miles apart. She said the new facility, which opened in June, brought most of those people together.
As we walked around, we saw areas devoted to the call center, network operations, commercial sales, and more. The signs on the restroom doors let you know you're in a cable operation.
Barb introduced us to Mark Graves, Director of Technical Operations, who has been in the cable industry for more than twenty years. He joined Comcast in 2001 and recently moved to the Southwest Florida system. He is responsible for all technical operations, including construction, engineering, head end, network, and all field techs. The field techs are organized into two groups -- "line techs" are responsible up to the tap, "service techs" from the tap into the residence.
Mark brings a strong focus on improving customer service. He said he was changing their operating procedures to focus on solving the customer's problem as quickly as possible--he said he saw his mission as "getting the right people at the right job at the right time."
We told him about a cable problem we had last winter. When we arrived on a Saturday at our condo complex for a visit, our cable modem wasn't working and many of our digital channels had disappeared; analog television was working fine. We called Comcast to report the problem, and told the customer service representative that we suspected the problem was with the complex rather than our condo. She said someone would come Monday to look at the problem.
On Monday morning, we learned that several other condos had reported problems with digital television, and the cable modem was out of service at the condo association office. When a service tech arrived later that morning, he had a handful of reported problems in the complex. It took him only a few minutes to determine that the source of the problem was somewhere outside the complex. That required a field tech, so he called dispatch to request one. The field tech came to Sanibel island on Tuesday and fixed the line problem; the service tech came back on Wednesday to make sure everything was working right.
Mark said that was a good example of what he was trying to fix. He hoped their new diagnostic tools would show that the problem was more likely on the line than on the drop side of the tap, so they would dispatch the right person.
More important "the process problem is being fixed." He said that their previous procedures had a hard division between the roles of the two field tech groups. The new procedures--in effect for two weeks at the time of our visit--blur the lines between the groups, with the goal of resolving the problem quickly: "don't complete the service order until the customer is satisfied."
While we were talking about tools, we were joined by Mark Gonzalez, Dispatch Supervisor, and Ralph Solomon, Network Dispatcher. They set up a display on a large screen in a conference room so they could show us the tools they use to identify and resolve field problems.
Mark Gonzalez said Comcast has developed many kinds of tools for diagnosing problems--in the head end, at the CMTS level, for optical nodes, and to read out specific levels at specific customer devices. He said they maintain a mapping of customer accounts by MAC address so they can display the geographic locations of problems.
One of their key tools, Line Problem Indicator v2, allows them to visualize the location of problems. The picture above shows an "account view". The status of several accounts is shown at the bottom of the screen. The location of each account is pinpointed on a Google map at the left, each color-coded to indicate the status.
The second picture shows the "problem view." The current problems are shown at the bottom of the screen, with bullets indicating the type of problem ("low downstream transmission level", "high upstream signal to noise ratio", etc). The map pinpoints the location of the selected outstanding problem.
These tools certainly appear to make it much easier for Comcast to spot the location of problems, and dispatch the appropriate field tech to fix them. We're hoping we don't see cable problems the next time we visit Sanibel, but we expect we'll see much faster resolution if we do.
( www.comcast.com )
Remember the early days of DVRs? We weren't sure whether to call them DVRs or PVRs and most people didn't have a clue what they were. The US cable industry was initially less than thrilled by the idea. At the December 2002 Western Cable Show, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said " TiVo is the Napster of our future".
Lots has changed since then. In the US, MSOs are now the major supplier of DVR capabilities as part of their set-tops. A 2007 study by The Carmel Group showed that fifty-two percent of DVR penetration was held by cable operators, with direct-broadcast satellite-provided recorders at 38%, retail purchased products like TiVo in the single digits and telcos also single digits since their IPTV penetration was still in its infancy.
It seems like "over the top" (OTT) video is repeating that history. Initially it was geeks and technophiles that figured out how to connect their PCs and broadband pipes to their TVs. Cable operators were concerned that OTT video was an evil way for consumers to increase the cable operators' costs by using lots of data services bandwidth, while taking away their revenue from subscription fees and pay per view. As more media adapters, alternative settops and other methods became available, consumers made it clear they were interested in electronic delivery of premium video content to their TVs. With the genie out of the bottle, MSOs are busy exploring ways to incorporate Internet video into their offerings.
Here the story starts to overlap with DVRs. DVRs are now standard service provider offerings and could connect to the data broadband pipe to integrate OTT with subscription video--as TiVo has done for years.
The verdict is still out on which scenarios for getting Internet video to the TV will become prevalent. As a recent blog posting ( bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/how-comcast-controls-sonys-internet-tv-asking-the-cable-company-to-watch-internet-tv/ ) on the New York Times Bits blog pointed out, ordinary consumers want a "drop-dead simple interface" for getting video content from both service providers (cable, telco and satellite) and from the Internet. Meanwhile, the current fragmented state of the market clearly qualifies as one of the top ten ways to confuse the consumer ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0104.html#link3 ) (a designation we first used in 2001).
We've written several articles about online and electronic delivery of premium video content--a recent example is Video: Who's In Control? ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0801_7.html ) after the CES show earlier this year. Research studies--such as Internet Video:Direct to Consumer Services ( parksassociates.ecnext.com/coms2/summary_0256-10204_ITM ) from Parks Associates--detail many of the possible hardware elements as well as a wide variety of content sources and aggregators.
With the myriad of possible combinations of hardware, software, services and content, consumers face a hodge-podge of choices. Consumer studies are very clear that consumers will act when asked to pick from a couple of different solutions, but will become confused and delay when the number of possibilities is in double digits.
As a consumer, how would you differentiate between the following solutions and their promises? Here is a small selection of recent press announcements.
Meanwhile, content sources keep proliferating -- although with the following, you have to figure out how to get the content to the TV if you want to watch on a big screen.
Today's market for watching Internet content on your TV is very confusing. There will always be a relatively small group of geeks and technophiles who want to do it their way and can select and assemble their particular configuration of hardware, software, services and content. But this will remain a niche market until consumers can buy fully-integrated solutions.
TiVo has one of the most promising approaches in its retail boxes. A TiVo box bought today provides a guide within its TV-based menu system through which a user can record select Web video sources, and can order movies from Amazon.com, Walt Disney Studios and Jaman.com. TiVo also has a deal with Netflix which will place the Netflix Watch Instantly streaming-movie service on TiVo’s HD-compatible set-top boxes.
Just as the cable industry initially resisted DVRs and then became a leading provider of them, it seems likely they will do the same with some form of integrated Internet to the TV. Some retail boxes with Tru2way will most likely include integrated Web video. Their telco competitors are planning to offer it, so they probably will too.
Which solutions will emerge as the leaders as the market sorts itself out? We believe the service providers are in the best position, if they don't mess it up!
( www.comcast.com ) ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.napster.com ) ( www.carmelgroup.com ) ( www.nytimes.com ) ( www.parksassociates.com ) ( www.verismonetworks.com ) ( www.netgear.com ) ( www.sezmi.com ) ( www.roku.com ) ( www.netflix.com ) ( www.xbox.com/en-US/live/ ) ( www.apple.com/appletv ) ( video.aol.com ) ( www.veoh.com ) ( www.fancast.com ) ( www.amazon.com ) ( disney.com ) ( www.jaman.com )
Readers will remember that we write a regular column for Broadband Library, distributed quarterly to all members of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). Our recent columns discussed tru2way as an open application platform, and remote management of triple-play services.
Should tru2way Be An Open Platform for Innovative Applications?
Our column in the Fall 2008 issue (now available on our website) characterized tru2way as a "virtual cable box" that can be embedded in consumer electronics equipment. (An earlier article in this newsletter Cable Show 2008: Time for tru2way ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0804_4.html ) discussed other aspects of tru2way .)
In Make tru2way a Truly Open Platform ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/BBL_2008_Fall_Sandy.pdf ), Sandy said the cable industry should "open up the tru2way platform." Saying that the industry seems "focused far more on its own traditional services than on innovation," she recommended a stronger focus on third-party applications, "developing a fast path for including them in the tru2way platform."
In Not So Fast, People Want Reliable TV ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations/BBL_2008_Fall_Dave.pdf ), Dave said tru2way is a very complex environment "with multiple applications running simultaneously...and competing for processor and memory resources." Because these applications "could interfere with the TV picture," he says "operators will want to test them very carefully. 'Walk before you run' would seem to be a prudent tru2way approach for cable operators. First priority must be given to the 'core' applications that enable the TV viewing experience." Innovative applications will have to wait until later.
Remote Management of Triple-Play Services
The Winter 2008 issue has just been published. Our column focuses on remote monitoring of equipment in customer homes. Sandy describes weaknesses in the approaches cable operators use to diagnose problems in homes with video, voice and data "triple-play" services. Dave describes the comprehensive remote monitoring approach telephone companies have deployed based on TR-069; these protocols are now being adopted for other applications such as WiMAX, and Dave says "TR-069 is fast becoming the global standard for remote management of triple-play services."
Our column is summarized in the Broadband Library section of our website ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations_BBL-2008-12.html ). When the Spring 2009 issue is published, we will post the full content of this column on our website.
"Ordinary events" are frequently the result of extraordinary journeys. Several recent experiences led to "light bulb" moments, which resulted in Sandy's recent blog posting ( bbhc-sandy.blogspot.com/2008/11/ordinary-or-extraordinary.html ) about Skype and integrated premises gateways.
This year's Consumer Electronics Show will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Convention Center and other assorted venues. It takes place January 8-11, 2009. This will be the eighth year we have been writing about the show and it is always an experience for the mind (and for the feet). We're arriving earlier to attend the press events that precede the show. Say "hi" if you see us there. ( www.cesweb.org )