IN THIS ISSUE:
Cable's Capitol Return -
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
Brandon Brown has been hired as the new CEO of Zodiac Interactive. Co–founder Michael Rivkin will become the company's CTO. ( www.zodiacinteractive.com )
Jeff Huppertz has been appointed President and CEO of R.L. Drake. Huppertz was previously COO. ( www.rldrake.com )
William T. Morrow has been named CEO, Clearwire. Co-Founder and previous CEO Benjamin G. Wolff will continue with the Company as Co-Chairman, a position he will share with current Chairman Craig O. McCaw. ( www.clearwire.com )
Dan Whalen has been promoted to Senior VP of Sales at ARRIS. ( www.arrisi.com )
Cisco Systems has purchased Pure Digital Technologies, the Flip video camera maker, for $590 million in stock. Pure Digital CEO Jonathan Kaplan will become the general manager of Cisco's consumer group.( www.cisco.com ) ( www.PureDigitalInc.com )
AnySource Media LLC has secured $3.2 million in funding for its Internet Video Navigator. ( www.anysourcemedia.com )
WiSpry, an RF chip start-up, raised an additional $10 million in a Series C financing round, bringing the total invested to $28 million.( www.wispry.com )
BelAir Networks has announced a dual mode WiMAX/Wi-Fi wireless node optimized for deployment on existing cable infrastructure. ( www.belairnetworks.com )
Blockbuster has done a deal with TiVo, as Amazon and Netflix did previously. A selection of Blockbuster's movies will be available on broadband-connected TiVos by the second half of 2009. Blockbuster will also be selling TiVo boxes in its stores for commissions. ( www.blockbuster.com ) ( www.tivo.com )
Broadcom announced that its home networking reference design platform for set-top box and broadband access products has received MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) Certification from the MoCA Certification Board. ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.mocalliance.org )
Clearwire announced CLEAR Spot, a battery-powered personal hotspot for connecting Wi-Fi devices to the Internet via Clearwire mobile WiMAX. The Clear Spot router, manufactured by CradlePoint, connects up to eight Wi-Fi devices by inserting the CLEAR USB mobile WiMAX Modem into the router. ( www.clear.com ) ( www.cradlepoint.com )
Separately, Clearwire announced plans for a "WiMAX Innovation Network" in Silicon Valley, CA. Early participants will include Google, Intel and Cisco. Service is expected to be available to developers by late summer of this year.
EchoStar announced their IP-Prime Conversion Program for previous customers of IP-Prime, which is discontinuing its service. It provides satellite delivery of video transport services for telco IPTV headend facilities across the United States. ( www.echostarviptv.com )
General Electric and Intel announced an alliance to market and develop home-based health technologies. It plans to spend $250 million jointly over the next five years on R&D for remote monitoring, diagnosis and consultations with patients at home or in assisted living residences. GE also agreed to sell the Intel Health Guide through its sales force.( www.ge.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.intel.com/go/healthguide )
Australia takes Broadband Into Its Own Hands
The Australian Government announced plans to build a US$30.7 billion national broadband network itself in partnership with the private sector, rather than contracting out the deal. One of the government's major campaign issues had been the provision of a fast, affordable broadband network. The Australian Prime Minister said none of the commercial tenders "offered value for the money". Court battles are likely from the incumbents. ( www.australia.gov.au )
The WiMedia Alliance is handing over all current and future specification development of its version of ultra wideband (UWB) to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the Wireless USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers Forum. Once the handoff is completed, it will shut down.( www.wimedia.org )
The Open IPTV Forum has expanded past 50 members with the addition of ADB, SK Telecom, Digisoft, MediaTek, FOKUS, the BBC, Canal Plus and RAI. ( www.oipf.tv )
The Femto Forum, 3GPP and the Broadband Forum have announced that they've published the world's first femtocell standard. It covers four main areas: network architecture; radio & interference aspects; femtocell management; and provisioning and security. ( www.femtoforum.org ) ( www.3gpp.org ) ( www.broadband-forum.org )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on examples of innovative applications, the increased focus on "smart grid," a view on what "unserved" means, world broadband statistics and recognition of a cooperative cable effort.
Mobile apps provide relief
If the cable industry is trying to increase innovation through tru2way, Apple's iPhone has some interesting examples. There are competing iPhone applications for finding nearby clean public restrooms. Have2Pee allows you to search for bathrooms, including those with diaper changing tables, while competitor SitOrSquat--sponsored by P&G's Charmin toilet paper brand--has compiled information on more than 52,000 toilets in 10 countries worldwide. Now there's a reason to get an iPhone! ( www.apple.com/iphone )
BPL, Energy Stimulus and Smart Grid
The focus for communications technology for utilities continues to shift from BPL for broadband toward energy management and smart grid applications. In the US, funding from the economic stimulus package provides a strong incentive for utilities to participate in "smart grid" projects. AT&T announced an expanded relationship with SmartSynch--a maker of communications modules and networks for smart meters--for machine-to-machine residential communications using AT&T's wireless network. SmartSynch’s smart grid is deployed at more than 100 utilities throughout North America. ( www.att.com ) ( www.smartsynch.com )
The IEEE voted to form the P2030 group, with the intent of writing a high-level electronics guide to tomorrow's smart grid. About 40 companies have expressed interest in the effort, which is planning to hold its first meeting in June in Silicon Valley. ( www.ieee.org )
Where there's new opportunity you'll find Google. The company announced that they will be rolling out free software called PowerMeter to analyze the consumption information captured by "smart meters", and help consumers track their home electricity use and improve energy efficiency. ( www.google.com )
What is "Unserved"?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has dedicated about 7.2 billion dollars to accelerating broadband deployment in unserved, underserved, and rural areas across the US. The Wireless Communications Association (WCAI) has submitted comments regarding its view of how "unserved" should be interpreted. They assert that mobile wireless broadband service is a separate product market, and therefore areas in which mobile wireless broadband is unavailable should be classified as “unserved” even if fixed broadband is available. ( www.wcai.com )
World Broadband Statistics
Point Topic released their estimates of world broadband statistics for Q4 2008. There were 13.77 million broadband lines added in Q4 2008, taking the world total to 410.9 million lines. They found that growth has continued, but has slowed in many countries. For example, growth in China halved in the quarter. The top 10 broadband countries were (in order): China, USA, Japan, Germany, France, UK, South Korea, Italy, Brazil and Canada. ( www.point-topic.com )
Kudos for cable cooperation
From our house in Morris Plains NJ, it's a short walk to the train station, where we can ride a commuter train directly into New York City. The train line cuts through the franchise territories of both Cablevision and Comcast.
At our train station and the others along the line, there are now large posters promoting the availability of Optimum WiFi service. The sign has directions providing access for both Cablevision and Comcast customers. We applaud this sort of sensible cooperation between MSOs! We're told the MSOs are working with the railroads to put Wi-Fi on the trains.
After 38 years since the last National Cable Show in Washington, D.C., and after eight contentious years with Kevin Martin at the FCC (including four as Chairman), cable returned as a welcomed visitor to the US Capitol. With the start of a new US administration, cable put its best foot forward.
More than 400 elected officials and staffers visited The Broadband Nation exhibit, toured the show floor, and participated in and attended public policy luncheons.
Seeing is Believing -- Video Demos of Interactive TV
Visitors to the show saw many demonstrations of interactive TV. Some were based on tru2way, the forward-looking standardized approach for new cable boxes, which is also built into new TV sets from Panasonic and soon many others. Other demos were based on EBIF, a simpler standard designed to work on most existing cable boxes.
We felt that long text descriptions couldn't adequately convey what various vendors were demonstrating at the show. Instead, we used our camcorder to capture lots of these demos, so the applications could come alive for people not attending the show.
In the sections below, we'll describe these demos in terms of what they make possible for the end user. We've separated those based on tru2way--requiring deployment of tru2way headend equipment and available only on new boxes-- from those based on EBIF--designed to operate on legacy digital boxes and likely to be in many consumer homes fairly soon.
These applications can facilitate a variety of interactions, including:
The Broadband Nation exhibit was a centerpiece of the show for Washington officials. It featured a "Main Street America" theme, focusing on the benefits of cable’s high-speed broadband service.
Divided into areas for the home, school, office, medical centers and more, there was a wide assortment of displays, ranging from some that were concepts to those that are in wide use today.
In an opening panel Comcast CEO Brian Roberts admitted that he hadn't particularly looked forward to attending yet another show. He said he felt reinvigorated after seeing the promise and evolution shown at Broadband Nation. He also observed that looking at businesses like autos and finance, he'd rather be in "our industry"--cable--than any place else right now.
Broadband for Telehealth
We have heard much about the use of broadband for Telehealth, but one exhibit made clear that in Alaska, telehealth is a reality and necessity today. Because there are so many remote rural Alaskan villages, anything but the most vital of services becomes cost-prohibitive to deliver. To overcome these costs, towns and tribes in Alaska have partnered with broadband providers to deliver sufficient broadband speeds and connectivity to support a variety of telehealth services, including radiological exams. Alaskan doctors believe these initiatives have saved many lives.
The "Doctor Al Better" pavilion featured a demonstration of GCI ConnectMD ( www.connectmd.com ) for taking vital signs, sending electronic medical records and video conference consultation with specialists. ConnectMD is a private medical network providing secure connections ( www.connectmd.com/mednet_map.htm ) between clinics, hospitals, and medical corporations in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. It is operated by GCI, Alaska's cable operator and largest provider of Internet services.
Three doctors who use the ConnectMD network and a GCI employee were connected via video from Anchorage, Alaska so visitors could ask questions about the system and its current use. One intriguing aspect of the health records the doctors share is that they include a picture of the person, not just scans and data. The result is to personalize these patients, even when the remote doctors don't meet them in person.
Interactivity was everywhere--from the suburban home at Broadband Nation to myriad demos on the show floor. It was big. This was the first show where it seemed that MSOs, technology vendors and content providers were all rallying around tru2way, a common software platform for building interactive applications. With tru2way, creators of interactive services will be able to "write" an interactive application once and have it run on any cable system that supports the specification.
Tru2way (formerly known as OCAP) has been in development for a long time. It requires additions to the head-end equipment and the use of fairly sophisticated set top boxes, so tru2way applications will take some time to roll out. Tru2way has already launched in a few cable markets, and cable operators have announced plans to launch it in most U.S. markets this year. [Our column in the September 2008 issue of Broadband Library discussed the time required to launch tru2way ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/presentations_BBL-2008-09.html ).]
EBIF Supports Legacy Boxes
Tru2way requires a fairly powerful set top box. Since the deployment of this new infrastructure will take some time, the industry defined a simplified data format for interactive applications that can run on legacy boxes with more limited resources. This format--called EBIF ("Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format")--consists of three elements. The first is a small chunk of code, called a "user agent". Stored in and executed by the set top box, it is designed to operate with the majority of deployed digital boxes, even those with limited processing power, memory and graphics.
The content source provides the second element--a "trigger" or "widget" that is integrated into the MPEG transport stream along with the video content. The user agent in the set top box constantly looks for triggers in the incoming transport stream; when it sees one, it overlays a pop-up box or text on top of the video on the screen, prompting the user to take some action. The user can perform a variety of simple actions by clicking the remote control--these include voting, buying products, requesting information, or launching some stored video.
The third element is back-end servers, which can update data that is fed into an EBIF application and can collect data from the set-top box. These three elements together are what facilitate "ETV" or Enhanced TV.
EBIF applications can be directly related to the content being shown, in which case they are termed "bound applications". They can also be independent of the content--those are called "unbound applications." Examples of unbound applications include caller ID or yellow pages on the TV.
A New World of Possibilities
We saw demonstrations of interactive applications at several conference sessions and all around the show floor. The demos--some based on EBIF and some on tru2way--showed the many possibilities for new versions of user interfaces, new methods of navigation, seamless linkage to databases, multiple variations on connecting social networking to the TV, possibilities for advertising, and much more user control over what they can see when they want to see it.
A word of caution is probably justified here. Just because something is possible, it does not mean that consumers will decide they want to use it. Consumer behavior remains the unknown wildcard in the interactive TV equation.
"Cable's Interactive Agenda"
A panel "A New Way There: Cable's Interactive Agenda" brought together four key MSO representatives to talk about where tru2way and EBIF deployments stand. The panel, chaired by David Reed, EVP & Chief Strategy Officer, CableLabs, included demonstrations by several of the panelists.
Mark Hess SVP, Engineering, at Comcast noted that tru2way is actively launched in four markets and by mid-year should be in the majority of Comcast markets. He showed a slide of Comcast's 2009 planned applications, and observed that the importance of what is happening now is that the MSOs are building to a common standard. Sherisse Hawkins indicated that Time Warner Cable has over 2 million OCAP ready and tru2way devices. Steve Necessary showed the audience Cox's new User Interface (UI) and guide. Jeff Chen offered that Bright House Networks had over 200,000 tru2way boxes deployed and that they had introduced separable security and a new guide at the same time.
The only way to convey what is happening in a tru2way interactive application is to see it. Some of those showed new tru2way hardware - both for cable operators and for consumers. Others showed innovative user interfaces and navigation. Many showed integration with Internet content such as Facebook and Internet databases from companies like Yahoo! and Macrovision.
Tru2way TVs and Set Top Boxes
Panasonic tru2way Plasma TV
Are you ready to buy a new digital TV and don't want a set top box? Would you like to use a single remote to control all the functions of the TV and cable, including interactive TV?
Panasonic has a great solution for you--new plasma TVs with tru2way built in. Ed Kohler, Operations & Integration Specialist, demonstrated Panasonic's tru2way TVs. They're already available wherever Comcast has rolled out tru2way -- four markets now, many more by the middle of the year. Panasonic currently has 42" and 50" models, and is planning more.
ADB tru2way "Set Back" Box
Do you already have a flat-screen TV mounted on a wall? Would like to have tru2way for interactive applications, but don't have shelf space for a normal set top box?
No problem--ADB has a "set back" box for you. Mike Malcy, VP, Marketing & Business Affairs, showed us the ADB box.
Right now the box works only with Sony TVs over 40", and will soon be available at retail along with Sony's TVs. We hope others will be as enthusiastic as we are about this idea--and that boxes like these will become available for other flat-screen TVs.
Panasonic tru2way DVR
Do you already have a flat-screen TV, and have counter space for a tru2way box? Would you like a DVR that looks more like consumer electronics than the typical clunky cable box?
Panasonic would love your cable operator to offer you its new tru2way DVR set top box. Later they might also make it available at retail. Rajesh Khandelwal, Director, Engineering, demonstrated it to us at the show.
User Interface and Service Activation
AMDOCS tru2way Service Activation
Maybe you'd like to add a new cable service, and you don't want to talk with a service rep: you want it now. David Jacobs, VP Product Strategy, OSS Division, AMDOCS demonstrates how an AMDOCS solution can make that feasible.
NDS tru2way Unified User Interface
Would you like your TV to have a single user interface for broadcast TV, cable channels, VOD, DVR recordings, Internet content, VOD and "over the top" Internet video? Take a look at this demo by Dan DeHaan, Principal System Engineer at NDS.
Last year Cox announced it had chosen NDS to implement its next-generation video UI, combining all of Cox's digital video services into one screen and based on middleware over tru2way. Cox recently announced that NDS Professional Services has been selected as the prime integrator for Cox's tru2way system deployment.
Alticast tru2way Electronic Program Guides
As MSOs look for new ways to differentiate themselves, many are seeking better looking, more integrated, easier to use Electronic Program Guides (EPGs). Alticast has firmware to power set tops and DVRs with a variety of EPGs. Jeff Bonin, VP & GM, demonstrated a variety of Alticast-based EPGs on set tops and DVRs. These included a Samsung HD DVR running an EPG from Aptiv Digital which is being run today by Time Warner; a Pace Micro HD DVR running the Guideworks/Comcast EPG; and "Awaken TV"--Alticast's own concepts for an EPG.
Let's Be Social
Integra5 tru2way Media Friends
Social networking applications were high on the hit parade of demonstrations at the Cable Show. Mark Ho, Client Solutions Director, demonstrated how Integra5's Media Friends chat application allows users to invite friends to join them in watching the same program. If friends accept the invitation, they are brought into the same viewing experience and can use their cell phones to chat with one another about the program.
itaas tru2way MPTV Video Sharing
If you're watching TV, itaas has a tru2way social networking application (MPTV) that bridges the gap between your TV set and your friends on Facebook or their cell phones. Reginald Patton, Quality Assurance Manager, demonstrated how video content with a "shareable" indicator is shared with your Facebook friends. You can also send a link in an SMS message to a friend's cell phone by entering their number with the TV remote control.
TAG Networks tru2way Games
Sangita Verma, CEO/Founder of TAG Networks, showed us their games on demand ad-supported channel. It is a tru2way application with an easy to use interface for selecting from a wide variety of games for different demographics. It uses itaas’ Remote Headend Service to avoid the overhead of maintaining their own headend. TAG incorporates community features like high scores and multi-platform interaction across TV, internet and wireless.
Users are encouraged to enter a name, zip and age, and Sangita says 99% of users opt in. Individual users have profiles so that the ads are directed to them, rather than just to their household by zip code. Ad pre and post rolls can't be skipped but are limited to 15 seconds. 42% of players come back every day.
Let's Interact--Responding, Requesting
Zodiac Interactive tru2way Restaurant and Movie Search
Sora Siva, Senior Project Manager, Zodiac Interactive showed off a number of capabilities Zodiac can enable in a tru2way environment. These included searching for restaurants by location, playing games while simultaneously watching a program, and easy ways to find VOD content that matches some criteria like having the same cast members as another movie you liked.
The first video clip includes the restaurant search integrated with Yahoo's Internet database.
The second video shows the movie search integrated with Macrovision's Internet movie database.
To provide interactive services for lots of people in the near future, EBIF is designed to run on early digital boxes, which have much less functionality than current ones. As a result, its applications are limited to the kinds of things that can be invoked by clicking on some simple selections.
Here are a few of the EBIF examples we saw in action.
Starz Enteract Now
Starz is a premium commercial-free movie channel that has been seeking ways to give its subscribers simple ways to have more choice and control.
At the show, Starz introduced its "Enteract Now" EBIF application with a high profile announcement in the CableNet area, featuring Brian Roberts, Chairman & CEO Comcast, Dick Green, President & CEO Cablelabs, and Bob Clasen, CEO & President, Starz.
Rebecca Lim, Senior Director, Advanced Services of Starz gave us a personal demonstration of Enteract Now. Once MSOs launch EBIF, a viewer clicking to a Starz channel during a program will see an icon indicating that the same program is also available on demand. A click of the remote on the icon takes the viewer to the beginning of the on-demand version. Although the viewer could get there with today's capabilities, it takes several steps and is much more cumbersome.
BIAP Application Demo
BIAP is one of the major providers of EBIF technologies. Ellen Dudar, BIAP's Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder, demonstrated how their EBIF platform allows the rollout of both TV widgets and ad widgets.
BIAP Ad Widget Product Process
To help us better understand how widgets are created, and the entire ad widget product process, Ellen drilled down to show us the tools BIAP has created to build widgets, bind them to an application and accomplish the other tasks such as data collection, anonomizing and reporting.
We saw many other EBIF applications on display. ESPN showed "My Vote," which provides real-time voting, and "In-Game Extra," to provide additional player and team stats during live events. HSN's "Shop by Remote" allows users to purchase items in sync with the on-air broadcast using the TV remote control. A Showtime application lets cable customers sample free episodes and then order the premium channel with a few clicks of the remote.
ActiveVideo EBIF Applications
ActiveVideo Networks creates video streams in the network cloud which can be combined with ETV/EBIF solutions to enable advertising, information services, commerce, entertainment, gaming and social media. We met with them at CES in January, and wrote about ActiveVideo ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0901_5.html#link5c ) in the March issue of our report. At the Cable Show, Andreas Lennartsson demonstrated several EBIF applications enhanced with live Internet content, including social media linked to Facebook; an e-commerce application showing a customer ordering Showtime; interactive use of Home Shopping Network; and more.
CableLabs has played a central role in coordinating industry participation to establish standards for tru2way and EBIF, and in evangelizing these technologies with interactive content providers. CableLabs' CableNet 2009 area at the show had a strong focus on interactivity, and many of the interactive applications discussed above were shown both at vendor booths and at CableNet.
During the show, CableLabs announced that it plans to release a source code reference implementation of its tru2way specifications and a compliance test plan. CableLabs said it views this as "a key milestone in the cable industry's deployment of a common software platform by giving device manufacturers and application providers a single, compliant software stack for building tru2way enabled products and services."
The reference implementation will be available later this year under both a free open source license and a commercial license. CableLabs will also make the reference implementation available for use on a PC, so that device manufacturers and application developers can design and test new features and services on the tru2way platform without having to connect to a cable plant.
In another interactive TV related announcement just before the show, CableLabs and Canoe Ventures LLC (the cable industry's joint venture for national advertising) issued a new draft reference architecture specification called Advanced Advertising 1.0 ( www.advancedadvertising.tv ). The Advanced Advertising spec allows MSOs to offer advertising with consistent technologies, metrics and interfaces across a national footprint.
Sixth Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference & Exhibition
With the application of information technology to the Healthcare sector being a current hot topic, you may be interested in attending the Sixth Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference. It takes place in Seattle, WA at the Seattle Airport Marriott on June 22-23, 2009. The program will have a strong focus on the use of remote monitoring / home telehealth / e-health technologies for wellness promotion and disease management. It will provide a good opportunity to network with executives and clinicians from across the US and abroad. We hope to see you there. ( www.tcbi.org )