In This Issue
G.hn Nears Approval -
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home
Arman Aygen has become Regional Sales Manager at Exterity Ltd. He was previously Business Development Manager at Witbe. ( www.exterity.com )
William R. Bradford has been appointed SVP of worldwide sales for Entropic Communications. Bradford previously worked with other semiconductor companies including Freescale Semiconductor, ON Semiconductor, Cypress Semiconductor and Texas Instruments. ( www.entropic.com )
Michael Collette has joined FluidHtml (FHTML) as CEO. Michael was previously CEO of PhyFlex Networks (sold to Ciena in 2007) and Ucentric Systems (sold to Motorola in 2005). ( www.fluidhtml.com )
Robert (Bob) Litzlbeck has been appointed DS2's VP of Sales and Business Development for North America and Canada. ( www.ds2.es )
Peter Low has been named President and CEO of Ensequence. He was previously COO. ( www.ensequence.com )
Edward S. Rogers has been appointed Deputy Chairman of Rogers Communications as well as EVP of the new Emerging Business and Corporate Development group. The group was formed as part of a reorganization which integrated Rogers' cable and wireless businesses, forming a Communications Services organization led by Rob Bruce, President, Communications and a Network organization led by Bob Berner, EVP Network and CTO. ( www.rogers.com )
Mike Sparkman has joined PCT International as EVP, Worldwide Sales and Marketing. Sparkman was previously with Aurora Networks. ( www.pctinternational.com )
ARRIS has announced its agreement to purchase the assets of Digeo, Inc., including its intellectual property portfolio, for a cash purchase price of approximately $20 million. ARRIS will continue to develop and market the current line of Digeo Digital Video Recorder (DVR) products. The acquisition extends Arris further into the customer premises equipment and consumer electronics space. ( www.arrisi.com ) ( www.digeo.com )
Cisco announced it is buying Starent Networks for approximately $2.9 billion. Starent is a supplier of IP-based mobile infrastructure solutions and will become part of Cisco’s Service Provider Business.( www.cisco.com ) ( www.starentnetworks.com )
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has acquired a minority stake in privately-held Global Inventures, Inc. CEA is not publicly disclosing the size of its investment. ( www.ce.org ) ( www.inventures.com )
Sigma Designs has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire CopperGate in a cash and stock transaction with an agreed value of $160 million, net of CopperGate’s cash at the closing of the transaction. ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.copper-gate.com )
WildBlue is being acquired by ViaSat for $568 million. WildBlue broadband service will be expanded through the ViaSat-1 satellite scheduled to launch in early 2011. ( www.wildblue.com ) ( www.viasat.com )
Ensequence, a solution provider enabling creation of interactive TV experiences, announced an additional $20 million in funding. ( www.ensequence.com )
Ooyala an online video platform company, has raised $10M in a third round. ( www.ooyala.com )
Adobe has unveiled Flash Player 10.1, a full Flash player that provides a consistent, cross-platform runtime across desktop and mobile devices, including smartphones, netbooks, etc. It is the first runtime release of the Open Screen Project, an Adobe-led industry-wide initiative, to enable the delivery of rich multiscreen experiences built on a consistent runtime environment for open web browsing and standalone applications. ( www.adobe.com ) ( www.openscreenproject.org )
Intel introduced its new system-on-a-chip for TVs, the CE4100. The chip is designed to bring Internet content and services to digital TVs, DVD players, and advanced set-top boxes. ( www.intel.com )
Home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corporation has announced plans to manufacture a million smart grid-compatible clothes dryers by the end of 2011 [see the Smart Grid article below]. The move is part of the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Smart Grid Investment Grant program. The eco-friendly appliances respond to signals from the smart grid--which uses digital technology to monitor and encourage a reduction in electricity usage, especially during peak usage times—-and can then modify their energy consumption. ( www.whirlpool.com ) ( www.energy.gov )
The U-SNAP Alliance was formed by a group of utility industry leaders to create a low cost protocol-agnostic and interoperable communications standard for connecting home appliances, thermostats, and controls to Smart Grid networks. ( www.usnap.org )
The Wi-Fi Alliance is nearing completion of a new specification called Wi-Fi Direct to enable Wi-Fi devices to connect directly to one another without joining a traditional home, office, or hotspot network. The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to begin certification for this new specification in mid-2010, and products which achieve the certification will be designated Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Wi-Fi Direct. [See the Wi-Fi Direct article below for more information.] ( www.wi-fi.org )
Telstra, the former Australian telephone monopoly which was privatized in 1997, will have to split its wholesale and retail operations by the end of 2009, or risk losing access to additional wireless broadband spectrum under draft legislation unveiled by the Australian government. Although the government had announced its desire for Telstra to structurally separate on a voluntary and cooperative basis, the legislation allows the government to impose a strong functional separational framework on Telstra if it does not separate "voluntarily". This all takes place against the backdrop of pending construction of a $43 billion Australian National Broadband Network. ( www.telstra.com.au )
Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month's briefs focus on willingness to pay for 3D TV, and the morphing of the Blu-Ray player.
3D TV: Will Consumers Pay Extra?
According to the Financial Times, Sony is planning to release not just 3D-enabled Bravia HDTVs, but an entire ecosystem of compatible products. These range from Vaio laptops to Blu-ray players and PlayStation 3 consoles. Sony announced its plans to sell 3D televisions globally by the end of 2010 at the IFA technology trade-show in Berlin at the beginning of September. ( www.ft.com ) ( www.sony.com ) ( www.ifa-show.com )
A recent In-Stat survey says consumers are interested in receiving 3D in the home, especially if they have seen three or more 3D movies in the theater.
However, about 25% of those who are at least somewhat interested in viewing 3D content at home are unwilling to spend extra on a 3D TV and another 43% want to spend an incremental $200 or less on the new TV. In-Stat projects that the initial price differential for 3D products will be higher than these amounts, so initial uptake will be slow.
Meanwhile, the headline in GigaOm says "3DTV Market is Ready for Takeoff". A summary of their conclusions turns out to not be very different from In-Stat: "As 3D becomes a standard feature with a slight cost premium, similar to 120 Hz refresh rates today, consumers will opt for 3D-capable TVs even if most of the content isn’t 3D." You'll need to subscribe to GigaOM Pro to learn more details of what and when.
It's A Blu-Ray Player -- Or Is It A Set Top Box?
RCDb and Videon Central announced a partnership to accelerate the development and deployment of networked applications on Internet-connected Blu-ray Disc (BD) players. The companies have pre-integrated their software to offer a complete reference design to BD player manufacturers. The offering enables a BD player to dynamically load and unload applications and connect with a flexible, updateable set of third-party services and content offerings controlled by the player manufacturers and their retail partners. The result is that in addition to playing BD discs, BD players can be a portal to Web services, including "over the top" video. ( www.rcdb.net )( www.videon-central.com )
The SmartGrid will change your life--but don't hold your breath while it happens. That was the message we took away from the recent UTC Smart Grid Workshop in Atlanta.
Why should you know about the Smart Grid if your focus is broadband and communications technology and applications? Here are four reasons:
1. There is $3.6 billion in grant funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) for SmartGrid - utilities will spend part of that on communications and networking equipment and services.
2. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) has produced a report on SmartGrid Interoperability Standards which describes standards and specifications applicable to the Smart Grid. You should know whether standards you support are included or excluded from the list.
3. The SmartGrid will create new opportunities for innovative products and services.
4. As a consumer, the SmartGrid will increasingly influence your life, whether it is smart appliances, electric vehicles, or your utility bill.
To explain the emerging role of the Smart Grid, we'll tell you what a smart grid is, why it is relevant to the broadband home, why action is underway now, and what some of its impacts will be.
In a nutshell, the smart grid is the mechanism that is expected to balance the competing priorities of reliable electric service, reasonable cost and environmental sustainability by using information and communications technology combined with sensing, measurement and control. We last covered this topic two years ago in a report on a visit to a demo home where Oncor had installed smart meters, in-home displays and grid monitoring and control software.
The smart grid is intertwined with regulatory, political and geographical elements. A quick Google search shows that although our focus here is limited to the United States, many regions of the world are simultaneously addressing their aging power delivery infrastructures.
Utility Industry Culture
The utility industry has historically been very conservative and slow moving. They have viewed their fundamental obligation as "keeping the lights on". Since the industry is highly regulated, its primary focus has been on satisfying regulators rather than the needs of end users. The traditional regulatory system has had the effect of discouraging investment in innovative technologies. Compared to power utilities, telephone and cable company decision-making happens at lightning speed.
The utility industry is regulated by a complex structure of Federal and State agencies--the alphabet soup includes FERC, FCC, DOE, NTIA, NIST plus the US Congress and state governments, to name just some of the players. For the sake of simplicity, we won't attempt to describe all the organizations and their roles.
What Is a "Smart Grid"?
The "grid", or power grid, refers to the system through which electric energy is transmitted from its generation source to its eventual end users. The smart grid is the transformation of today's grid infrastructure from a centralized, producer-controlled network to one that is more distributed and consumer-interactive. Secure, two-way digital communications and information technology are used to exchange information and control this distributed network. (It's hard to get people to agree on the definition--if you put multiple experts together, you'll be hard pressed to find agreement on all its elements.)
The diagram below, from IBM, shows the transformation of today's grid to tomorrow's "smarter grid". Both the utility and the consumer will be able to generate electricity with wind and solar. Both will be able to store power for use at a later time; for the consumer, as we will see, electric vehicles promise to play a major role in energy storage. Information needs to flow between all the elements to coordinate the generation and consumption of energy.
Expected benefits to be gained through smart grid implementation include:
The smart grid is not a new idea, but many factors are now promoting more serious consideration of its implementation. These include:
Of all these factors, EVs could be the most disruptive of the utility market. We'll say more about why shortly.
Why Is This Relevant to the Broadband Home?
The economic stimulus--The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)--not only set aside funding for energy related projects but also called for a national broadband plan to be developed by February 2010. One of its requirements is that it include a plan for the use of broadband infrastructure and services in promoting energy independence and efficiency.
Demand response is one of the most promising methods for enabling utility companies and their customers to reduce energy consumption. This method allows utility companies to directly control loads within the home or business to better manage demand, and to create price signals to encourage load shedding (reducing loads at peak usage times). In-home displays or web portals that let consumers see and manage their energy consumption are part of plans for equipment in the consumers' home.
To enable demand response, many electric-powered consumer appliances and systems--such as water heaters, clothes washers/dryers, air conditioners, and pool heaters--will be monitored and controlled by always-on two-way connections. This network of connected energy-consuming devices that can directly or indirectly control electricity usage at the appliance level is called a "home area network" (HAN) by the utility industry.
Many homes now have "home networks" for data communications; these local area networks (LANs) are also starting to be used for voice and video. Consumers have installed their own Ethernet or Wi-Fi LANs. Service providers (cable and telephone companies) are also installing LANs to support their video and data services. It would be natural to consider interconnecting the home LAN with the HAN, so the PCs in the house could view the thermostat readings and control the temperature setbacks.
Taking it the next step, a consumer might want to cool the house before they return, using the Internet to connect to the thermostat. As "smart appliances" come into the home, there are many more applications than power management, and it would be natural for the homeowner to access and manage those through the existing LAN. Thus, the HAN ends up being related to both the existing broadband home network and its broadband connection to the outside world.
Austin Energy--Making The Smart Grid a Reality
The timing for making the smart grid a reality depends on many factors--especially how you define "smart grid". Many utilities are focused on "smart meters". Several speakers at the workshop made clear that just because a utility installs 1 million smart meters, it does not mean they have a smart grid. The meter is just one small element in the re engineering of the entire electric distribution system, which includes new hardware, software and workforce skills. Advancements occur in small steps rather than giant leaps.
A slide shown by Andres Carvallo, CIO, Austin Energy illustrates this point. It shows all the various communications and IT elements needed to manage the utility's electric grid, and overlays in orange the many elements that need to be changed to effect a complete transformation to a smart grid. With so many elements needing modification or replacement, it is clear that the transformation will be a complex multi-year process.
The message seemed clear: grid intelligence does not come from a single rollout of revolutionary technology, but from strategic planning and targeted investments directed toward achieving a long-term vision.
What About Standards?
Since the Smart Grid is a distributed system that includes many elements, there need to be standards that describe the various functions of the elements and the ways in which they interconnect and interoperate. In April, 2009, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced a three-phase plan to expedite development of Smart Grid standards.
George Arnold, deputy director of NIST’s Technology Services unit and a former Bell Laboratories VP, was named to lead and coordinate these efforts. Arnold's credentials for the job include serving as chairman of the board of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates voluntary U.S. standardization and conformity assessment activities. We were fortunate to have George as one of the workshop speakers so he could explain the process of defining Smart Grid standards and where we are in terms of setting them.
In September 2009, NIST released a SmartGrid Report (NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards. Release 1.0 (Draft)). The report contains the Smart Grid Vision, Reference Model, and a companion cybersecurity report.
The scope of this effort is huge--there are 77 standards and 22 different standards organizations involved. Next steps include formation of a Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and creation of a Testing and Certification Framework. Standards included in this report include some that are familiar to professionals in broadband home technology such as Zigbee, HomePlug and G.Hn. It also includes more specialized standards such as CableLabs PacketCable Security Monitoring and Automation, and ISO/IEC 15045 (Residential Gateway Model for Home Electronic System).
One of the dilemmas for utilities about standards is that standards are still evolving while stimulus funding is driving near-term deployments. Since smart meters are part of many initial deployments, NIST has created a smart meter upgradeability standard so that as new meter standards requirements are put in place, meters being deployed now will not rapidly become obsolete. Security standards are another element that is critical to the success of smart grid implementations.
The Central Role of the Electric Vehicle (EV)
The Southern Company had a Tesla Roadster Electric Vehicle (EV) on display at the workshop. The Roadster runs 200 miles on a charge and can recharge in 3 hours if using a special charger. At a price of $109K today the Roadster is not a mass market car, but they're coming soon. The implications of getting to large numbers of EVs (both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) are quite profound for both utilities and their customers.
Several speakers at the workshop cautioned that if EVs caught on in a neighborhood, and people came home from work and immediately plugged them in to charge at about the same time (generally the time of peak household load), the neighborhood transformer would likely burn out. The grid must change to support EVs, with mechanisms to space the recharge timing through the night.
The interesting twist is that EVs are not just energy consumers. Because of their huge onboard battery capacity, EVs could also provide significant energy storage. The idea is that EVs could be an attractive source of revenue for utilities if they are re-charged at off-peak periods. The challenge is to provide pricing incentives and technology enablers that make the EVs an extension of the electric grid. At peak periods, their onboard battery capacity could power the electrical grid in times of high demand or could function as reserves. Taking this one step further, the electricity to power some of these vehicles could be supplied by renewable resources such as wind or solar energy at the home. All of this requires that the utility industry learn how to manage large numbers of distributed energy storage devices and two-way power flows. That is why EVs are such a crucial part of the smart grid.
Although the Tesla Roadster is not positioned at a mass-market price point, Tesla says its Model S will be priced closer to $50K after tax credits. Nissan will offer EVs beginning in 2010 for the US and Japan; these are expected to cost in the $25-30K range after the US $7,500 federal tax rebate is included. The Leaf, as well as its lithium-ion battery pack, will be produced in Japan until 2012, and in Smyrna, Tennessee after that. These cars are not a future fantasy--they're coming soon, even if in small numbers at first.
Implications for Stakeholders
The changes we outlined above will have an impact on many different stakeholders, but they will happen over time.
Consumers will be able to take a more active role in decisions about how--and how much--they want to control their electric bills. Decisions about what types of vehicles to purchase will include EVs as one option. There will likely be incentives, particularly for people in certain climates, to add local energy generation in the form of wind, solar panels or other methods. HANs may take their place beside and interconnected with broadband home networks.
Utilities face large technological and cultural changes--Austin Energy's chart of all the systems that need to change makes this clear. What that does not include is the changes in training and mindset that will need to accompany the transitions in "things".
Many types of wired and wireless technologies will be used in the HAN. Telecommunications equipment and service providers will have multiple opportunities to sell and service their wares.
Regulators will continue to balance the needs of consumers and utilities, but environmental and economic concerns will likely take a more prominent role than ever before. One especially sensitive area is consumer privacy, since the characteristics that make smart grid information valuable to environmental efforts may also have serious consumer privacy implications.
Hopefully, the US will look to countries that have already rolled out some elements of their smart grids, so that lessons from those rollouts get incorporated into future plans.
With the announcement a week ago that the ITU G.hn standard is nearly final, one might have thought that all members of the existing-wiring community would be cheering. But no -- the leading incumbents continue to battle G.hn with renewed ferocity. The most likely scenario is that the players will continue to battle each other, while Wi-Fi gets stronger and stronger.
The wild card is the impact of larger chip companies buying out the early startups. Will these companies continue fighting to be the biggest fish in a small pond - or will they see that growing the pond is best for everyone?
G.hn is on the table as the convergence standard, but its advocates need to deliver chips and prove their performance claims. Otherwise the larger chip companies may look elsewhere for convergence.
ITU G.hn Standards Progress
As we have reported earlier, ITU-T has been working for four years on a unified standard for networking over all forms of existing wiring. By selecting "the best of the best" from the many competing technologies, ITU-T hopes to grow the market for home networking over existing wiring by bringing in the big semiconductor vendors.
Opponents and supporters of G.hn painted this in dramatically different ways. The opponents (primarily the incumbents from HomePlug and MoCA) have been fighting for the inclusion of back-compatibility with their existing trade standards. They said that the lack of back-compatibility would significantly reduce the market for G.hn, and the failure to finalize the standard by yearend meant that G.hn chips would be delivered late, giving HomePlug and MoCA more time to complete their next-generation standards.
The G.hn supporters said that while the opponents had succeeded in delaying final approval by five months, all the decisions required to make interoperable chips were now in final form. They were confident that they would get G.hn chips to market in 2010. Moreover they said--as they have before--that there is no need to require back-compatibility in G.hn. If their customers require back-compatibility, the chip makers will provide it.
On October 9, the HomeGrid Forum--the trade association supporting G.hn--applauded progress on the standard. In an announcement headlined "all components of standard now complete!", HomeGrid said it "reaffirms the desire to unite a fragmented industry which currently uses a variety of incompatible technologies that typically address only single types of household wiring options – coax, phone line, or power line."
On October 14, Entropic Communications and Intellon Corporation--the long-time technology leaders in MoCA and HomePlug respectively--fired back. They announced that they "are collaborating to accelerate the availability of home networking solutions combining coaxial cable and powerline communications." They said that at "CES 2010, the two companies plan to host a joint demonstration that showcases video streaming seamlessly between MoCA and HomePlug networks."
Thus the battle has been joined between the supporters of G.hn and its strongest opponents. The chip makers and trade associations are all lined up on one side or the other. The fragmentation continues.
A few days ago, we talked on the phone with Rob Ranck, President of the HomePlug alliance. Rob mentioned that he had recently given a talk describing three scenarios:
Rob believes the most likely outcome is that the incumbents will win. Their market penetration is growing rapidly -- he said close to a hundred million HomePlug devices will be installed in customer homes by the time G.hn devices are on the market in any quantity. The lack of backward compatibility means that G.hn devices installed by operators will interfere with HomePlug devices installed by consumers. It would make far more sense for service providers to select AV2--the next generation of HomePlug--rather than moving to G.hn.
We discussed the Entropic-Intellon announcement. Rob hinted that could lead to an agreement between HomePlug and MoCA to coordinate the specs for their next generations, providing an alternative to G.hn for powerline and coax networking.
Meeting the Market Demand for Backward Compatibility
This past week we talked with Michael Weissman of CopperGate Communications, representing the HomeGrid Forum (CopperGate recently joined HomeGrid at the Board level). CopperGate has been the long-time leader in HomePNA; earlier this year CopperGate purchased Conexant's HomePlug business unit and recently announced that it would soon be shipping HomePlug AV chips.
Michael thinks the market will decide what back-compatibility is needed. CopperGate's primary market is service providers; if they want back-compatibility, CopperGate will provide it.
AT&T is a major CopperGate customer. AT&T currently uses HomePNA for video networking and HomePlug for data networking, and has been one of the most vocal supporters of G.hn. When AT&T switches to G.hn, they will likely require back-compatibility with both HomePNA and HomePlug. Coppergate intends to provide that in the G.hn chips used in devices for AT&T.
Moreover, AT&T, like most telephone companies, uses Broadband Forum TR-069 to manage the networks used to deliver video and data services in the home. Michael told us "CopperGate has robust management functionality. HomePNA has TR-069 – service providers can see all the way into the network and run diagnostics remotely. CopperGate has applied that to HomePlug technology; AT&T will have comprehensive visibility into HomePlug networks based on CopperGate."
Michael thinks the market will move to G.hn once chips come to market and service providers start shifting from older technologies to G.hn. He says "a large number of service providers want G.hn –- the European telcos want G.hn." While he thinks "G.hn is going to win" he doesn't think this will happen quickly: "we will sell Homeplug for the next 10 years."
DS2 -- the leader of the UPA group and another G.hn supporter -- announced it will have G.hn chips "in the coming months." In a press release, Jorge Blasco, DS2's President and CEO, said "We will offer seamless interoperability between our current...UPA-compliant products and the future G.hn-compliant...chipset."
Continued Fragmentation -- or Convergence?
The wired-networking business has been dominated by early-stage semiconductor companies. Intellon, Entropic, DS2 and CopperGate each succeeded in making their technologies the core of an industry standard (respectively HomePlug, MoCA, UPA, and HomePNA). It's easy to understand why all attempts to converge the standards have turned into pitched battles for survival--failure to embed their technologies into the next standard would be life threatening.
As a result, the market for existing-wiring networking has remained fragmented. Over the past decade, Wi-Fi has had all the running room and has taken full advantage of it.
With the battle-lines hardened by G.hn, continued fragmentation seems most likely. The flashing of sabers over the past few weeks indicates that the players all appear committed to investing more effort fighting with each other than in growing the market.
Acquisitions Are a Wild Card
But there's a wild card. To get a stake in wired home networking, some of the larger chip makers are acquiring the smaller ones. In mid-September, Atheros announced that it was acquiring Intellon. On October 13, Sigma Designs announced that it was acquiring CopperGate. Both transactions are expected to close this year.
Soon after Atheros announced the planned acquisition of Intellon, we interviewed Todd Antes, VP of Computing and Consumer Networking at Atheros. When we asked what the world would look like in five years, he said "G.hn is the intercept point." Talking about the prospects for standards convergence, he said "Although we have fierce competitors in Wi-Fi, it has always served us and the industry best to agree on standards and then run. For technology to serve the mass market, we need to move to standards." When asked about the prospects for standards convergence in wired networking, he said "this acquisition may be the watershed moment - to take this from the junior varsity to varsity. The others need to latch onto the future value proposition. This could signal a change in the discussion."
Other big chip players are already involved. Intel and Infineon are Board-level members of HomeGrid; Infineon is a leading player in the ITU-T G.hn standardization effort. On the other side, Broadcom is a Board-level member of MoCA and has added MoCA to its SoCs used in set top boxes.
These bigger semiconductor companies must believe that wired home networking can be a very big market. They are all likely to see the benefit of "growing the pond" by working together to converge the standards. Will they focus their efforts on G.hn?
G.hn is on the table as the basis for convergence. Big telephone companies like AT&T and BT have been vocal supporters of G.hn. At some point, they will probably declare their intention to buy only products conforming with G.hn, while requiring back-compatibility with earlier devices they have installed in customer homes. Even the big semiconductor companies who have been fighting G.hn seem likely to salute the flag and declare that providing interoperable G.hn products isn't so hard after all.
On the other hand, if the first G.hn chips are buggy and slow, the big telephone companies may decide that the existing technologies aren't so bad after all. That would provide running room for MoCA and HomePlug -- especially if they coordinate the specifications for their next generation.
The first G.hn chips are supposed to reach the market by the middle of 2010, with devices to follow. The next year should be interesting to watch.
For More Information
We have written about home networking since the first issue of this newsletter nearly ten years ago. Our Topical Index: Home Networking provides access to our articles on all aspects of home networking, organized by technology.
( www.itu.int ) ( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.mocalliance.org ) ( www.homegridforum.org ) ( www.entropic-communications.com ) ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.copper-gate.com ) ( www.ds2.es ) ( www.atheros.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.infineon.com ) ( www.broadcom.com )
On October 14, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it was "nearing completion of a new specification to enable Wi-Fi devices to connect to one another without joining a traditional home, office, or hotspot network." The new specification, called Wi-Fi Direct, provides a standardized mechanism for Wi-Fi devices to talk to each other directly, without an access point. By bringing together similar mechanisms that have been developed by many companies, it should expand the market for Wi-Fi devices and simplify life for users of PCs and other Wi-Fi equipped devices.
The key to the new specification is to extend Wi-Fi firmware to support peer-to-peer networking simultaneously with connections through access points. We described this approach in an article about Ozmo Devices, which is developing low-power chips for devices like mice, keyboards, and wireless headsets. As Roel Peeters, Ozmo's VP of Marketing/Business Development, told us more than a year ago, the key concept is to leverage the existing Wi-Fi capability already present in many platforms. Special software in the host device "virtualizes" the Wi-Fi radio, sharing it between standard Wi-Fi WLAN devices and peer-to-peer WPAN devices including those equipped with Ozmo's single-chip IC. The existing host Wi-Fi radio plays both roles simultaneously, eliminating the need for an additional radio or a dongle.
We heard a similar idea at CES in January in a discussion with Mahesh Venkatraman, then Director of Marketing, Consumer and Retail Networking Products at Atheros. Mahesh described what Atheros calls "direct connect technology," which had already been implemented in Atheros 802.11n chips. Direct connect enables a Wi-Fi device to operate simultaneously as a Wi-Fi client and access point. Mahesh described many uses for direct connect, such as creating a simple connection between a digital camera and a PC. At the show, he took our picture with a digital camera equipped with a Wi-Fi radio and instantly transferred it to a Mac laptop.
Our article about CES mentioned that Intel had already announced and was promoting a similar idea called "Intel My Wi-Fi Technology."
The Wi-Fi Alliance has now stepped in to standardize this concept. The recent announcement says that it is "nearing completion" of the specification, "expects to begin certification .. in mid-2010," and will logo the certified products as "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Wi-Fi Direct."
Ozmo, Atheros, Intel, Marvell and Apple all enthusiastically endorsed Wi-Fi Direct with press releases timed to accompany the Alliance announcement.
Simplifying Wireless Networking
Wi-Fi Direct should simplify wireless networking for consumers. Some immediate applications include:
The latter application really appeals to us. We always travel with two notebook PCs. Nearly all hotels now provide broadband Internet access, but most provide access to only a single PC per room -- either because there's only one Ethernet port in the room, or because the access mechanism assigns a password for each room and allows only one PC at a time to be logged on with that password. (In some hotels we've crashed the access mechanism when we tried to use two PCs with Wi-Fi.)
We have long used Windows Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) to get around this. If the hotel room has an Ethernet connection, we need to configure ICS on the PC connected by Ethernet; ICS then shares the connection through Wi-Fi. If the hotel room has Wi-Fi, we set up ICS and connect our PCs together with an Ethernet cable; the PC connected by Wi-Fi shares the connection through Ethernet (we can't share the connection through Wi-Fi since a Wi-Fi PC works either as a client or an access point, but not both).
ICS takes time to set up and is complex even for us, so we often don't bother to do it--and then one of us gets annoyed that the other is hogging the Internet connection. And then we have to remember to disable ICS when we're done--if we don't, we'll get into trouble the next time we try to connect to the Internet (Dave has lost sleep trying to reconnect when we get home from a trip).
Wi-Fi Direct promises to make life easier for us.
What about Wireless USB and High-Speed BlueTooth?
Readers of this report will recognize that we've written about many of these applications before. Wireless USB promised to support the higher-speed peripherals such as digital cameras, printers, and MP3 players. Bluetooth has long been promoted as a way to connect lower-speed peripherals, but most devices use proprietary wireless mechanisms. High-speed Bluetooth promises to support connecting fast peripherals.
Wireless USB requires another radio and antenna in the notebook PC--most notebook PCs don't have room for either, and notebook makers don't want to pay for the additional hardware and software. High-speed Bluetooth, even if it leverages the existing Wi-Fi radio, requires an additional protocol layer on top of Wi-Fi, and an added layer of complexity for the end user.
Wi-Fi Connect would appear to eliminate the need for additional radios and complex protocols and procedures. We expect it to become taken for granted as a standard part of Wi-Fi, and think it will open the door to even wider use of wireless networking by consumers.
For More Information
You may hae heard Henning Shulzrinne's name in connection with the SIP protocol--Dr. Shulzrinne is its co-author. He is currently Professor in the Dept. of Computer Science at Columbia University. We have not heard Henning talk since some of the early Voice on the Net conferences, so we were eager to attend a recent IEEE Communications Society Chapter meeting at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to learn what he is thinking about. His talk was titled "Internet 2.0 Challenges".
His theme was that the Internet is a core civilizational infrastructure analogous to energy and transportation, and it is currently facing a number of challenges. These challenges include network address exhaustion, routing table explosion, network ossification, securing the network infrastructure and usability/self-managed networks. The talk was scheduled for only one hour, so he could not present all his materials. You can see an online copy of the entire presentation.
One of the most interesting discussions concerned the change to the traditional assumption that an Internet host has only one address and one interface. Hosts today can have Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth and 3G/4G communications interfaces. This enables what is called multihoming, in which a single computer or device can have multiple network interfaces or IP addresses. As the use of networking in mobile environments becomes more commonplace, multihoming could help solve the problem of migrating between different types of networks while traveling.
Since this session barely scratched the surface, we'll look for an opportunity to talk further with Henning.
We are back to the time of year when there are more conferences than time (and money) to go to them all. Our next ones will be Telco TV and the must-attend Consumer Electronics Show (unless we add others that tempt us in the interim).
Telco TV 09 8th Annual Conference & Expo
Telco TV is focused on the converging ecosystems of broadband and entertainment. It is oriented toward technical solutions and content to help telcos compete against cable and satellite providers. The conference is being held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL on November 10-12, 2009. ( www.lightreading.com/live/event_information.asp?event_id=29081 )
7th Annual IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference (CCNC)
The 7th Annual IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference (CCNC) takes place concurrently with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), from January 9 – 12, 2010 at Harrah's Las Vegas Casino & Hotel in Nevada. It is focused on discussing and advancing the latest consumer communications and networking technologies, devices and services. CES registrants will be provided the opportunity to attend a half day of CCNC programming at no cost. ( www.comsoc.org/2010 )
When October comes, the Consumer Electronics Show can't be that far away. It will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Convention Center and other assorted venues, January 7-10, 2010. This will be the ninth year we have been writing about the show. It is the event that sets the tone for many things that we will writing about in the new year. Hope to see you there! ( www.cesweb.org )
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