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The October 8, 2002 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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In This Issue

Sponsored by BroadbandGurus.com

Heard on the Net

IntelligentCities 2002
The Rise of Community Broadband

"Intel Inside" Means Music and Media Too

Video Networking
An Interview with ViXS Systems

HomePlug Powerline Networking
Some Surprises

Your Voice -
Readers' Comments

Compelling Broadband Applications -
More From Our Readers

Website Changes -
Topical Guide and More


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Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Greg Baltzer has been named President and CEO at Gatespace AB, while Staffan Truvé has become Chairman. Greg was previously CEO of Vsys, Inc. and was at Intel before that. ( www.gatespace.com )

Jon Beizer was named CFO of IPWireless, Inc. and Thierry Maupilé was appointed VP of business development. Beizer comes to IPWireless from Newbridge Capital. Maupilé was most recently with Motorola's Telecom Carriers Solutions Group. ( www.ipwireless.com )

Kathryn Brown has joined Verizon Communications as senior VP of Public Policy Development and International Government Relations. Kathy served as the FCC's chief of staff from 1998 to 2000. ( www.verizon.com )

Brent Levetan was named VP North America Sales & Marketing for Xtend Networks and Ron Shani has been named Director of Marketing. Brent's previous cable experience includes LuxN, Terayon and 3Com. Roni was previously with the Microsoft TV Platform Group.( www.xtendnetworks.com )

Tony Martin has been appoointed Chief Technical Officer at Radiant Networks Plc. He was previously with Lucent Technologies. ( www.radiantnetworks.com )


Company News

--Acquisitions

Airspan Networks, Inc. announced that it will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Marconi Communications (Israel) Limited from Marconi Corporation plc. The Israel-based unit operates the broadband wireless access business of Marconi. The purchase price is approximately $3 million. ( www.airspan.com ) ( www.marconi.com )

GoldPocket Interactive, a provider of two-way interactive television programming, has acquired Moeo, a developer of interactive software and applications for wireless platforms. ( www.goldpocket.com )

OpenTV has agreed to acquire ACTV in a stock-for-stock merger and separately announced that Liberty Broadband Interactive Television, Inc. (LBIT) has agreed to sell recently acquired Wink to OpenTV for approximately $101 million in cash. This is a reorganization of Liberty Media's new ITV assets and puts them in one place. ( www.opentv.com ) ( www.actv.com ) ( www.libertymedia.com )

Microsoft Corp. has bought Liquid Audio Inc.'s patents for $7 million. In the deal, Microsoft gains access to several of Liquid Audio's key patents related to its technology and product architecture, including patents for digital rights management and technology for secure transfer of content to portable devices. ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.liquidaudio.com )

Thomson is acquiring control of Canal+ Technologies for $186 million in cash. Thomson previously owned about 3% of the company and this purchase adds Canal+ Group's 89 percent stake. ( www.thomson-multimedia.com ) ( www.canalplus-technologies.com )

--Funding

Arescom Inc., a provider of broadband wireless equipment and services, has obtained $20 million from the issuance of private stock. ( www.arescom.com )

BigBand Networks has received an undisclosed amount, estimated to be $3 million, from AOL Time Warner Ventures. ( www.bigbandnet.com ) www.aoltimewarner.com )

Cedar Point Communications, a provider of integrated, packet-based voice and multimedia switching technology for the cable industry, announced that Comcast Interactive Capital has taken an undisclosed position in Cedar Point's $19 million first round of funding. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )

Magis Networks announced they have raised an additional $5 million thru an investment from Elwin Capital Partners. ( www.magisnetworks.com )

MetaTV, a provider of software for automating and optimizing iTV applications, has received investments of $21 million in its Series D round of financing. The round was led by Comcast and Cox Communications, Inc. ( www.metatv.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.cox.com )

Overture Networks has closed $15 million in second round financing. The company develops a multi-service product that enables carriers to develop voice and data services over metro Ethernet/IP networks. ( www.overturenetworks.com )

--Other News

The BBC and Crown Castle announced that the new free-to-view digital terrestrial television (DTT) service in the UK will be named Freeview and is targeting an autumn launch. Once users invest in equipment costing about £99 viewers are promised a wide range of digital television channels, as well as interactivity and digital radio. ( www.bbc.co.uk ) ( www.crowncastle.com )

Broadcom announced their new AirForce network processor chip and the Wi-Fi compliant reference design platform. The platform enables manufacturers to build wireless local area network (WLAN) access points and routers that support the IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11a/b standards today, and 802.11g when it is available. Broadcom also announced that Linksys is the first vendor to ship dual-band wireless LAN access points based on Broadcom's chip. ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.linksys.com )

FreeDial, a UK company offering broadband for just £12.99 per month, is already approaching full capacity according to the Register and Romulus2 sites in the UK. FreeDial limited the initial offer to 1,000 subscribers and the rest will be placed on a waiting list when the service expands in November. The company said that its broadband service is a subsidized product, and that it aims to establish a strong customer base and improve sales in its other premium products. Customers must buy their modem equipment from FreeDial at a cost of £88. There is also an £80 connection fee. ( www.freedial.biz )

Intellon Corporation announced their HomePlug-certified powerline wall module access point reference design. The reference design creates a bridge between 802.11b wireless and HomePlug powerline networks, allowing users to optimize WiFi coverage in a home or small business. ( www.intellon.com )

Intertainer filed an anti-trust suit against AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal and Sony, accusing them of conspiracy to fix prices in the digital distribution of entertainment. Intertainer maintains that the defendants have deliberately caused the delay of the broadband content industry so that they could deploy Movielink, owned largely by the named defendants and other studios, that would monopolize the Internet video on demand market. ( www.intertainer.com )

ICTV has reached an agreement with Access Communications to deploy interactive services, starting with Internet-on-TV, to their subscribers in Canada. The service operates using Access’ already deployed Motorola DCT 1000, DCT 2000 and DCT 2100 set-top boxes. ( www.ictv.com ) ( www.accesscomm.ca )

Magis Networks, Inc. entered into an agreement with Digeo, Inc. to jointly develop a prototype wireless media center solution that includes the integration of Magis' 802.11a-based products. ( www.magisnetworks.com ) ( www.digeo.com )

Microsoft has had a big push on to capture the space around digital media appliances, networking and control. Recent Microsoft ( www.microsoft.com ) efforts include:

  • the release of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition to computer manufacturers. Working with Microsoft, computer manufacturers including H-P and Samsung are expected to ship the first wave of new media center PCs in time for the holiday season. Windows XP Media Center integrates digital entertainment experiences and is the actualization of the demonstration of Freestyle done by Bill Gates last year at CES. ( www.hp.com ) ( www.samsung.com )
  • the announcment that the leading manufacturers of chips for set-top boxes and next-generation digital media appliances will support Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series. Manufacturers announcing support include Equator Technologies Inc., National Semiconductor Corp., Sigma Designs Inc., STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments Inc. They claim that Windows Media Video 9 Series will allow TV programming to be recorded in the same quality as MPEG-2 technology while tripling the storage capacity with superior video compression. ( www.equator.com ) ( www.national.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( us.st.com ) ( www.ti.com )
  • the announcement that Moviesystem, the European video-on-demand (VOD) operator, will use Windows Media 9 Series technology for delivery of the next generation of the NetCine service. ( www.moviesystem.com )
  • the introduction of 10 products for wireless and wired home networks. On the wireless side, the company has created a wireless base station, wireless USB adapter, wireless notebook adapter, wireless desktop kit and a wireless laptop kit. The wireless line is all based on Intersil Prism 802.11b technology. ( www.intersil.com )

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said there are now over 10 million cable modem customers in the US. ( www.ncta.com )

RealNetworks has announced that AOL will use Real's technology for their interactive and streaming-video advertising and for delivering entertainment, especially through AOL's high-speed broadband service. AOL also will integrate Real's latest media player, RealVideo 9, in its upcoming update, AOL version 8.0. ( www.realnetworks.com ) ( www.aol.com )

Sasktel has announced a commercial deployment using iMagicTV software to offer voice, video and data over DSL to approximately 80,000 households. ( www.sasktel.com ) ( www.imagictv.com )

Sharman Networks Ltd., owner of KaZaA, will advertise high-speed Internet access provided by Tiscali to its European users. In return, Tiscali will pay Sharman a "bounty" for each KaZaA user who signs up for its high-speed access service. ( www.sharmannetworks.com ) ( www.kazaa.com ) ( www.tiscali.com )

United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC), Europe's largest cable-television company, announced that it will file for bankruptcy protection in the US and the Netherlands after its largest creditor and shareholder and a bondholders' committee reached a binding recapitalization deal. The parent company, UnitedGlobalCom (UGC) would increase its equity stake to 65.5 percent after a debt-for-equity swap. ( www.upccorp.com ) ( www.unitedglobal.com )

--Industry Organizations

The Internet Streaming Media Alliance and the MPEG-4 Industry Forum have agreed to facilitate interoperability testing of MPEG-4 streams and players. ( ism-alliance.tv ) ( www.m4if.com )

New Wi-Fi Label --> Click for larger pictureThe Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new descriptive element of the Wi-Fi brand called the capabilities label. The Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logo will be used to indicate when a product passed Wi-Fi Interoperability testing for all IEEE 802.11 enhancements, and will go on Wi-Fi CERTIFIED product packaging to assist technology consumers when purchasing Wi-Fi products. The Wi-Fi Alliance is the new name for the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance - WECA. ( www.wi-fi.org )

--Legal/Regulatory

US: For a humorous twist on a very serious topic, see the protest against Sen. Fritz Hollings's proposed "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" (S. 2048). It lists devices that would be forced to carry anti-copying technology under the act. Check out the "Shop With Me Barbie" toy cash register. ( www.freedom-to-tinker.com/archives/cat_fritzs_hit_list.html )


IntelligentCities 2002: The Rise of Community Broadband

In "The Tipping Point" Malcolm Gladwell talks about how "ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics." Because we're on the lookout for such things in broadband, we decided to attend IntelligentCities 2002 last week in Chantilly, Va. Focused largely on municipal broadband networks, at first this conference seemed to be about an interesting but - in the global sense - relatively insignificant phenomenon.

By the time we had heard from leaders of projects across the US and Canada, we decided it could become a "big thing". Communities that feel left behind by the incumbent providers are taking matters into their own hands, often with public funding. If this trend continues, smaller and more remote communities may have better broadband service than larger ones.

While the conference described other aspects of "intelligent cities" or "smart communities", the central focus of the conference was "community networks". A "community" may be defined broadly (a town or city) or narrowly (a housing development). Broadband telecommunications is central to all these communities.

The conference concentrated on the North American marketplace. In a speech at the conference, Mike Moone, CEO of Alloptic, contrasted the market drivers in North America from those in many European and Asian markets. Regulatory issues and population densities are two of the major differences.


Unserved Communities

The driving force for communities to organize and act is that incumbent providers (telcos and cable operators) have not offered broadband service and community leaders perceive that they are likely to remain unserved for a long time. Since businesses prefer to locate and people prefer to live where they can get broadband service at a reasonable price, these communities are losing population and their tax base to other more fortunate places.

While this is most prevalent in rural areas with low population density, it is also happening in relatively affluent high-tech suburbs. We have recently spoken with leaders in Lisle, Illinois (near Chicago) and Concord, Massachusetts (near Boston), both unserved and starting to take matters into their own hands.

In communities like Lisle, with a high proportion of technology workers, people feel viscerally deprived of the broadband services their colleagues and friends have and feel stymied in both personal and work-at-home applications. One of the conference speakers, Laurance Lewis, active in getting funding for these types of projects, lives in Lisle and has the problem personally.

People in less developed areas -- like Hutchinson, MN; Sweetwater County, WY; Murray City, UT; or Eastern Ontario's Leeds & Grenville Counties -- see the lack of broadband service as a major barrier to economic growth. These are attractive places to live, with low crime rates, friendly neighbors, clean air and lower stress levels. But without economic opportunities the kids grow up and move to other places and the towns slowly die. Community leaders increasingly see providing broadband as key to their survival.

The incumbent providers are rolling out broadband service in many communities, but have favored some over others. It does make economic sense for providers to focus capital investment on communities with higher population densities and better demographics, reducing capital costs while maximising potential revenue. But that approach makes the other areas even more disadvantaged.

Until recently, people in unserved communities could do little but watch and envy their more favored neighbors. Emerging technologies are giving them the opportunity to take matters into their own hands.


Technology Improvements

Price/performance improvements in two technology areas -- broadband wireless access (BWA) and fiber to the home (FTTH) -- are making community broadband viable. While the cost of deploying traditional infrastructure - SONET/twisted pair for telcos and hybrid fiber-coax for MSOs - is stable or rising slowly, the cost of BWA and FTTH have come down sharply over the past few years. Many companies are working to improve performance and drive down the capital and operating costs.

South Dakota cares about "rural broadband" --> Click for larger pictureAs communities investigate what is possible, they are learning from pioneers who have already gone through the steep learning cycle. A new ecosystem is starting to be built: vendors who have participated in such projects, engineers who have designed them, investment experts who know sources of funding, lobbyists and lawyers who know what roadblocks may be put up by the incumbents. And it is all powered by people who care deeply about preserving and growing their heritage in a particular community, sometimes aided by their political representatives, especially for rural areas.

Fiber and broadband wireless technologies are important to communities because of the bandwidth they provide, but also because -- unlike ADSL and cable modems -- they provide symmetric service. Communities envision many applications -- web hosting, telemedicine, interactive gaming, videoconferencing, etc. -- and want "true broadband" with more upstream bandwidth than today's service providers offer.


Examples of Community Networks

UTOPIA Communities (Great Salt Lake on the left) --> Click for larger pictureIn Utah, community leaders have launched the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) -- a project to build a wholesale fiber network connecting all homes and businesses in its 17 member cities with half a million people. UTOPIA is the collective entity formed by the cities to create critical mass and buying power to get economies of scale and atttract service providers to their network. It includes many of the largest communities in Utah; Provo, the second largest, is already building a fiber network on its own, and Salt Lake City is thinking of joining Utopia.

UTOPIA was launched in April 2002 and is now completing a feasibility study. It has the status of an independent government agency and will be able to issue bonds to construct the network, at a cost estimated at $400 million. If successful, it will provide a template for other areas to follow. The Utah legislature has passed a bill (HB149) expressly enabling cities to be involved in telecommunications and it has been adopted as model legislation for other states.

Grant County Public Utility District in central Washington state is well along in deploying its Zipp fiber optic network and is providing voice, data and video services today. When it became clear in 1938 that private industry was not going to deliver electricity to rural Grant County, citizens took matters into their own hands to form Grant County PUD. They have now done so again with advanced communications. The rationale was clear--95% of the cable systems had less than 32 analog channels, only one market had cable modem capability, there was no DSL service, and 3 areas lacked basic telephone service. Today, their customers have competing ISPs, competing digital video providers, better telephone service and lower prices than before.

Grant County represents a group of organizations well positioned to provide telecommunications services. More than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities in the US provide electricity for over 40 million people. Their industry organization American Public Power Association (APPA) says that many are being asked by their citizens to provide community broadband services and 450 already provide some kind of broadband services.

Unlike incumbent carriers, which often aggregate services and act as preferred or exclusive service providers, many community networks operate as "open networks" connecting service providers and end users. Community networks have different levels and meanings of openness. Some such as StokAB.com in Stockholm provide only dark fiber; UTOPIA plans to light the fiber but provide only wholesale transport; Grant County PUD provides many system elements but encourages multiple service providers. The fundamental notion of openness relates to separating the underlying infrastructure from the services provided on that infrastructure.


Financing Community Broadband

Rohde and Binder --> Click for larger picture Several speakers addressed the pivotal issue of financing for community broadband networks. Greg Rohde, the former Asst. Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator, NTIA in the Clinton administration and Laurance Lewis shared details on Municipal Leasing and access to Government Loan & Grant programs in the US.

Michael Binder and Vic Allen described Canada's efforts to accelerate establishment of broadband networks, particularly in rural areas where 45% of Canadians live. A competition for government funding had the dual effect of getting community involvement and creating some innovative plans.


FTTH and BWA

Many of the technology speakers represented fiber-based alternatives for broadband. They pointed out the clear "future-proofing" benefits of fiber in terms of its ability to accomodate enormous growth in bandwdth. We've written previously about the "bandwidth budget" for todays' and tomorrows' homes but took a fancy to Bernard Daines' (CEO of Worldwide Packets) analogy of "minimum daily bandwidth" of 40 Mbps -- like a broadband vitamin!

Despite falling prices, FTTH is still expensive. In some low population density areas like Leeds & Grenville, Ontario, the business economics pointed to broadband wireless as the appropriate alternative. Seeing that "Leeds & Grenville has remained a 'digital desert', isolated from the wired world around us" Upper Canada Networks (UCNet) was formed to deploy BWA services in this rural area between Canada's capital, Ottawa, and its largest city, Toronto.

Xtratyme President John Griffiths --> Click for larger pictureBWA is also the chosen technology for XtraTyme, which has the vision of bringing high speed Internet services to rural America. Founded in 1999, their current locations are in Minnesota but they have recently started projects in Illinois and Wisconsin. Their business model is built on partnerships and community networks. It seems to be working thus far, since they say they are profitable.

Over two days, we saw widespread dissatisfaction with the incumbent providers and their commitment to providing the broadband services communities want and need. We met savvy community leaders who have stopped complaining and started taking aggressive action. We suspect the incumbents perceive the threat to be minor since the projects are isolated and most are in rural areas that are not of great concern. But communities and vendors are gaining experience; if some of the projects come to fruition and succeed, they will set precedents to make it easier for other communities to replicate their models.

Special thanks to James Budwey, IntelligentCities 2002 conference chairman, for inviting us.

( www.hhevents.com/intelligent_cities2002.html ) ( www.alloptic.com ) ( www.utopianet.org ) ( www.gcpud.org ) ( www.appanet.org ) ( www.StokAB.com ) ( www.worldwidepackets.com ) ( www.uppercanada.net ) ( www.xtratyme.com )


"Intel Inside" Means Music and Media Too

We've written previously about music as a force in driving peer-to-peer applications like Kazaa and in compelling applications like services from Listen.com and products from Audiotron. Today's websites even tout building your baby's brain through "Bach in the bassinet and Beethoven with the bottle" ( www.buildyourbabysbrain.com ). The folks from Intel have concluded that now is the time to leverage the digital music (and other digital media) trends by making it easy for mere mortals (not just geeks) to connect their existing audio and video equipment to their PC-based MP3s and photos.

We've talked several times with Gary Matos of Intel about user needs for simple and inexpensive ways to leverage the PC's power for managing and storing digital media. We were thus delighted in August when Gary briefed us about the recent announcement of "Extended Wireless PC" at the Intel Developer Forum. Intel announced a reference design, specs for a UPnP-based software stack and UPnP technology toolkits.

Intel diagram of PC and digital media adapter --> Click for larger pictureNew PCs -- from the likes of Gateway, Dell and Legend -- will come bundled with Wi-Fi networking and a gizmo called a "digital media adapter". The user simply connects the media adapter to the TV and stereo in the media center using standard A/V cables. Then she can play music stored on the PC hard drive (in the den) on the speakers in the media center, using the Wi-Fi connection to connect the PC and the media center. The TV screen and remote control provide an easy user interface. Users have the ability to access, view and listen to digital content on existing TVs and stereos, anywhere in the home, using content resident on their PC.

Digital media adapters will also be available from consumer electronics manufacturers, so that a user with a powerful PC and Wi-Fi already installed will simply buy an inexpensive adapter without having to get it packaged with a new PC. The bill of materials for such an adapter is projected to cost about $79. To accomplish this low cost, Intel's reference design is based on its PXA210 applications processor (because of its price/performance) running an embedded Linux operating system "because it is open source and has no licensing fees."

Intel chose to make the inital push using Wi-Fi networking, due to the wide availability and low price points of today's 802.11b technology. However, we anticipate that as digital media adapters move from audio and images in this generation to video in a subsequent generation, Intel will support later 802.11 standards with higher transfer rates and quality of service. Although Intel is pragmatically pushing Wi-Fi because of its popularity, they are not wedded to wireless as the only form of home networking; one can easily envision using powerline networking or whatever gets large market adoption.

Although the OS for the adapter does not come from Microsoft, the fruits of the joint Intel/Microsoft UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) push are very much part of this effort. A UPnP specification for remote I/O combined with appropriate software enables physical separation of the user interface devices from the application logic host device. Thus, users can experience home applications like listening to music on a stereo or showing digital pictures on the TV, using a remote in a room distant from but networked to the PC. UPnP relieves the consumer of the network configuration challenges and simplifies the set up. See the Universal Plug and Play Forum website for the 515 vendors currently participating.

The final proof of concept will come when products reach the market and consumers buy and love them. We think that if implementations meet the promises, and the consumer marketing is good, we'll see lots of users hop onboard. As the cost of digital media adapters goes down and their popularity rises, one can imagine that they will be built into new equipment like stereo speakers and Web tablets. Is it possible that all that talk about convergence is finally turning into reality? It sure looks like it.

( developer.intel.com/technology/digitalhome ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.upnp.org )


Video Networking - An Interview with ViXS Systems

In what we view as one of the most significant recent announcements, ViXS Systems, a Canadian start-up, has just gone public with a "video networking processor" chip designed to transmit digital video over home LANs. What's most interesting in this announcement is a very different way to handle "quality of service" than we've heard before. The "XCode" chip dynamically adjusts the bit-rates, resolutions and formats of multiple MPEG video streams, in real time, adapting each stream to changing network bandwidth. It provides 30 frames per second (fps) of video in each stream, modifying each stream as necessary to accomodate other applications using bandwidth in the same network.

ViXS is focused on wireless video networking based on IEEE 802.11a. Confusingly, the 802.11a standard, operating in the 5 GHz frequency band at a nominal 54 Mbps, is the logical successor to 802.11b operating at 11 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band. Both will be marketed with the "Wi-Fi" logo (see "Heard on the Net" above).

We interviewed ViXS' Roy Stewart, Senior Vice President, Interactive Technologies and Business Development. He said that the XCode chip is designed to carry multiple high-definition (HD) and standard-definition (SD) streams. It will run at 48 Mbps aggregate thruput and will be able to carry two HD and 5 to 6 SD video streams simultaneously. Initial production chips will be limited to 30 Mbps and will carry one HD plus two or three SD streams.

We talked with Roy about their distinct approach to "video QoS." The IEEE 802.11 standards group has been working for more than two years on a standardized approach to "quality of service" (QoS), but has failed as yet to reach agreement on the requirements or technologies. ViXS says that its "rate grooming" approach is much better for video than the proposals for the 802.11e QoS standard, since XCode, unlike .11e, is designed to maintain an unbroken video stream at 30 fps.

While their main focus is high-speed wireless, Stewart says that ViXS’ technology takes an agnostic approach to home networking platforms by working with any wireless or wireline networking topology. XCode should make it possible to carry broadcast-quality SD video over the current generation of wireless and powerline home networking technologies. These provide realistic net speeds of 4 to 5 Mbps, not good enough for broadcast MPEG2 which often runs faster and in any case cannot tolerate the shared use of bandwidth -- such as using a PC with a cable modem at the same time as watching TV. The ViXS technology should make that possible by temporarily reducing the TV quality (ViXS says imperceptively) and then increasing it when the bandwidth is available.

ViXS told us that it already has design wins for its new chip and is shipping chips and boards to "a very large Asian manufacturer". They say that they are under contract to jointly design products for both in-home and commercial video distribution, and have signed trial agreements for in-home applications. They note that they have "endorsements by cable MSOs" and point to the recent appointment to their board of Alek Krstajic, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Product Development for Rogers Cable Inc., the largest Canadian cable operator and an influential voice in the North American cable industry.

Many homes have already installed Wi-Fi systems. High-speed products based on 802.11a are already on the market and prices are expected to drop substantially next year as "dual band" chips reach the market. The ViXS solution provides a way for service providers to incorporate video networking today without waiting for products based on 802.11e.

We will watch ViXS closely since it promises to bring whole-home video networking to the market in the near future. It sounds almost too good to be true, and we're waiting to see it with our own eyes.

( www.vixs.com )


HomePlug Powerline Networking - Some Surprises

Last month we reported the result of our first in-home tests of HomePlug powerline networking, and concluded that HomePlug could play a major role in consumer networking. We reported that we obtained substantially identical performance results from the three sets of Ethernet adapters and from the one USB adapter we tested. Although we had not completed our tests, we expected that the results from our initial tests would be representative of other products based on the same Intellon chip and that products based on the new Cogency chip would provide comparable results.

ST&T U21 Powerline USB Bridge --> Click for larger pictureST&T U22 USB Wall Adaptor --> Click for larger pictureWe have now completed our tests on two USB adapters made by ST&T xNetworks -- the U21 based on the same Intellon A1 chip as the units we reported on last month, and the U22 based on the new Cogency chip.

To our surprise, both ST&T units gave significantly better results than the units we tested before.

  • In last month's tests of four sets of equipment, the measured network speed across the fourteen tested outlets averaged 3.41 Mbps. By contrast, the two ST&T units averaged 4.15 Mbps - an improvement of 22%.
  • The ST&T units performed better than the others at nearly every outlet. We were particularly impressed by their improved performance at several of the most impaired outlets.

The latest tests were all run using an ST&T M51 Ethernet bridge as the "master" adapter and the U21 and U22 as "mobile" adapters. (Please see last month's issue or our web site http://www.BBHcentral.com/bbhl/homeplugprocedure.html for a description of our test procedure and the "master" and "mobile" adapters.)

We talked with several technical people to better understand the performance differences we measured and concluded that while the digital chip has a lot to do with HomePlug performance, other parts of the design can make a big difference. We were told that the design and specific components in the "analog front end" - which sits between the digital chip and the wall outlet - can affect performance, as can the design of the power supply and the layout of the circuit board. ST&T seems to have done this better than the other vendors.

In the previous issue, we reported that the ST&T Ethernet bridge performed identically with the other tested Ethernet bridges. But we had tested the ST&T unit with another vendor's bridge; ST&T says that if had tested it with a second ST&T Ethernet unit (which we didn't have) we would have gotten results similar to those we got with the two ST&T USB adapters.

We did not see any incompatibility between ST&T units based on two different chips. This is a good sign for HomePlug compatibility.

Our evaluations should not be regarded as definitive since they were performed only in one house, which we cannot say is representative of others. As more HomePlug units come to market, we'll be interested in seeing more thorough evaluations to advise consumers of the performance differences between identically-labelled products.

We have updated our website with additional information about the details of our test results: http://www.bbhcentral.com/bbhl/homeplug.html.

( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.stt.com.tw ) ( www.intellon.com ) ( www.cogency.com )


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

A few of YOUR thoughtful tidbits culled from this months' email.

Mike Tritt wrote from New Zealand: "The New Zealand and US power systems are different, particularly because of the voltage (230v vs 110) but also in the way that street transformers are arranged and electrical practices have developed. Some of the standards and products developed and in use in the US may not be compatible with our system and I'm wanting to invstigate these differences. Can you clarify your comment "HomePlug crossed AC phases very well".

We replied "North American homes usually have what is called "single phase three-wire 120/240 Vac" - dual 120V / 240 V RMS with the lower voltage used for wall sockets and the higher voltage for major household appliances. The service panel has two 120V main circuits with a common return/ground; the two circuits are 180 out of phase. Combining the circuits provides 240 VAC. In the typical main electrical panel or "load center", rows of circuit breakers alternate between the two main circuits, often called "phases"; dual breakers are used for 240V circuits."

We've added a set of references to our website on the "Broadband Home" page ( www.bbhcentral.com/home.html )


Compelling Broadband Applications -- More From Our Readers

Since virtually everyone agrees that broadband, like plumbing, is a means to flow things in, around and out of the house, we've been asking readers to share their experiences with some applications that drive their use of broadband. Here are a couple of the responses we got on reader experiences with compelling applications.

Craig Slawson wrote: "Fresh content like IP traffic cams before I commit to a commute. Diverse content like heavy.com, sputnik7. Jazz from France…digital radio, there is nothing like it. " This despite his note that "we are still in a bb ghetto" so he gets his broadband at work, not at home.

Mike O'Connor is an audio entertainment fan. He wrote: "Most of the applications I use that require a Broadband connection relate to audio entertainment. Last year I installed a Turtle Beach Audiotron Internet Receiver. In order to listen to streaming audio at anything close to CD quality requires a Broadband connection. Unfortunately due to the unfavorable US Patent Office decision regarding royalty payments from Internet based radio stations I have found many of my favorite stations "off-the-air." I built and installed a media center PC which functions as a DVD player, DVR (using an ATI AIW video card) and a streaming audio player which I now use to receive content from Rhapsody (Listen.com). Of course Rhapsody charges a monthly subscription fee for their service but I am particularly fond of the "build-your-own-radio-station" feature that is offered. As the "free" Internet radio stations dry up it looks like "pay to play" will eventually become the standard for Internet distribution of audio and video content. That is if the RIAA and MPAA ever join the rest of us in the 21st century."

Editors Note: We've heard quite a bit from readers about music and games as two of their most compelling applications. This affinity hasn't been lost on service providers as they promote adoption of their services. For example, In September, Speakeasy, an independent US broadband service provider, ran a promotion giving new subscribers the choice of a free Sony PlayStation 2 or Microsoft Xbox gaming console when ordering one of Speakeasy's DSL broadband gaming packages. The packages start at $59.99 a month, and offer a number of features, including the ability to run a personal gaming server and online gaming tournaments. ( www.speakeasy.net )

Yahoo is going after gamers too, but their target seems to be the casual gamer. Their new Yahoo! Games on Demand streams games to a user's computer via broadband. There are multiple plans with different price points and an expanding library of titles. ( www.gamesondemand.yahoo.com/play )

It's not too late to share your experiences, particluarly if there are some applications you love that have not yet been mentioned.


Website Changes -- Topical Guide and More

We've continued making major changes to the Broadband Home Central web site to make it even more useful as an ongoing resource for the Broadband Home Community.

  • Last month we activated a new section called "Broadband Home Labs" with details of our HomePlug testing and the source code of the program we wrote to compare network performance. We've updated it with our newest tests and will soon expand it to include wireless networking and media and communications devices and services.
  • This month we added a Topical Guide section. It provides a reference to all the topics we've covered in our reports and presentations. It is organized into sections, with a page for each topic. Check it out at ( www.bbhcentral.com/guide.html )
  • We've also taken a step toward what will become an online forum for the Broadband Home Community. We have responded as best we can to the many requests we receive from readers for various types of information, and we think a forum will help more by amplifying our contacts and information with the wealth of knowledge our readers possess. Since we didn't finish the forum in time for this report, we've posted a placeholder page at ( www.bbhcentral.com/community.html ). It contains a couple of recent requests, so please check it out -- maybe you can help another reader with info on the Nordic market or a position for a well-qualified candidate. We'll let you know when the full-fledged version is online.
  • The Topical Guide, Community and Labs sections represent the new "look and feel" for our site, and we're updating old content to the new format as fast as we can. Please let us know what you think of it - especially if you spot any problems we may have missed.

Please keep letting us know about problems you find or things you'd like added.


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