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The December 17, 2007 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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A Deep Gulp - MoCA Technology Conference 2007

The folks at the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) invited us to participate in an analyst panel in their first annual conference in Austin Texas last month. After some hesitation--we felt "conferenced out" after attending four conferences in as many months--Dave decided to go and was glad he did. It was a great update on current MoCA technology and applications, and a good view into the future.

We have been following MoCA from its inception, and started talking with Entropic Communications, its founding technology company, even earlier. We've long believed that coaxial cable could provide the best physical platform for "no new wires" networking. Unlike any other existing wiring, coax is designed for the very high bandwidth needed to carry multichannel video. Because it is shielded, coax is largely free from noise. Even when fully occupied by a full video lineup, coax has lots of unused bandwidth suitable for data networking.

The main drawback of coaxial cable is that there are comparatively few coax outlets in the home. Thus we have long believed in a home networking approach which uses coax both to connect the TV sets--which require the most bandwidth and are highly sensitive to noise--and to provide a "backbone" network for the whole home. Wi-Fi could then be used to reach mobile devices and other devices that aren't close to coax outlets.

Verizon's Use oF MoCA in FiOS

For all its promise, MoCA has still not been deployed very widely. Its primary application to date has been for telephone companies providing video services to the home. Its largest deployment has been by Verizon for its FiOS service.

Verizon's CTO and Senior VP-Technology Mark Wegleitner delivered a keynote talk at the conference. One of his slides illustrated how Verizon uses MoCA over the existing coaxial cable, with two MoCA channels operating on different frequencies.

Slide from talk by Verizon's Mark Wegleitner --> Click for larger picture

One MoCA channel (the "WAN" channel) links the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) mounted outside the home with a Broadband Home Router (BHR) inside. The second "LAN" channel connects the BHR with video set top boxes. PCs connect to the BHR with Wi-Fi or optional "MoCA dongles". Having two separate MoCA channels isolates the WAN channel used for Verizon services from the LAN channel which can be used for additional consumer applications.

Wegleitner said Verizon is using MOCA as part of "The Verizon Managed Home", managing all video, voice and data communications for PCs and TVs through the BHR. He said more than 700,000 FiOS subscribers are using MoCA today, with more than 3 million MoCA nodes installed in FiOS homes.

To match the speed of FiOS, Verizon required at least 100 Mbps. The WAN and LAN channels each operate at more than 100 Mbps over the same coax infrastructure.

Shortly before the conference MoCA announced that the latest MoCA chips support 175 Mbps throughput. At the end of his talk, Wegleitner emphasized "the need for additional bandwidth in the home", saying "the next generation MoCA must support ~400 Mbps of actual throughput in less than two years" with "a roadmap to 1 Gbps within 4 years".

MoCA Technology

A session on MoCA protocols provided more details on MoCA than we've seen before. The recently announced addition of parameterized quality of service (PQoS) makes it possible to mix multiple streams and adjudicate their priorities if they cannot all operate simultaneously within the available bandwidth. This is already incorporated in MoCA 1.1, the basis of the latest chips.

Steve Palm of Broadcom- --> Click for larger pictureThe active participation of speakers from Broadcom and Conexant--in addition to Entropic Communications, the original developer of the technology--made it clear that major semiconductor manufacturers see a bright future in networking over coax. Broadcom and Conexant are on the MoCA board as promoter members, with Intel and Texas Instruments participating as contributing members.

Extending MoCA to Retail

Until now, MoCA has been deployed only by video service providers. Without MoCA-based products available for consumer networking, other technologies--especially Wi-Fi and various forms of powerline networking--occupy all the space on retailer's shelves.

"Extending MoCA to retail" was a recurring topic at the conference. Several sessions covered the potential for retail products. Keynote presentations by speakers from Intel, Scientific-Atlanta/Cisco, and Motorola touched on consumer applications. Speakers from Radio Shack, D-Link and Actiontec participated in a panel discussion on retail applications.

In the product demonstration area, D-Link showed the use of MoCA to transfer video from a networked attached storage (NAS) device to a high-definition screen. Scientific-Atlanta and Linksys (both now divisions of Cisco) showed a Linksys home router equipped with a DLNA media server working over MoCA with an S-A set top box equipped with a DLNA player. None of these are as yet on the market as retail products, but the implication was that they were close.

Consumers are starting to use home networking to move video from consumer-owned PCs and DVRs to flat-screen TVs throughout the home--both video recorded on the PC hard drive and streaming video from the Internet. MoCA is moving to retail just as video is moving rapidly to high definition and consumers are installing flat-screen HD sets in large numbers.

This move to retail appears to pose some problems for video service providers, who will need to grapple with several issues:

  • How will video service providers handle multiple high-definition video streams over the same network infrastructure? When network capacity is limited, which streams get the highest priority and the best video quality, and which get degraded quality? Which devices control priorities and admission control? Can the consumer participate in this decision?
  • What support will video service providers offer to customers who install their own MoCA equipment? For example, will Verizon include consumer-installed devices in its "Verizon Managed Home" or will it be restricted to Verizon-provided devices?
  • Do video service providers enable PC-to-TV and Internet TV applications, or leave these to the retail market?

We came away from the conference looking forward to seeing some of these retail devices at CES next month, and playing with MoCA-based networking in our own home and condos.

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