In This Issue
News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home - some highlights from 1H2010
Anil Barot has joined Wavesat as VP of Business Development. Mr. Barot was previously with Motorola. ( www.wavesat.com )
Henry Choy has joined ActiveVideo Networks as VP, Business Development, responsible for their Web-Connected TV initiative. He was previously VP, consumer electronics business development for AnySource Media. ( www.activevideo.com )
Bill McLean has joined Ozmo Devices as CEO. He was previously co-founder and CEO of GloNav. ( www.ozmodevices.com )
David Mendels has been appointed President and COO at Brightcove; he was previously with Adobe. Eric Elia has been promoted to VP of TV Solutions, to lead the company's TV everywhere initiatives. ( www.brightcove.com )
Dan Moloney has taken the position of CEO of Technitrol. He was previously with Motorola’s Home business. ( www.technitrol.com )
Petr Peterka has become CTO at Verimatrix. He was formerly with Motorola. ( www.verimatrix.com )
Phillip E. Pompa has joined Conexant Systems as senior VP of product marketing. Pompa was previously CEO at Rational Semiconductor. ( www.conexant.com )
4Home Inc. has completed a $6.8 million Series B funding round. ( www.4homemedia.com )
Aircell LLC, a provider of wireless base stations and infrastructure, closed a $176 million funding round to expand its air-to-ground communication network. ( www.aircell.com )
BlackArrow, a provider of advanced advertising for TV platforms, has closed $20 million in Series C financing. ( www.blackarrow.tv )
Ember Corp., a provider of Zigbee components, has raised $5 million worth of debt from specialty financiers Wellington Financial LLP. ( www.ember.com )
TidalTV has raised $16 million in Series B funding, with Comcast Interactive Capital among the investors. ( www.tidaltv.com )
Widevine announced that Liberty Global, Samsung Ventures and a third corporation have become strategic shareholders. ( www.widevine.com )
Motorola has signed a definitive agreement to acquire SecureMedia, a developer of digital rights management (DRM) and security systems for IP video distribution and management. Terms were not disclosed. < www.motorola.com > < www.securemedia.com >
Tekelec has agreed to acquire policy control company Camiant and has completed the acquisition of subscriber data management company Blueslice Networks. ( www.tekelec.com ) ( www.camiant.com ) ( www.blueslice.com )
BSkyB launched its 3D channel Sky 3D in April. The channel reaches more than 1,000 pubs and clubs in the United Kingdom and is focusing on high-profile soccer matches. The 3D service is initially available only in pubs and clubs, but will be launched to residential customers in the fall. Sky offers the 3D channel for free to any pub or commercial venue that takes its highest movies and sports package and plans to use the same approach when it launches a residential channel. Sky has more than 2 million high-definition subscribers in the UK and Ireland and plans to provide the 3D capable Sky+ HD box as standard to all new and upgrading customers. ( www.sky.com )
Brightcove has teamed with Ping Identity to provide an open standards-based user authentication and authorization system. Its goal is to enable programming providers to offer TV Everywhere compatible television services. ( www.brightcove.com ) ( www.pingidentity.com )
CableLabs and Canoe Ventures completed the EBIF IO6 specification which provides a uniform technical baseline for unbound applications and other interactive television features. The two organizations have also announced a formal partnership between Canoe Ventures Innovation Lab and CableLabs’ AdLab for a joint testing program. ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.canoe-ventures.com )
Comcast is rebranding all of its cable services as Xfinity, starting in 11 cities. By the end of 2010, Xfinity will be the Comcast brand name in the majority of its markets, using the names Xfinity TV, Xfinity Voice and Xfinity Internet. ( www.comcast.com )
Google Energy, a subsidiary of Google, has been authorized by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell electricity in bulk at market-based rates. This will allow Google to better manage its own energy costs, and opens the possibility that it can add "electricity marketer" to its inventory of services. ( www.google.com ) ( www.ferc.gov )
Thomson, Technicolor's French parent, has reorganized and changed the name of the entire conglomerate to Technicolor. ( www.technicolor.com )
Standards and Organizations
Open IPTV Forum
The Open IPTV Forum has signed liaison agreements with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in order to further drive for an interoperable end-to-end IPTV solution for managed network and open Internet deployments in the global market. The agreements allow for the regular exchange of information, the participation of observers and joint promotion in areas of mutual interest which center around all aspects of IPTV services delivered via managed networks, the open Internet and the home network. ( www.openiptv.org ) ( www.dlna.org ) ( www.dvb.org ) ( www.etsi.org )
Broadcasters Form Mobile TV Alliance
A story in the NAB Show Daily reported that twelve major broadcast groups announced the formation of a joint venture to develop a national US mobile content service. Utilizing existing broadcast spectrum, the service will allow member companies to provide content to mobile devices, including live and on-demand video, local and national news from print and electronic sources, as well as sports and entertainment programming.
Broadcast spectrum for the new service will come from three owned-and-operated station groups and nine local broadcast groups. The local broadcasters formed Pearl Mobile DTV Company LLC as a vehicle for their involvement in the venture.
In addition to spectrum, the partners will contribute content, marketing resources and capital to the new venture, which will use ATSC-M/H, an open broadcast transmission system developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee specifically for mobile devices.
WiMax 2 Collaboration Initiative
Intel announced the WiMax 2 Collaboration Initiative (WCI), a collaboration with companies including Samsung, Motorola, Alvarion, Beceem, GCT Semiconductor, Sequans and ZTE to accelerate the development of standards and devices surrounding WiMax 2 technology. This next generation of WiMax mobile broadband technology, built upon IEEE 802.16m, is billed as a 'true' 4G iteration, since it will be able to burst past the IMT-defined 300Mbit/s. ( www.intel.com )
OneVoice becomes VoLTE
The Voice over LTE (VoLTE) initiative, a successor to OneVoice, has gained consensus among a long list of backers to address mobile interconnection and roaming challenges. Specifications are expected as early as the first quarter of 2011. Backers include AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile, KDDI, NTT Docomo, Orange, SKT, SoftBank, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, and vendors like Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Qualcomm, Samsung and Sony Ericsson are on board.
WHDI Consortium Adds 3G
The WHDI Consortium has announced that WHDI 2.0, the next version of its Wireless Home Digital Interface standard, includes support for 3-D. WHDI provides an uncompressed wireless HDMI connection between video devices such as set-top boxes and flat-panel TVs. They say the new specification will be available in the middle of next year, but early products based on the updated version may be demonstrated at CES in January. ( www.whdi.org )
ZigBee Health Care
The ZigBee Board of Directors has ratified ZigBee Health Care and made the standard publicly available. ZigBee Health Care is an open standard for interoperable, low-power wireless devices enabling secure monitoring and management of noncritical, low-acuity healthcare services. It is targeted at chronic disease management, eldercare, wellness, in-patient and asset tracking. It supports thousands of devices on a single network and provides full support for IEEE 11073 devices, making each device eligible for FDA certification. ( www.zigbee.org/healthcare ).
Each issue, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. These briefs focus on broadband and IPTV growth, Internet-connected TVs, interactive TV, and more.
Strong Broadband and IPTV Growth in 2009
Point Topic reported that 58 million additional lines of broadband technology were added in 2009, with annual growth over 14%. There are now more than 466.95 million broadband customers in the world.
IPTV also had a strong year, adding over 10.8 million subscribers. By year-end 2009, there were more than 33 million IPTV customers- an annual increase of 47%. The Asian market showed the strongest growth with Asia now accounting for 39% of the broadband market and 32% of the IPTV market. ( www.point-topic.com )
Internet-connected TVs Gaining Traction
Over a quarter of U.S. TVs purchased at the start of 2010 were linked to the Internet, according to iSuppli's U.S. TV Consumer Preference Analysis service. U.S. consumers indicated their sets were connected to the Internet either though internal TV capabilities, or via external devices, such as digital video boxes or game consoles. The survey showed that a growing percentage of connected sets have built-in Internet connections and thin client support capabilities. ( www.isuppli.com )
Cutting the Cord
The National Center for Health Statistics survey found that almost one quarter of US homes subscribe only to cell phone service, while an additional 15% have landlines but almost never use them. Interestingly, this goes way beyond the "under-30" demographic: in the last 6 months of 2009, the majority of wireless-only adults (59.2%) were aged 30 and over.
Seniors Increasingly Online
Neilsen recently reported that senior citizens (those over age 65) actively using the Internet increased over 55% between November 2004 and November 2009, from 11.3 million to 17.5 million. These seniors are spending more time online and the growth by women has outpaced growth by men by six percentage points.
BuNGee Jumping in Europe
BuNGee is a new European mobile broadband initiative, largely funded by €4.7 million from the European Commission. Its full name is Beyond Next-Generation Mobile Broadband and its aim is a tenfold increase of mobile broadband infrastructure capacity density. The project will identify new network deployment strategies suited for dense urban environments. Dr. Ze’ev Roth,CTO, Alvarion, will serve as the consortium’s project coordinator. ( www.alvarion.com )
Time Warner and Verizon Expand "TV Everywhere"
In a joint press release, Time Warner and Verizon announced a deal for Time Warner to provide key content to Verizon FiOS TV customers. Customers who subscribe to both FiOS TV and FiOS Internet will be able to receive the same HD content on their PCs at home or away, using any broadband connection. The companies said they plan to bring the content to mobile devices in the near future. ( www.timewarner.com ) ( www.verizon.com )
SelecTV Chosen as US Cable's ITV Brand
A news release last month said that Canoe’s efforts to develop an interactive digital television platform were bolstered when MSOs Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner joined with the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB), the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), CableLabs and national advertising and programming partners to launch SelecTV, a single, nationwide ITV brand that “promises a seamless and secure interaction between the viewer, the cable company and the programmer, advertiser or content provider across all major U.S. cable systems.”
Wi-Di Moving from Laptops to Handhelds
Intel's Wi-Di wireless display technology, currently available on PCs with Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 chips, is targeting mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, although they have not provided a specific timeframe in which this will happen. Wi-Di technology allows wireless transmission of images and video from Intel PCs to a high-definition TV screen.
Wi-Di involves software that uses the graphics capabilities inside Intel's Core processors and a wireless chipset to create a point-to-point Wi-Fi connection between the TV set and the user device. The software automates the process of transmitting images from the PC to the TV. The technology will also become available in laptops in China and Europe soon.
In 2002, we ran a series of tests of HomePlug, a new (at the time) industry-defined standard for home networking over existing power lines. We were impressed by HomePlug's performance -- comparable with Wi-Fi at that time, and more consistent around our house.
As we were conducting these tests, we said to each other "We got it! Buy any device, plug it in, and it's networked!" Surely it wouldn't be long before every device with a power cord would be networked over the power line; Wi-Fi would be used only for portable battery-operated devices. Our article in September 2002 was headlined HomePlug Powerline Networking - Getting ready for prime time.
Eight years later, nearly all mobile devices that would benefit from networking -- laptop PCs, smart phones, iPads and more - come with Wi-Fi built in. By contrast, most fixed-location devices -- such as desktop PCs and the latest TVs -- still have only Ethernet. It's up to the unsuspecting buyer to figure our how to get them connected to the home network.
Wi-Fi has succeeded because the key players in wireless networking were able to agree very early on a single standard: IEEE 802.11, branded as Wi-Fi. The chip companies promoting other wireless approaches swallowed their pride and rallied around Wi-Fi well before most consumers realized they needed home networking. What was the payoff? A recent headline reads "Wi-Fi IC Shipments Could Top 770 Million in 2010".
Networking over existing wiring has underperformed because the players have never been able to agree on much of anything. Chip companies have lined up in opposing camps, each seemingly more focused on beating the other camp -- or their competitors in the same camp -- than on growing the pie to benefit everybody. Devices from one camp often interfere with those from another camp. Consumers can't tell them apart.
The result? Total IC shipments are only a tiny fraction of those for Wi-Fi. Very few consumer-purchased devices come equipped with any form of existing-wiring networking. One of the networking camps thought it was impressive to put out a press release proclaiming "Experts Agree: 10 Million ... Connected Homes by 2013."
This may be about to change. Most of the chip companies have aligned around two emerging standards: IEEE P1901 and ITU-T G.hn. These are very different standards, with no requirements for interoperability between them. But they are designed so as not to interfere with each other if both are installed in the home.
Chip makers say ICs for both standards will be on the market this year, with early devices shown at CES next January. Telephone companies - the primary supporters of G.hn - are poised to place orders for delivery next year. Consumer electronics companies may be getting ready to place bets on which standards to adopt for Internet-connected TVs and video media adapters.
This should all come to a head by the end of this year. We think next year will prove to be critical for the future of wired home networking.
Battle of the SDOs
Wired home networking has long suffered from fragmentation, with five different technology camps competing for dominance over existing electrical, coax, and phone wiring. Most of these technology camps have now lined up with either IEEE P1901 or ITU-T G.hn.
Until now, "standards" for networking over existing wiring came from industry consortia. By contrast, the IEEE and the ITU are long-established highly-respected standards development organizations (SDOs). Both have developed thousands of internationally-accepted formal standards.
Large service providers are moving toward wide-scale deployment of triple-play services. They view networking over existing wiring as far preferable to pulling new wires or using Wi-Fi. Both P1901 and G.hn are directed to large-scale purchases by service providers. The stakes are high, and all technology camps and their backers are gearing up.
At CES in January, we met with representatives of these camps and their key member companies. We recently followed up by phone to get an update on the current status and the outlook for 2011.
The IEEE P1901 Working Group brought together key members of two of the powerline camps (HomePlug and HD-PLC), along with many other industry representatives, to create a comprehensive standard for Broadband over Powerline (BPL). The P1901 standard includes detailed mechanisms for both BPL access to the home and BPL networking in the home. The camps were unable to agree on a single physical layer (PHY) approach, so P1901 includes two distinct PHY layers (one from each camp) with a common upper MAC layer.
Since the two PHY layers would interfere with each other if they were not coordinated, P1901 includes a coexistence mechanism that permits both PHYs to operate in the same house, sharing the potential bandwidth of the powerline wiring while gracefully deferring to each other. This coexistence protocol - Inter System Protocol (ISP) - is also explicitly designed to coexist with G.hn and with BPL used for broadband access to the home. P1901 envisions the possibility of four non-interoperable PHYs sharing the power wiring, with ISP keeping them out of each other's way.
At CES, we met with Rob Ranck of the HomePlug Alliance; we recently followed up on the phone. Much of our discussion concerned the progress of P1901 and its market impact.
The P1901 standard is very nearly finished. It passed its Sponsor Ballot in April 2010; the IEEE website says "Approval of P1901 as an IEEE standard is targeted for September 2010". The draft standard is available for purchase from the IEEE Website.
The HomePlug Alliance appears to be preparing to take on the role of certifying P1901 products. In April, HomePlug announced that it is working with HD-PLC on a "joint certification program" to test coexistence between the two PHY technologies within P1901, and said an interoperability "plugfest" had been scheduled for May 2010 "to certify the first compliant silicon chips."
ITU-T G.hn/HomeGrid Forum
ITU-T G.hn brought together key members of two other camps (HomePNA and UPA), along with other industry players, to work out an ambitious specification for an "every wire" standard designed to operate over all existing wiring: powerline, phoneline, and coax. Aiming at a higher performance level than existing technologies, G.hn did not adopt an existing protocol, but rather designed a new approach based on elements drawn from all the existing camps.
HomeGrid Forum, a trade group formed to promote G.hn, aspires to play the same role for G.hn that the Wi-Fi Alliance plays for IEEE 802.11. Its members include many companies active in the G.hn standards development. It is already actively promoting G.hn and is working to develop the certification testing process.
At CES, we met with a group representing HomeGrid, including Matt Theall of Intel, Mike Coop, John Egan of DS2, and Mario Finocchiaro of Aware. They said the G.hn standard was nearly done; indeed, the last pieces were consented in Geneva the following week and were approved in June 2010. At CES we also met separately with Michael Weissman, now VP Corporate Marketing at Sigma Designs. We met with Michael at the recent Cable Show, and talked on the phone with Matt.
Many silicon vendors are working on G.hn chips. DS2, Sigma and Lantiq are well along. DS2 and Sigma promise to have samples ready by the summer and fall. Matt says working interoperable devices should be shown at CES next year and that many more chips are "in development."
Earlier this week, HomeGrid and The Broadband Forum announced that they were collaborating on the global certification and interoperability program for G.hn.
MoCA -- the fifth technology camp -- is not supporting either P1901 or G.hn. Instead it is continuing on its own, and developing its own second-generation specification, MoCA 2.0.
We recently talked on the phone with Vinay Gokhale, SVP of Marketing and Business Development at Entropic Communications, the company that founded MoCA. Vinay described multi-room DVR as "the killer app". He said multi-room DVR has "really started in a big way" in North America -- and most video service providers use MoCA to connect set top boxes between rooms.
Vinay said that Broadcom's support for MoCA had played "an important role" -- it helped the video service providers "get comfortable" by having a major chip company as a second source. "Service providers take comfort from multi-source vendors; costs can be controlled."
We asked Vinay if he was concerned about competition from G.hn. He said G.hn was at least two years away from market. Nearly all major North American video providers have now committed to MoCA. MoCA has become "a self-fulfilling prophecy" -- it's "much more difficult to deploy without MoCA."
And MoCA 2.0 isn't far away. Earlier this week, MoCA announced the ratification of the 2.0 specification. It offers "Basic" and "Enhanced" modes that promise 2X and 4X the performance of MoCA 1.1, with full back-compatibility with the earlier 1.0 and 1.1. It includes low-power modes for energy efficiency, and higher-performance modes for point-to-point applications. Soon after the announcement, Entropic's CTO Tom Lookabough told us we should expect to see interoperable "MoCA 2.0 devices in volume by the beginning of 2012."
HomePlug "AV2" and "AV Turbo"
While P1901 and G.hn are moving toward the market, HomePlug and its member chip companies are not standing still.
While focusing much of its attention on the benefits of P1901, the HomePlug Alliance is continuing to work on the second generation of AV, called "AV2". When AV2 was announced, HomePlug said it would far exceed the performance of G.hn while maintaining back compatibility with today's AV. Rob Ranck recently told us that HomePlug was “insuring AV2 is true next-generation” technology.
Meanwhile, Atheros, Sigma Designs and Gigle have introduced chips that claim to perform much better than HomePlug AV while still maintaining back compatibility with AV devices.
In an announcement late last week, Sigma explained how they boost powerline performance. They said that their new HomePlug AV chips use MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) -- the same technique used in 802.11n Wi-Fi -- to get much better performance than competing chipsets. They said MIMO will also be used in their G.hn chips expected later this year.
The Outlook for 2011
We've written many times about what we term "whole home networking" -- integrated networking for digital voice, video and data. The need for data networking became clear as consumers needed to connect multiple PCs to the Internet. But the need for video networking was less obvious until IPTV, multi-room DVR, and Internet-connected TVs came along.
Now all video service providers - most also broadband service providers - see the need for whole home networking, and are trying to decide which technology(-ies) to deploy. Pulling new wires is time-consuming and expensive. Wi-Fi can't reliably and consistently handle multiple streams of high-definition video across an entire house. Service providers want to use existing wires to deliver digital data, video and soon telephony.
In North America, where nearly every home already has coaxial cabling between all the TV sets, it's an easy decision to use the same cables for digital video services. Verizon and most cable operators have chosen to use MoCA; AT&T and some smaller telcos have chosen HomePNA and say they expect to move to G.hn when it is ready. Many have used Wi-Fi and HomePlug for data networking.
Outside the US, many telcos have deployed Internet and IPTV services using either specialized Wi-Fi equipment or powerline with HomePlug AV, UPA, or HD-PLC. In markets where most homes already have coax, cable operators and telcos are likely to choose MoCA now or wait for G.hn. Many telephone companies participated in the ITU's G.hn effort, and have announced their intention to deploy it.
If the G.hn chip makers meet their projected schedules, they will show interoperable prototype devices based on two or three different chips by the end of this year. These early devices promise performance better than HomePlug AV and MoCA. Some will provide back-compatibility with HomePNA, UPA, or HomePlug AV, providing a migration path for the many telcos who have deployed these earlier technologies. If G.hn achieves these objectives, many leading telcos are likely to deploy G.hn devices for both IPTV and data networking. This would create a big market for G.hn chips and devices.
This opportunity has caught the attention of some big chip companies. Until recently, the existing-wiring networking business was the province of small early-stage fabless chip companies. Now some of the world's largest semiconductor companies sense a big opportunity for chips -- first in devices for telcos, then in all networked consumer electronics devices. Some of these big companies have lined up behind standards:
Several large chip makers are already Promoter members of HomeGrid Forum. If the telcos announce plans to place large orders, more chip makers will see the opportunity and commit to producing G.hn chips -- or SoCs incorporating G.hn along with other functionality. This will drive BoM costs down, lowering the price of retail devices, and providing a path for Internet-connected TVs and other video devices.
If the G.hn chip makers fall short, HomePlug chip makers will be delighted to show the telcos P1901 and "AV turbo" solutions which outperform AV while providing back-compatibility, and are deliverable now in quantity. MoCA will try to build on its North American success to capture market share where there's significant coax penetration.
By 2011, it should be clear whether G.hn will get the lion's share of the global existing-wiring market -- or whether P1901 and MoCA will be free to dominate the market.
What About the Consumer?
At every powerline display at CES 2010, we saw consumer electronics insiders surprised at the novel idea of using powerline to connect media devices. Many seemed to think there was a Wi-Fi antenna hidden somewhere inside. Powerline has been around a long time, but most people still don't get it.
While the Wi-Fi Alliance focused much of its early efforts on educating consumers on the benefits of using wireless for home networking, none of the existing-wiring camps has invested any significant effort to building consumer awareness. Our recent discussions with all the existing-wiring players revealed that their efforts continue to be focused on wooing the service providers and bashing each other. If existing-wiring networking is ever to achieve its true potential in the broadband home, they'll need to shift their attention to the consumer.
For More Information
We have written about home networking since the first issue of this newsletter more than ten years ago. Our Topical Index: Home Networking provides access to our articles on all aspects of home networking, organized by technology.
( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.homegridforum.org ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.ds2.es ) ( www.aware.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com ) ( www.broadband-forum.org ) ( www.entropic.com ) ( www.broadcom.com ) ( www.atheros.com ) ( www.giglenetworks.com ) ( www.wi-fi.org )
Eight years ago, we wrote about the craziness of having to read a manual to figure out how to operate our new car radio. That problem paled in comparison with another car we read about at the same time, which came with "a set of instructions for the owner to hand a valet, so that a bewildered parking attendant can figure out how to move the car!".
Since that time, we've entered the age of devices like iPhones and iPads which many people have embraced as part of their lives. Everyone wants to be connected everywhere.
MyFord Touch Driver Connect Technology -- Using Personal Technology
Ford Motor Company believes they have a solution to the increasing complexity of a car's communications, navigation, entertainment and control technologies. At CES in January we met with Doug VanDagens, Director of Ford Connected Service Solutions to talk about Ford's approach to helping drivers stay connected.
At CES Ford announced MyFord Touch "Driver Connect Technology," which aims to:
Ford's SYNC system (based upon the Microsoft Auto operating system) is the integrated operating system for Ford vehicles. MyFord Touch is a user interface layered on top of SYNC to replace many of the car's traditional buttons, knobs and gauges. Inputs can occur in multiple ways including voice command, touch screens and five-way buttons like those found on today's consumer electronics devices. The system includes a media hub with multiple inputs and a multifunction touch screen which can display entertainment, navigation, phone and climate control information.
Ford expects users to connect their own personal devices, such as mobile phones, MP3 players, USB drives and SD cards when in their car. Connectivity includes a USB-connected broadband modem for in-car Internet access and a Wi-Fi hot spot for passengers.
Doug emphasized that safety is a primary concern, so Ford's goal is to make the experience as distraction-free as possible. For example, the in-dash touch-screen display can only be used for video and Web browsing when the car is in Park.
The service allows drivers to operate most MP3 players, Bluetooth-enabled phones and USB drives using voice commands. Additional features include turn-by-turn navigation, realtime traffic updates and business search tools.
With a capable electronic base in place, Ford can add features such as asking the car to suggest the most fuel-efficient route. It does so by using historical data to determine roads that are most likely to let drivers maintain a consistent speed, thus cutting down gas consumption.
The SYNC in-car communications and infotainment system is standard on all 2010 Lincoln models and available on select 2010 Ford and Mercury models.
GM OnStar - Focus on Emergency Support
A recent NY Times Article drew an interesting comparison between Ford's approach with SYNC and General Motors's OnStar strategy. The article points out that although the systems handle many of the same functions, the original intent of the two systems was quite different. OnStar was designed as an emergency response system; SYNC's impetus was to entertain and inform.
The communications mechanisms used by the two companies illustrate the philosophical split. While Ford relies on using the driver's own mobile phone as the communications link, GM believes a built-in phone is essential to its system. Some of the trade-offs have to do with cost and upgradeability. The useful lifetime of a car can be much longer than that of a mobile phone, and GM has had to deal with several generations of technology shifts and obsolescence.
The pricing models are also quite different. As the Times article pointed out: "SYNC is standard on Lincolns and on the highest trim level version of each Ford and Mercury model. It’s a $395 option on most other models. Customers must elect to activate the service, and the subscription is free for three years. After that, car owners can continue their full-service subscription for $5 a month....OnStar is standard on most G.M. and all Saab cars. The first 12 months of service are free. After that, service is $18.95 per month for a basic package or $28.90 a month" for an expanded package of information services.
When GM first introduced OnStar in 1996, few mass-market consumers were comfortable with mobile phones and digital media technologies. Now PCs and broadband are in most homes, navigation systems in most cars, iPods in many people's hands, and smartphones growing fast. Ford's approach seems better tuned to the times.
Since we both drive older cars and don't buy new ones very often, we haven't had the opportunity to test either of these systems. Until we actually experience it, we can't reach any conclusions about whether the Ford system we saw at CES is as intuitive as it appeared, and whether it accomplishes its goal of making it easier for drivers to do the things they were going to do anyway--like listening to music and making phone calls--with less distraction than they currently experience.
We'd welcome comments from any readers who have had personal experience with these systems.
First black-and-white turned into color. Then standard-definition TV became High Definition. Next came Internet-connected TVs, with 3D sets following closely on their heels. How many households will be ready to open their wallets yet again, while their last TV purchase still has plenty of time left on its warranty?
Starting with CES this past January, 3D TV has been getting ever higher on the hype scale, as people take their turns using special glasses to see what all the fanfare is about.
The 3D demos gave Sandy a headache -- in two different ways. The first was literally--many of the demos made her want to reach for the Excedrin. (Sandy wasn't the only one--we asked a young techie in another booth what he thought of all the 3D hype, and he said the same thing.)
After Sandy's CES experience, she was a little concerned about how she would react to Avatar in 3D in a theater. She had no problems with headache or eye discomfort, suggesting that it would be prudent for prospective 3D set buyers to try them out on all the members of a family before putting up the money for what will initially be premium-priced sets.
The second headache was trying to wrap her mind around a striking contradiction at the show. On the show floor, manufacturers seemed committed to bringing 3D sets to market, and the content industry is driving to create new revenue streams. At the same time, the technical discussions focused on the many 3D issues yet to be resolved: the multiplicity of possible ways to create, send and render 3D; translating the 3D theater experience to the home environment; resolving the many types of incompatible glasses; avoiding eyestrain and vertigo; and more.
To help sort out what is happening across these various efforts, many companies have joined a consortium called 3D@Home. This consortium does not set standards, but is acting to help coordinate efforts by working with each of these organizations. It has published some helpful white papers, such as 3D Stereo Rendering: New Processing & Perception Challenges published in May 2010.
At the May Cable Show in LA, a session called "Depth Perceptions: Technical Approaches For 3D Video Integration" moderated by Comcast's Tony Werner did little to allay Sandy's concerns about how fast the industry is rushing into a sea of unsolved problems. One of the most enlightening, because of the accompanying visuals, was Mark Schubin’s presentation from his paper What 3D Is And Why It Matters in the Technical Forum Proceedings.
Schubin pointed out that a stereoptic image pair is only one cue in human depth perception; other cues include one object blocking another, objects getting larger and sharper as you move closer to them, and muscle feedback from aiming and focusing the eyes. Inconsistency in these cues is a major source of eyestrain and vertigo. He discussed many issues in 3D video production, and observed that while it's easy to produce 3D, it's hard to produce good 3D. There's much more on Mark's blog SchubinCafe.
While technology is expected to advance to the point where special 3D glasses will not be required, 3D now depends on many different types of glasses using a variety of different technologies. "Active" glasses have a built-in electronic shutter synchronized by the TV to the left and right images. "Passive" glasses use a variety of techniques including color and polarization. Active glasses are said to provide better 3D but are rather expensive. Some glasses work on only one model or brand of TV, others on multiple models.
None of these unresolved technical issues have deterred the drumbeat of 3D announcements. LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have started selling 3D TVs. ESPN and Discovery/Sony/IMAX have announced 3D channels. DirecTV and Sky are launching 3D, as is Cablevision (a cable provider in the New York City area); not to be outdone, Verizon says it will offer 3D service over FiOS TV later this year. Avail-TVN will join the party by offering a mix of linear and on-demand 3D content to cable, satellite, and telco operators later this year.
Motorola announced a set-top technology that they say solves one of the major problems with 3-D television: the need to switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D TV while keeping channels and menu screens clearly viewable. Motorola says new software for its DCX line of set-top boxes automatically detects the presence of 3D content and identifies the type of 3D format required for proper delivery and display on the 3D TV.
Although technology and standards are always interesting, the key ingredient in 3D TV will be what the user wants and is willing to pay for. We do wonder if 3D is rushing to market before it's really ready for prime time. We'll soon see how the 3D theater experience translates to the home.
( www.comcast.com )
In March 2010, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued the National Broadband Plan. Most other industrialized nations have adopted such plans and many are ahead of the US in broadband penetration. Over the past decade the FCC has spoken eloquently about the importance of broadband, but squandered its energy picking fights with the incumbent providers and promoting impractical broadband technologies.
The US has a vibrant competitive broadband industry. As the FCC plan points out, broadband (at 4 Mbps or better) is already available to 95% of the US population, with more than 80% in markets with more than one provider. While many other country’s broadband plans were devoted to bringing fixed-line broadband to consumer homes, the FCC’s plan is focused on the future.
Over the next ten years, the FCC plan aims to push actual broadband download speeds for most homes to 100 Mbps, with 50 Mbps as an intermediate goal. The FCC recognizes that the incumbent broadband providers are already rolling out higher-speed facilities, the cable industry with DOCSIS 3.0, the telephone companies with fiber.
The FCC recognizes that mobile broadband has the potential to inspire innovation as great as that from fixed broadband, and that the US will be at a severe competitive disadvantage if it fails to encourage the rapid and widespread deployment of 4G and other mobile broadband services. The plan recommends making 500 MHz of additional spectrum available quickly to support the projected rapid growth of next-generation devices and applications. It also recommends the repurposing of some little-used existing spectrum. To this end, the FCC has created an open spectrum dashboard to make current spectrum allocation far more transparent.
The FCC is concerned about families left out of broadband due to availability or cost. Because "not having access to broadband applications limits an individual’s ability to participate in 21st century American life," the plan aims to provide universal broadband access at a minimum download speed of 4 Mbps by 2020. To extend broadband access to “high-cost areas” not currently served by fixed-line broadband facilities, the FCC proposes to shift funding from the long-standing Universal Access Fund and inter-carrier compensation mechanisms.
The FCC has come up with a comprehensive and well-thought-through plan. While the FCC could be criticized for trying to cover too many bases, and understating the importance of wireline broadband, it is properly trying to make up for lost time.
For More Information
( www.fcc.gov )
Seventh Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference & Exhibition
The Seventh Annual Healthcare Unbound Conference will take place on July 19-20, 2010 at the US Grant Hotel in San Diego, CA. Healthcare Unbound has been defined as "technology in, on and around the body that frees care from formal institutions." The focus of this year's event is the networks, platforms and applications for technology-enabled participatory medicine. The program will have a strong focus on the use of remote monitoring, home telehealth, mHealth, eHealth and social media for chronic care management and wellness promotion. It will provide an opportunity for networking with high-level executives and clinicians from across the US and abroad. ( www.tcbi.org )
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