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November 15, 2006

Beyond Smoke and Mirrors

Destroy1 We do a LOT of demos.  It's the only way to show off how this stuff works.  Seeing is believing, right?  Wrong.

Carriers take one look at our demos and think we're used car salesmen. "Nice demo but stick your kit with my lab rats and we'll demolish this stuff," a common remark.  So we did just that. 

This clip is simply hilarious. Not so much how it's said but what is said. The lengths to which telecom companies go to break vendor product is wild. 

Watch this video clip of Scott Ulsaker from Pioneer Telephone describe just ONE of the test he and his lab techs ran on our stuff.  We couldn't believe it when they did it either and thought you'd enjoy some of the lengths carriers will go to break equipment.

November 10, 2006

Sometimes Less is More

CompressIt sure was the case at this week's TelcoTV at the Gaylord in Texas(what a lovely name for a hotel).  At some point in your life you've got to go to this Gaylord place. I think they have their own weather system inside this huge monstrocity of a hotel.

Other than the always busy Hustler TV booth, one of the biggest attractions was MPEG-4 HDTV streaming at 4 Mbps.

One of the more impressive demos was in the Harmonic booth.  These guys (we have absolutely no relationship with them) are evidently the largest supplier of encoding equipment in the world.  Though unfortunately no one really knows it.

DivicomelectraThey've shipped more digital encoders (the one of the right is what they used for the HDTV demo...click on it to see more) than anyone else to some of the largest operators like DirecTV, Dish Networks, Comcast, Bell Canada and a bunch of others.  And we thought they were some music company (shows you how smart WE are).

Harmoniclogo At their booth they were showing a 1080 by 960 MPEG-4 HD stream of a basketball game using a reference design set top box (STB) from Broadcom.  The picture was utterly perfect.  To get this sort of picture, Harmonic takes useless lines and pixels out of the picture while still retaining high definition. Other companies such as envivio. also demo-ed MPEG HD at 4 Mbps. 

The problem is that the set top boxes that support MPEG-4 are terribly late, leaving operators up poop creek. The STB makers will all tell you different, but it's true.  With MPEG-4 there is so much real-time processing involved to decode the streams, that it's taken a while to get good STBs that support MPEG-4.  But they're coming - like the much anticipated Amino's 130 STB due out very shortly.

With MPEG-4, operators will be able to deliver three streams of HD at 12 to 24 Mbps over a single broadband connection.  This is low enough for our 802.11a/g smart Wi-Fi system to support.  Maybe we don't need 802.11n after all....naaaaay. There will always be an insatiable demand for bandwidth.

But the problem is that the big U.S. carriers, like AT&T, are looking at a different model often dubbed "the Microsoft model" or whole home DVR distribution.  This is where all content comes into the home and is stored on some central multimedia God box. From this God box stored television, music and anything else you can imagine is distributed to TVs and devices around the home. 

While we're not convinced that this model will be reaching a lot of real homes anytime soon, we are convinced that God has always been able to do the unimaginable.  Let's just hope he'll be showing up to help these carriers get to their promise land.

November 04, 2006

Fixed Mobile Convergence Has Legs!

Sexyleg_2Despite the amorphous name, Fixed Mobile Convergence, or FMC for those in the know, is perhaps the sexiest new thing to come along...if it ever gets here.

Beyond the hype and more than just a technology flash in the trend pan, FMC (sounding like marketing moniker made up by a bunch of big company wonks) will have legs, long legs.  And carriers are taking it very seriously.

For lack of a better description (if you ask 10 people what FMC is you'll get 10 different answers), here's a working definition:

Fixed-Mobile convergence is the delivery of communications services based on a combination of fixed and wireless technologies

The basic idea is to give users the ability to make phone calls using any type of network access - be it cellular, VoIP, Wi-Fi, etc. 

DualmodephoneMost of the attention has focused on the new dual-mode phones (cellular/Wi-Fi) quickly coming out. Carriers are franticly working on ways to switch (on the fly) a cell phone call onto a Wi-Fi network (without the user knowing). Doing this helps them do three important things:

  1. broaden the footprint and reach of their network and services at a relatively low cost
  2. augment and improve coverage into buildings
  3. increase subscriber "stickiness"

The rub, however, is end-to-end management.  With Wi-Fi, carriers lose the ability to control service quality over the last 100 feet.  Today with traditional POTS, cellular service and even broadband VoIP, carriers can control and manage phone calls.  But with FMC, and Wi-Fi, this all goes out the window.  Here are some of the problems with conventional Wi-Fi when trying to support voice in the home:

  • Best effort only with no traffic prioritization
  • The RF spectrum is unmanaged
  • The Vo-Fi radius is unpredictable and small
  • There's no control over signal path selection
  • No synchronization between the AP and handset to optimize battery like
  • Omni-directional antenna subject to interference
  • No integrated QoS

And next gen 802.11n does not benefit applications that really need consistent delivery of short frames -- like Voice over IP. With voice, as with other real-time media and applications, more bandwidth isn’t the issue; stable, predictable connectivity is the issue. 

Smart Wi-Fi was developed to solve these exact problems giving carriers the ability to control and manage the last 100 Wi-Fi feet (email me and I'll send you a decent white paper).

Ultimately, residential Wi-Fi faces a myriad of technical challenges that make performance hard to predict, much less control. When it comes to voice delivery, consistency and reliability are critical. Improvements like MIMO and 802.11n will not make the situation any better for voice -- in fact, higher-throughput data will increases airwave competition and interference.

Carriers must deploy reliable wireless transport that can deliver predictable QoS in a typical home environment.Choosing the right CPE will be critical to satisfy consumer expectations and compete effectively in this lucrative growth market. To do so, carriers must understand factors that influence Vo-Fi QoS and look for innovations that address this application’s needs. APs that not only support WMM, but deal effectively with physical challenges that are a deal-breaker for voice, are far more likely to deliver carrier-grade voice inside the home – and happy subscribers.

If Wi-Fi can be made more predictable, it's the ideal solution in the home for wireless Internet access, IPTV and FMC.  The ultimate triple play.