Over the top coming on strong
CES is so enormous that if it were its own city, it would rank just ahead of Terre Haute, Ind., and Joplin, Mo., in terms of population. To get an idea of how much glitz there is to contend with on the show floor, yesterday (1/9) I saw Paul Allen walk by completely unnoticed by anyone else in the crowd.
Some might think that says more about Allen's charisma, but this is a guy who has demonstrated that he'll spend money on technology. Charisma or no, you'd think he'd at least turn heads, let alone be surrounded by supplicants, petitioners, press agents, men-at-arms and hangers-on, as many other industry luminaries tend to be. But I digress...
What's here for cable operators? New set-tops, new digital TVs to entice new digital subscribers, new PCs and new PC applications that virtually beg for a broadband connection, and - perhaps most dangerously - a large number of devices that aim to help consumers play IP-based content from the Internet on their TVs, most of it due between summer and year's end.
Foremost among those would have to be Microsoft's Xbox 360, which in conjunction with a PC running Microsoft's forthcoming Vista operating system will be able to play over-the-top video from Vongo on TVs (story here).
Microsoft will also by the end of the year be adding IPTV Edition software to the Xbox 360, which makes the game console look even more like the Trojan Horse the cable industry suspected it might be (story here), replacing set-tops in some applications, possibly starting with AT&T U-verse.
Other over-the-top enablers include the new SlingCatcher from Sling Media, Amedia's new Broadband Entertainment Center, a version of Digeo's Moxi media player and Tivo (see stories below).
Consumers are becoming ever more accustomed to taking any type of content almost anywhere, and they're not much concerned with how it happens or, more to the point, who makes it happen for them. Looking at what's available at CES this year, it is crystal clear that CE manufacturers see a huge opportunity in over-the-top video, and they're beginning to cut deals to make sure the content is available.
The question for service providers isn't whether or not to allow it - it's already happening; there's no choice in the matter - but how to get a piece of the action. I imagine The Cable Show in May will be a likely venue not only for a discussion on the subject but also perhaps for some announcements.
Amedia gateway delivers IPTV for service providers
Not lacking for ambition, Amedia Networks was at CES positioning its Broadband Entertainment Center, an all-in-one gateway, home networking appliance, and personal media library, as a replacement for the computer as the media hub and central point of networking within the connected home.
The product combines modem, router, wireless access point, and VoIP adapter, and stores and organizes content. It incorporates Ultrawideband (UWB) technology to distribute HDTV signals to various home entertainment and media devices throughout the home.
Unlike other manufacturers enabling over-the-top broadcasts, Amedia is explicitly friendly to service providers. It says carriers can tap into the Broadband Entertainment Center's operating system to allow subscribers to surf the Web on their televisions.
Amedia went on to say that service providers can also deliver through the Amedia gateway proprietary or third-party software programs and networking capabilities to subscribers, such as in-home messaging, remote home monitoring, a virtual family calendar, personalized family firewall, and much more.
Sling prepares to stream IP video to TVs
Sling Media announced its SlingCatcher, a new device that goes way beyond place-shifting.
Bundled with every SlingCatcher will be the Sling Projector, an application that allows consumers to wirelessly direct any Web site or digital audio/video format onto their TVs, including IPTV content.
The new SlingPlayer for TV application built into the SlingCatcher is a de facto home networking device. It allows viewers to move TV content around the home or access content from the home remotely via a TV.
The SlingCatcher also has the ability to download or stream content directly from the Internet and display it on a TV without the need for a PC to serve that content. Sling said it is now discussing partnership opportunities with both large and small content owners to create and deliver their offerings directly to the TV via the SlingCatcher.
SlingCatcher will be available by the middle of this year. Sling Media expects it to be priced under $200.
Digeo joins over-the-top parade
Also at CES, Digeo Inc. previewed two "next-generation" Moxi-based HD Media Recorder (DMR) prototypes that are due out in the second half of the year. Both feature the Moxi interface, an integrated CD/DVD player, digital video recording (with Web-based scheduling), and the ability to stream content from the PC to the TV.
Moxi player will stream video to the TV
One version, the Moxi Multi-room HD DMR, will support a slot to house the multistream CableCARD ("M-Card"), a removable module that incorporates the cable operator's conditional access system. The two-way M-Card will handle advanced DVR features such as watch and record.
The second prototype, the Moxi Home Cinema Edition HD DMR, is based on Linux and designed for "home theater enthusiasts."
TiVo signs content deal with Music Choice
TiVo has found some content to deliver on its own, agreeing to distribute Music Choice's catalog of music videos and original programming. The service will be available later this year to TiVo subscribers with broadband connected TiVo Series2 and Series3 boxes.
Comedycentral.com adds to Web program line-up
And as an indictor of how popular Web-based programming is becoming, Comedy Central, encouraged by the success of its current Web-only programs, has scheduled 11 new original broadband shows, boosting its line-up to more than 25.
Among the new broadband shows launching is "Racist Travel Agents," a live-action show which stars "the world's most upbeat and excited team of married travel experts, Dixie and Dante Whiskers (Arden Myrin and Michael Hitchcock), who also happen to be unbelievably racist," and "Guacamole," a comedy about a tub of guacamole and his best friend, a can of minestrone soup.
We can hardly contain ourselves. Get it? A tub and a can are both…? Containers? Yes! These are the jokes, people.
All-in-one VoIP/SIP tester offered
Hermon Laboratories announced its new solutions for VoIP and SIP conformance testing. Both solutions are available as optional add-ons to Hermon Labs' TCA 8200 Telecom Conformance Analyzer, and the SIP solution is also available as a standalone software application.
The TCA 8200 covers analog PSTN (including telephone acoustic testing); xDSL; E1; T1; ISDN PRI and PRI L2 /3. Applications for the TCA 8200 include pre-compliance, compliance, development and production testing.
Vonage, EarthLink air out Wi-Fi deal
Vonage said it will offer Wi-Fi access to its VoIP service in select U.S. cities after inking a three-year deal with EarthLink. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Vonage will buy Internet access from EarthLink on a wholesale basis, where EarthLink will build, own and operate municipal Wi-Fi networks. Vonage will offer the resulting wireless service under its own brand.
Later this year, Vonage said it plans to introduce new hardware to support the partnership with EarthLink, including a wireless modem unit. Later on, Vonage plans to offer a Wi-Fi phone, as well.
Presently, EarthLink has Wi-Fi contracts in Philadelphia, Pa.; Anaheim and Milpitas, Calif.; and New Orleans.
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J:COM to bond with 160 Mbps Internet service
J:COM, the largest cable MSO in Japan, will use pre-DOCSIS 3.0 channel bonding techniques to deliver Internet service that offers downstream speeds up 160 Mbps, and upstream speeds at 10 Mbps, beginning in April 2007, for ¥6,000 (approximately $50.50) a month.
The faster, DOCSIS-based offering for individual homes complements the MSO's "JCOM.NET Hikari" offering, which delivers symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps to multi-dwelling unit (MDU) customers. Rather than leveraging DOCSIS and the traditional HFC network, the Hikari service is fed to MDUs via fiber. Once inside the MDU, the service then taps into the existing coax by leveraging a network system and modem/gateway powered by silicon from Entropic Communications, one of the founding members of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance. J:COM launched the Hikari MDU service in August 2005.
Nokia signs on to support Sprint's Mobile WiMAX network
Nokia has been invited to Sprint Nextel's 4G WiMAX party, joining an exclusive guest list that also includes Intel, Samsung and Motorola.
Sprint Nextel plans to build a high-speed wireless access network based on Mobile WiMAX (IEEE802.16e-2005) technology. The company expects to have the first part of its network operational by the end of 2007, and to create coverage encompassing nearly 100 million people by the end of 2008. The existence of the network would naturally be of benefit to Sprint Nextel's cable partners.
WiMAX base station
Nokia will be a strategic partner in the endeavor, involved in a number of ways. Nokia will supply WiMAX network infrastructure equipment, including its Flexi WiMAX base transceiver stations.
Nokia has pledged to develop Mobile WiMAX-enabled mobile devices, including multimedia computers and Internet tablets. Part of the deal is to have enough of the devices ready and available once Sprint Nextel's network becomes operational. The company is also on tap to collaborate on the development of mobility services and applications.
Nokia will also be involved in co-marketing to drive market development and support global adoption to help establish worldwide roaming.
Sprint Nextel expects to invest up to $800 million in 2007 and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in 2008 on its 4G WiMAX mobile broadband network and support systems. Sprint Nextel's goal is to have a broad range of mobile WiMAX-enabled chipsets and modules and an array of portable data, multimedia and consumer electronics devices available from multiple vendors which work seamlessly among Sprint's network offerings.
"Sprint Nextel is forming a world class ecosystem around mobile WiMAX technology to deliver unprecedented mobile broadband services to customers," said Barry West, Sprint Nextel president, 4G Mobile Broadband. "A company of Nokia's global stature fortifies the foundation of Sprint's mobility vision and will help make Sprint's WiMAX multimedia services pervasive and indispensable for customers."