Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Verizon Hones Home Networking...One Step at a Time

Verizon announced yesterday that it is introducing the Home Media DVR (Light Reading - Broadband - Verizon Hones Home Networking - Telecom News Analysis) that allows users to listen to music and look at pictures while sitting on their couches.  It retrieves music and videos from networked PC and play them on connected devices.  The DVR allows multi-room capability, so shows recorded on it can be played on TV in the kid's room or master bedroom.  A later version of the software will allow videos stored on the PC to be played on the DVR. 

Finally some competition inside the home allowing networking of TV and other entertainment appliances.  Surprising that it comes from Verizon—competition works.  It is not surprising that they want to charge $20 per month for the DVR and an additional $4 per month for each additional set-top box networked to it.  I am unclear whether this is a charge for rent of an additional set-top box or just the ability to stream video from it.  What is noticeably missing is the ability to play videos recorded on the box on PC in the home.  My wife and I watch DVD from our notebook computers.  I assume that they will roll out this feature once switching to the IPTV platform with Microsoft's DRM software.

Comcast came out with a glib response stating, “It’s just something we choose not to do at this time.” Chose not to do or could not do?  I am curious how Comcast believes they are going to do this.  Verizon uses MOCA for networking their boxes over coax, but Comcast isn't using MOCA in its homes.  I have a dual tuner HD DVR from Motorola equipped with Ethernet, USB, and PC Card ports, but it cannot communicate with anything except the head-end.  I would like to use the Ethernet connection to connect the DVR to my home network, but it is inactive.  The only way that Comcast could offer this capability is to do it the same way that Verizon is doing it—with MOCA.  Hopefully Comcast chooses to do it soon with a better set of capabilities at a better price than Verizon.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Samsung A900: Toy or Tool?

My old Sanyo 8100 from Sprint finally gave out.  I could not charge the battery no matter how long I left it charging.  Since my contract was up with Sprint, I had some leverage to purchase a new phone.  I won't regale readers with the trials and tribulations I had with Sprint over this issue, but I am happy with the result.

My choice was the Samsung MM-A900.  I have heard it referred as a RAZR knock off, but it is so much better than the RAZR.  This Bluetooth enabled device has many of the feature that will allow me to replace my PDA.  My first phone choice would have been the Treo 700p, but I could not see paying $400 for it.  The phone does about everything besides phone calls like playing games, music, streaming music and video, SMS messaging, and Internet access via EV-DO.  The phone is Java-based so I can download third-party Java applications without paying Sprint, Samsung, or Qualcomm.

The best thing about it is that I can send my contacts, appointments, music, pictures, and programs to it via Bluetooth.  The transfer is simple and painless.  I wish it had more than 50 MB of memory, but it has not been a limit so far.  Samsung and Sprint loaded it with some useful applications, USB cable, charger, and stereo headset.  The audio quality is very good, and streaming video looks well on the modest size screen.  The picture above was taken with the 1.3 Mpixel camera during a sudden Boulder down pour.  About the only thing I would change on it would be the ability to adjust the font size in text messages and turn off delete prompts (i.e. expert mode).  Samsung hit a home run with this phone that I am sure that I will enjoy for many years.

Taking A Break

I'm going to take a break for the rest of the week to visit my parents in Iowa. I may post an occasional note from the road when something interesting comes along.

This picture was taken at the Boulder County Fair with Madisen. Although she is usually a dare-devil, she was afraid of the ponies. She enjoyed the petting zoo much more.

Getting the IPTV Jitters

AT&T U-verse set-top box Apparently AT&T is having some problems rolling out its U-verse IPTV service (Light Reading - Video - AT&T Still Has IPTV 'Jitters' - Telecom News Analysis).  They are experience a loss of a couple of IP packets every minute which manifests itself as a short screen freeze or some pixelation.  It is not surprising that they are experiencing such problems with new technology comprised of a very complex delivery mechanism. 

Microsoft, their IPTV middleware provider, suggests modifying the UDP protocol that includes a resend mechanism if the set-top box detects a missing packet.  Won't that make UDP like TCP?  It seems that this non-standard workaround will not solve the problem unless signals are delayed even more than the quarter second that they are today.  If multiple requests for a resend are sent back to the headend at the same time, then this flood of traffic may create even more congestion problems.

The solution that AT&T engineers are pursuing seems a bit more pragmatic.  They are adding forward error correction (FEC) near the encoders to repair the damaged packets.  Whatever solution is chosen, the question remains as to the scalability of IPTV in large deployments.  End-to-end error free transmission through many network elements must be ensured for a high-quality picture to come through.

There is no doubt that the industry will figure out a solution, but implementing a solution in this multi-vendor environment will take some time.  Scaling IPTV nationwide is a very challenging engineering feat similar to the roll-out of nationwide long distance phone service.

Microsoft Offers Software to Simplify Blogging

The latest beta version Microsoft Live Writer was released today according to CNET's News.com.  Writer is suppose to simplify the sport of blogging for those that are not familiar with HTML coding.  I have been reluctant to download Vista or the new version of Office for fear of trashing out my mobile office.  I was less reluctant to download Writer.

After a quick download and install, I found that the software is very simple to use.  The interface is intuitive for web experts and novices.  I created this article using Writer in just a couple of minutes without the typical HTML tweaking that I have to do once posted to Blogspot.  Inserting links just as easy as in Word or FrontPage. 

Why would you use Write over Word, FrontPage, or a web application?  Because it is a simple application that hides the complexity of blogging for the typical blogger.  Its WYSIWYG editor lets you see what the post will look like before posting it.  Inserting links, pictures, and maps is a breeze.  Changing the layout does not require an HTML expert either. 

Let's hope that Microsoft keeps this tool free to drive people to their Live Spaces service.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Vonages Woes Are to Be Expected

I do not know why anyone is surprised at Vonage’s financial and stock performance.  They are trapped crossing the chasm.  Vonage was an innovator in the industry introducing VoIP to the masses.  They successfully transformed their customer base from early adopters to mainstream by making the service simple conceptually and operationally.  They chose the path to expand their customer base by attracting the mass market instead of continuing to introduce new services that may attract business customers—that was not their market.

Like any maturing technology, incumbent phone providers began to see their market share slowly decrease and new providers like cable companies found it easy to enter the market.  Now the innovators had real competition.  Incumbent telcos faced the innovator’s dilemma because they were hesitant to cannibalize their POTS revenue, but cable companies jumped on VoIP as a way to increase ARPU.  Time Warner and Cablevision’s bundling of voice video and data gives them an eight point market share lead over Vonage for residential customers according to Infonetics Research.  This lead will only increase with offers like Comcast’s $99 per month triple-play bundle.  Vonage is failing to articulate its strategy for the future past the short-term explanation in the prospectus is why real investors are hesitant to invest in them.

Vonage’s stock price lag is a result of spending 50% of their budget to acquire new customers and lack of innovation driving a business plan to counter the cablecos successful bundling strategy.  What are they to do to survive?  Embrace wireless.  Voice over Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies offer a way to reduce churn and bring on more customers.  Vonage should partner with leading Wi-Fi service providers to offer a package allowing their customers to receive and place calls through public and private Wi-Fi networks.  A good place to start would be with T-Mobile.  Leveraging T-Mobile’s hot-spots with Vonage’s residential service will expand T-Mobile’s presence into the home and Vonage out of the home.  There is even a SMB play here too.  T-Mobile benefits from increased coverage until it can purchase more spectrum, and Vonage ads value creating a seamless voice service.  

Their feeble entree into Wi-Fi with the UTStarcom phone is just the first step in what must be a grander strategy for their survival.  Without the ability to guarantee call quality, offer more than just voice service, or mobility, Vonage has no future.  Investors realize this fact.  Consumers are increasingly moving to integrated communication providers to simplify the use of communications technology.  Vonage or any other stand-alone VoIP provider does not offer enough value to residential subscribers to be a long-term viable business concern.  They need to tie their exit strategy to mobility services and a larger carrier or face obscurity.

Tag: VoIP, Vonage (VG), T-Mobile (DT)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Poor VoIP Service Invalidates Net Neutrality Theory

In principle you know that I support net neutrality but not how it is typically defined by the Internet digerati.  Last week Brix Networks came out with a press release summarizing the results of over one million VoIP test calls made by people that use their TestYourVoIP.com site.  I for one contributed over a hundred tests.  Almost 20% of all tests indicated a call of unacceptable voice quality and that trend is increasing.  This problem will only become acerbated as $120 billion is spent worldwide, according to Infonetics, on VoIP services from 2005 to 2009.

Late packet discards, lost packets, and round-trip latency are the culprits caused by congestion going through switches and routers in the network.  So here we have a true case of degraded service without a tiered Internet.  Oh my God, Molly Wood better call the FCC and her Senator.  The principal of net neutrality is the reason that VoIP services from Vonage, SunRocket, telcos, and cablecos are experiencing low mean opinion scores.  Real-time services like VoIP need to travel through the network in a deterministic fashion quickly.

Net neutrality wags would have you believe that throwing more bandwidth will solve the problem—not true.  Bottlenecks exist all through the network.  Theoretically adding bandwidth would solve the problem if it was done ubiquitously.  Practically it cannot be done ubiquitously and the problem will be solved until that bandwidth is consumed.  Packet prioritization (a.k.a. tiering) solves the problem despite the bandwidth condition and carrier.  This is the only way in which real-time service can be guaranteed to be of sufficient quality.

Let’s say that net neutrality legislation passes.  After MoveOn.org and the ACLU celebrates their victory, companies like Vonage and SunRocket will continue to see the quality of their service decrease while the telecos and cablecos move their service from their Internet access to dedicated bandwidth.  Vonage currently leads the market with a 27% share for residential services according to Infonetics, but the cablecos are catching up.  With net neutrality legislation, the cablecos can move their VoIP service to dedicated bandwidth on their plant and let Vonage rot.  This is the true tiered Internet.  They along with the RBOC will inherit that 27% market share driving these service providers out of business.  So the legislation that the telcos fought so hard to defeat can actually help them in the long run.  Bottom line:  they win either way.  This is the law of unintended consequences.

The only answer is let the Internet be without government intervention.  Innovation will continue and alternatives to the status quo will emerge.  

Disclaimer:  I am not supported by the cable or telco industry in any way although I would not mind some support, but it will not change my opinion on competition or net neutrality.  If you have a project where my talent could be utilized, please feel free to contact me.

Tag: VoIP, Brix Networks, Vonage, SunRocket