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Wednesday, 30 July 2008 14:42

Coming soon: wireless technologies for the high bandwidth home

Options for transferring multimedia content around the home of the future are proliferating rapidly and Australia's NICTA is hoping its technology will find a lucrative niche.
The need for such technologies is being driven in part by the increasing availability of online video content, Commenting on the launch of ABC TV's iView service last week Kursten Liens, strategic marketing manger for Ericsson Australia, said "The ABC should be applauded for bringing the benefits of these new telecom technologies to the wider market." But he added. "The challenge remains today for viewers to connect their PCs to their television, whilst at the same time ensuring a broadband connection is maintained. Today, most people don't have a broadband connection and a PC sitting next to their television."

Providing that connectivity is a market that is being tackled by a number of competing and complimentary technologies. Last week Amimon, Hitachi, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp and Sony announced the formation of a special interest group to "develop a comprehensive new industry standard for multi-room audio, video and control connectivity utilising Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) technology." They intend to complete the new standard in 2008 "to ensure that CE devices manufactured by different vendors will simply and directly connect to one another."

The group aims to enhance the current WHDI technology to enable wireless streaming of uncompressed HD video and audio between devices such as LCD and plasma HDTVs, multimedia projectors, A/V receivers, DVD and Blu-Ray disc players, set-top boxes, game consoles, and PCs.

However if you believe Ruckus Wireless, there is no need for this technology. Just days after the WHDI announcement, it announced the immediate availability of its new MediaFlex 7000 series, billing it as "the first commercial 802.11n system specifically developed for operators to distribute multiple streams of high-definition IPTV content throughout a subscriber's home without costly and time-consuming cable installation." And it named Belgian telco, Belgacom as one of the its first service provider customers.

Belgacom has selected the MediaFlex 7000 for its Belgacom TV service, "one of the most successful IPTV services with over 390,000 subscribers throughout Belgium," according to Ruckus Wireless. Ruckus claims that "The 7000 beat out competitive 802.11n products in a series of stringent lab and home trials conducted by Belgacom, including a test to deliver 20 hours of non-stop HD IPTV streams at 20Mbps aggregate, to six different locations throughout a simulated home environment with injected interference, without dropping a single packet."

Impressive. But according to WHDI developer Amimon, the 802.11n less than ideal for this purpose. "Traditional wireless video approaches have failed to provide an adequate solution to the problem of wireless HDTV connectivity because they treat the problem as a special case of data delivery. In a wireless data modem (e.g. 802.11n, MBOA-UWB) all bits are treated equally '• they all get the same level of protection from channel impairments. However, in video, different bits have different level of importance and the effect of an error greatly depends on which bit was corrupted."

Then there is broadband over powerline. iTWire reported recently  the head of leading BPL chipset maker, DS2 complaining that broadband services into the home would have insufficient bandwidth to meet his technology's ability to distribute multiple high bandwidth data streams around the home at 400Mbps. However BPL's critics claim that, because it uses the same frequencies as ADSL, interference will be a problem for BPL.

And there are yet more technologies in the pipeline. Commenting on the formation of the WHDI special interest group technology research firm, ABI Research noted that two of its members, Sony and Samsung are promoters of the other wireless video group called WirelessHD. "The WirelessHD consortium is based on SiBeam's 60GHz technology which is nearly ready for prime time, but hasn't quite made it to market yet," ABI said noting that Amimon is already shipping its 5GHz-based video modem technology to several customers.

The WirelessHD group was formed in October 2006 by Intel G, Matsushita (Panasonic), NEC, Samsung, SiBeam, Sony and Toshiba. It released its first specification in January 2008 by which time membership had grown to include 40 early adopter and promoter companies. The group claimed that the technology would enable throughput at up to 4Gbps and said it represented "the first consumer application of 60GHz technology" and would be "suitable for a wide range of devices including televisions, HD disc players, set-top boxes, camcorders, gaming consoles, adapter products, as well as other source devices."

ABI Research thinks that all these technologies, and others "are settling into more or less clearly defined roles, and will by and large coexist and complement each other rather than competing." According to senior analyst Douglas McEuen, "Each of these technologies has a sweet spot or specialty." He continues: "Bluetooth will be the driving technology in the PAN (personal area network) and may see some success in remote controls, especially for gaming. Wi-Fi will be the key technology for wireless LAN (local area network). UWB and 60GHz respectively will be specialised for home office peripherals, and for wireless HDMI (uncompressed video sent from a set-top box to a high-definition TV)."

And hoping for a significant slice of this nascent market is an Australian technology: the 60GHz short range wireless technology developed by NICTA . Project leader Stan Skafidas admits that competition with the 5GHz technology and between different 60GHz technologies will be tough, but says NICTA's technology has an edge, particularly over the 5GHz technology which he claims will not easily scale to higher bandwidths.

"The way they are doing that is by encoding the data they are transmitting and you want to increase that data rate it is a non trivial exercise It will be very difficult for that 5gig standard to grow with growing capabilities of other technologies in the multimedia space...People are already talking about HDTV at 2048 x 2048 pixels.

5GHz has much better penetration through walls than 60GHz which he says will be more of an in-room technology. "One of the major applications [of 60GHz] will be to provide wireless HDMI to get rid of that rats nest of cables behind your plasma TV screen, Blu-ray player etc," Also, he added: "Whenever you connect a lot of systems today because of the multiplicity of standards and connections under some circumstance you can get a loss of sync between picture and sound and other bits of information.

"It will provide the end user with a much better multimedia experience. Everything will work together. It is essentially about making it easier to connect all your consumer electronics together." However, he suggested that the 60GHz technology could be deployed to provide coverage throughout a home using multiple units in a mesh network.

Skafidas described the whole market as being "a very competitive space and a very tough space, and Sibeam the company behind the WirelessHD 60GHz technology as "a good company with a really good solution, but saying that the NICTA technology which is implemented in CMOS on a single chip "will be easier to integrate, to build a product and to deploy." He added that developing the technology had been "the easy part," said the major challenge would be "to commercialise this technology and to make a business out of it."

Despite all this activity, Ericsson Leins for one does not expect rapid uptake. "Given that TVs are not replaced every 12 months (unlike a mobile phone), the integration of these features and functionality into mainstream consumer electronics will take years. DLNA (www.dlna.org) is another such initiative that will allow digital content sharing within the home, but again it will be years before products are on the market, let alone commonly adopted by the majority of households."


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