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Will wireless STBs take off?

Posted: 30 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital home? wireless STB? Wi-Fi? UWB?

Wireless is set to invade cable TV STB. But which wireless and when is still not clear.

In the past, cable TV companiesand their STB partnershave generally said they did not want to support wireless directly because it is not secure and robust enough to carry their premium content. In their view, video rides coax and wireless is only for a secondary data network.

But that appears to be changing, according to one cable executive.

"Our signal will still come into the home via coax, but if you want video out on the patio or into the garage we will be able to provide a wireless link," said Vince Groff, executive director of strategy and corporate development for Cox Communications.

Cox is developing a digital home architecture to drive its future offerings. It could be defined by early next year, and will likely embrace multiple home network technologies, probably including Multimedia over Coax and some form of Wi-Fi.

"I don't think there will be any one technology that wins" in home networking, said Groff, speaking in a break after a panel discussion on wireless home networks at the Connections conference.

Don't expect wireless in set-tops coming out in the next 12 months. But the new architecture Cox is defining now may drive wireless into set-tops perhaps two years out, he added.

TVs go wireless
Wireless is already making its way into TVs. Kelly Davis-Felner, a marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance said on the Connections panel that multiple top-tier consumer companies are shipping TVs with Wi-Fi.

Westinghouse will ship an HDTV within 90 days using UWB chips from Pulse-Link that now support HDMI and the HDCP copy protection technology, added Bruce Watkins, president of Pulse-Link, also speaking on the panel.

Another panel member, John LeMoncheck, president of startup SiBeam, said Panasonic would ship a TV using his company's 60GHz technology in time to watch the next Super Bowl.

Groff of Cox said he doesn't believe cable providers will need the support for uncompressed video SiBeam promises with its technology that will deliver up to 4Gbit/s. He expects Wi-Fi will have a play in video delivery in the digital home.

Loir Weiss, VP of marketing for startup Celano, said his company's modified 802.11 chip will be able to deliver as many as four high-definition (HD) video streams up to 120 feet even passing through multiple walls. It is a modified baseband for access points that can work with any Wi-Fi client, and should be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance soon, he added.

"I want to support as many as five HD streams, plus one or more SD streams and VoIP," said Groff. "So we are looking at needing 400- to 500Mbit/s with quality of service," he added.

Wireless face-off
It's too early to tell which wireless technologies will come out ahead in the race to deliver high quality video within a room. "There isn't one major OEM that is not evaluating all our technologies," said Watkins, indicating panel members with UWB, Wi-Fi and 60GHz approaches.

"When I wrote the business plan for Pulse-Link in 2002, no one in this room was using Wi-Fi," Watkins added. "At the time all the big companies were talking about HomeRF in the United States and HiperLAN in Europe," he said referring to two approaches than have since faded into history.

What is clear is that more and more players want high quality wireless connections between LCD TV displays and surrounding components such as tuners and Blu-ray drives. "The two-box TV set is coming back in fashion so you can hang a 25kg screen on the wall," said LeMoncheck.

He was skeptical, however, about Web-enabled TVs. "Data and Internet are for high end models to get people to pay more for features they never turn on," he said.

In the panel, Sigma Designs described its CoAir chip, unveiled June 24 that uses the WiMedia Alliance's version of UWB for wireless as well as UWB over coax and Ethernet. John Santhoff, co-founder of Pulse-Link said he evaluated but rejected the WiMedia standard because its use of OFDM modulation is not ideal for UWB.

Wi-Fi and 60GHz radios also have their weaknesses, Santhoff added. Wi-Fi is inherently a collision-based technology, ruling out the possibility of bandwidth reservation for guaranteed quality of service. The 60GHz radios will be expensive, he added, because they require as many as 36 antenna elements and their associated signal chain elements.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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