Archives For Broadband

Nest vs Comcast smart thermostat

The tech world went a little crazy when the Nest thermostat launched. However, we haven’t seen quite the same level of excitement for the home automation services making their way to market from the cable and telco providers. And those services are growing by the day. Comcast has launched Xfinity Home to about one third of its customers, and plans to cover almost its entire footprint by the end of the year. Time Warner Cable also said in a recent earnings report that it plans to extend its home automation service to more markets in 2012. And Verizon is quite likely to do the same, having debuted its home control service back in October.

Of course, the MSOs are offering something quite a bit different from Nest. The full Xfinity Home package, for example, includes thermostat control, home security, door and window sensors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, lighting control and a glass-break sensor. Nest is just a smart thermostat. But the beauty of Nest is that it offers something simple, and you only have to buy it once – no subscription fee required.

The operators are betting big that home automation will give them another value-added service to keep margins up and avoid the dumb pipe scenario. However, I have to wonder if subscribers are willing to fatten up the cable/telco monthly bill even more. Home security is its own business, and perhaps the operators can chip away at ADT’s market share. But adding on a regular fee for thermostat or lighting control strikes me as a hard sell. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is like the DVR, and only when the cable/telco industry jumps on board will the market really take off. But personally, if I decide to spent money on temperature control, I’ll pick up the Nest device. It sure is prettier.  Continue Reading…

roku-2-versus-xds-appletv

VentureBeat’s run a rather provocative headline that declares “Roku is kicking the cable industry’s butt.” Yet, it’s not exactly clear how they could be.

First thing first, we’re big fans of Roku. In fact, we were amongst the very first to purchase their original Netflix streamer, currently own several modern boxes, and named the $50 Roku LT as “a box of the year” in 2011. Yet, even with all that love, we just don’t see any way that Roku could be kicking cable’s butt.

In terms of numbers, Roku has moved about 2.5 million boxes. That represents one time sales and a small but growing recurring revenue share. Beyond that, Roku isn’t actually profitable. Meaning they spend more money than they ingest. Compared to say a Comcast. Yeah, they may have lost 19,000 cable customers last quarter but that still leaves them will more than 22 million households… who pay them each and every month for premium television services. Continue Reading…

Comcast-TiVo

Comcast’s long standing relationship with TiVo is nearly ready to bear fruit in the form of On Demand integration. Joint customers of the companies will receive Xfinity On Demand access via retail TiVo Premiere DVR hardware. During TiVo’s quarterly call, CEO Tom Rogers indicated field trials are underway and that public deployment to the San Francisco Bay Area “is weeks not months away.”

This collaboration looks quite different than their initial partnership, which resulted in TiVo software running on Motorola hardware to be marketed and deployed by Comcast. Unfortunately, the product wasn’t well received and was never deployed further than New England. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? Rogers:

We started down one path and from a technical point of view completed it successfully, and they had difficulty rolling it out from an operational point of view. But we got back together and said, what would be a way that gets a product out that does not have those kind of operational difficulties

Indeed, the new solution is operationally distinct and something Rogers characterizes as a “hybrid” approach… Continue Reading…

Aereo logo and antenna array

Fox network creator Barry Diller introduced a new over-the-top video service yesterday called Aereo. Many are already calling it dead in the water, but there are several reasons I’m more optimistic about Aereo than competitive OTT services launched in recent years.

To take a step back, Aereo is offering a service that delivers broadcast TV stations over IP and bundles them with a DVR. Stations are available on iOS and Roku devices, with Android, PC and Mac browser support scheduled to kick in by mid-March. The service is $12 a month, and is currently invitation-only in New York. Aereo will open up to the public in NYC on March 14th.

In order to be successful, Aereo will have to deliver stellar quality of service. These are free broadcast TV channels after all, which means people can use their own antennas to get the same content at no cost. However, in addition to the DVR add-on (which is pretty compelling in itself for today’s non-cable households), Aereo promises decent picture quality – no need to futz with antenna positioning or manipulate around dead zones. That’s a potential combination of DVR, picture quality and convenience. Not bad.

In addition, I think Aereo’s got a few other things going for it:  Continue Reading…

Both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have announced TV Everywhere updates with promises to bring live streaming to more devices. Beyond iPads, the new platforms they plan to support include laptops, game consoles and select smart TVs.

While I’m all for any extra features the cablecos want to throw at us, an expanded ecosystem of supported devices isn’t top on my list. In Time Warner’s case, how about making more content available? Or for any of the MSOs, how about extending streaming outside the house? Cablevision has hinted that it’s working on opening up the geographic boundaries for its app, but there’s no concrete word on when that might happen. And given the heated retransmission battles that continue elsewhere, I have to wonder if this particular streaming fight with content owners will get solved outside of court.

Meanwhile, I’m also curious to know how much demand there is for live mobile streaming. If I want to place-shift my TV, it’s usually to get access to on-demand shows. Or if there is a live event I want to hit, it’s usually coming from ESPN. (Gotta love WatchNow) Perhaps this isn’t a battle cable companies should even be fighting? How much do we need live TV on the go?

Thought municipal wireless was dead? Yeah, me too. But apparently that’s not the case. The city of Wilmington North Carolina is  launching the world’s first white spaces wireless network today built on spectrum available between broadcast TV frequencies already in use. The technology enables Wi-Fi connectivity in public spots around Wilmington, and, after today’s launch, that Wi-Fi access will be available for free to local users. Don’t get too jealous, though. Speeds are set to max out between one and two megabits per second.

The fact that the new Wilmington network is coming online for free is partly a result of broadband regulatory battles. White spaces technology is still hotly contested because of concerns around signal interference, and differing opinions surrounding how spectrum should be allocated. By remaining a non-commercial endeavor, however, the Wilmington initiative is able to avoid some of that white spaces controversy. The freebie network also keeps Wilmington well clear of other North Carolina legislation passed last year restricting community broadband efforts.

Does the Wilmington launch mean new life ahead for municipal wireless? I wouldn’t bet on it. Given the state of the economy, and lack of commercial incentive, it’s hard to see too many of these efforts getting off the ground any time soon. However, the Wilmington network could signal new life for white spaces broadband in general. Depending on how well the network performs, others might start to see white spaces as a viable broadband access alternative. Certainly the technology has some high-profile backers. Microsoft is pushing new innovations in white spaces and hoping to persuade regulators that it should be authorized for broader use. With a little real-world success and corporate cash, white spaces might just have a future ahead.

It’s all about wireless. We’ve got 4G nearly everywhere, mobile broadband in cars, and Wi-Fi hotspots out the wazoo. The cable companies are in bed with Verizon to get their wireless share, and Verizon is sucking up spectrum like a giant Bissell vacuum cleaner. Who needs that wired stuff after all?

It’s a wireless fun fest today, but I predict within 18 months (that’s a totally arbitrary guess- could be a year, could be two years) that the love affair with wireless will have entered a new and cynical phase. Not only that, but we’ll see renewed interest in wired broadband investments. Here’s why.

1. Data caps on mobile broadband are only going to get worse. Today I keep wi-fi off on my 4G phone because mobile broadband almost always performs better than whatever public wi-fi hotspot I find myself in. However, I’m grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan. When that unlimited deal goes away, my 4G access is going to be a lot less useful.

2. Wi-Fi hotspots kinda stink. By and large this is true, and as we expect to be able to do more online, the quality of public wi-fi is going to become more and more of an issue. At the same time, there’s going to be a bigger strain on these hotspots as more people try to offload from their mobile broadband connections.

3. More cool broadband stuff is coming. Between more video coming online and experiments with 1Gbps connections, we’re going to continue to have more incentive to use more data. For a quality experience, we’ll resort to the tried-and-true broadband connections we can get at home and work. Which means, those home and work connections are once again going to grow in importance.

There’s a lot of investment going on in consumer wireless broadband today, but the pendulum should swing back the other way once some of the inevitable wireless disillusionment takes hold. Continue Reading…