Archives For Broadband

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…

simpletv

Simple.TV is the retail DVR you wanted five years ago. And yet it’s still interesting enough to make my personal list of top product announcements coming out of CES 2012. Why? Because it’s a truly viable, inexpensive way to add digital video recording to your TV set-up without cable’s help. Maybe you remember the Replay TV? Or even those precious few DVD players available around 2004/2005 that imported guide data and sported DVR functions? The Simple.TV box does the same, but with a few twists.

Briefly described, Simple.TV is a bring-your-own-hard-drive DVR that slings over-the-air (OTA) and clear QAM cable content to various mobile devices and media extenders — sort of a sexier, evolved HDHomeRun… albeit, with  fewer tuners. Simple.TV doesn’t directly attach to your TV, but if you want to DVR stuff on the flat screen, you can always access the box via apps on your Roku, Boxee Box, Windows Media Center or Google TV device. The Simple.TV transcodes content to MPEG-4 with variable bit-rate streaming, and it makes any video, live or recorded, available through one of the company’s apps. CNET got a hands-on with the device, and found the iPad app in particular to be pretty slick.

Perhaps the best thing about Simple.TV is the price. The cost for the box is $149, and you can add on unlimited remote streaming for up to five users, as well as richer guide data and automatic recording for $4.99 a month via their Premiere Service. If you have cable TV service, you can connect the Simple.TV box to the coax along with your broadband connection. Or if you don’t, you can catch those over-the-air signals.

The cable DVR solution is certainly the simplest option for consumers out there, but for die-hard cord-nevers (like some of my neighbors), and college students or recent grads who don’t have the cash for a pay-TV subscription or premium-tier extras, Simple.TV is a cool DVR alternative. And it’s been a while since we’ve had an inexpensive one of those.

As we roll inevitably toward another Consumer Electronics Show, it’s instructive to look back at what made headlines only a year ago. Some of the products announced then have come and gone. Others are still waiting in the wings for a launch date. Here are five stories we covered at CES 2011 with a look at what’s changed in the 12 months since.

The nPower PEG was one of the coolest green gizmos demoed at CES last year. The Personal Energy Generator stores your kinetic energy and lets you use it as back-up power for your mobile gadgets. According to reps at CES, one minute of walking time could translate into one minute of listening time on an iPod Nano. Unfortunately, while the PEG was on back-order last January, it’s still only in available in limited quantities today. According to the website, “Each week – as we assemble nPower® PEG units in our Cleveland, OH facility – we contact individuals on this reservation list to let them know that their PEG is ready.” That hardly sounds like a model built to scale.

Both Dave and I fell in love with the Yahoo Connected TV platform over successive years at CES. However, I was well aware last January when watching a demo of Yahoo’s latest technology that the company was unlikely to live up to its television potential. Too many promises; too few deployments.  Today, after much delay, the Yahoo Connected TV Store is finally available to consumers on Sony and Toshiba TVs. According to Yahoo’s blog post on November 2nd, the platform offers premium paid TV apps in addition to 180+ free apps, and Yahoo expects to its TV Store to reach “millions of TVs in the coming months.” Call me skeptical, but isn’t everyone and their mother offering connected TV apps now? Perhaps Yahoo can make things work with the help of its broadcast interactivity tech, but given competition from the likes of Shazam and Invidi, there’s a tough road ahead.  Continue Reading…

Reuters dropped a veritable bombshell yesterday when it reported that Verizon has plans to launch a streaming service in 2012 to compete with Netflix. It wasn’t a bombshell because Verizon’s never talked about this before. After all, we got an inkling of the operator’s plans at CES last January. It was a bombshell because the report follows last week’s announcement of a major spectrum deal between the telco and its cable competitors. The combination of news has many speculating about what Verizon plans to do with its FiOS TV service, and all that fiber it’s got in the ground.

First off, here are some of the facts. Reuters says Verizon is currently in talks with prospective programming partners about a new standalone video service. The service would not be tied to FiOS TV, and it would be made available outside of existing FiOS markets. Sources for Reuters say content for the service would be limited, possibly focused on movie packages and/or children’s programming.

Assuming Reuters’ information is accurate, what we don’t know yet is how a new streaming service would fit into Verizon’s overall video and broadband strategy. Some are suggesting that Verizon is giving up on its wireline infrastructure in order to focus on wireless. After all, why not ride someone else’s pipes for video, and dedicate valuable internal resources on developing the company’s newly acquired spectrum? The problem with that theory is that Verizon’s wireline infrastructure – aka its fiber-to-the-home network – is a huge competitive advantage. Not only has it allowed the telco to sign up 5 million FiOS TV subscribers, it’s also given Verizon a huge leg up on cable with Internet delivery.

Going forward, I believe Verizon will use its proposed on-demand streaming service as a way to gain incremental revenue and fill the gaps where it can’t reach subscribers with its FiOS TV offering. It seems likely that the operator will market the new service with its wireless packages, possibly offering discounts for a different kind of bundle when consumers are willing to sign up for both cell phone coverage and streaming content. I believe the new service will buy Verizon new customers and a new revenue stream, but that it won’t negate the value of the company’s wireline assets. Instead, it will give Verizon time to sort out when it should invest in further fiber deployments, ultimately extending the footprint for its full FiOS TV and Internet service.

When it comes down to it, Verizon’s fiber network is the ace up its sleeve. All that bandwidth means better control over video quality, and it means more capacity for consumers who want to download and upload lots and lots of stuff on the Internet. Wireless networks are great, but they have their limitations. Verizon can focus on 4G rollouts now, but that doesn’t mean it should or will abandon any fiber plans for the future. There are too many advantages that come with Verizon’s network in the ground.