Denham leads by Broadband example

Another UK local community is setting up their own wireless network – and hats off to them.

96 households in Denham, Buckinghamshire had already registered their interest with BT in ADSL-enabling their local exchange but as BT the minimum required that had been set was 450, they fell well short.

Not seeing this as the end of the boad; two of them decided to set up Denham Broadband to provide wireless access around the area. Subscribers will receive ADSL-like speeds via a small, rooftop antenna, all for an estimated setup cost of 150 UKP plus 30UKP a month.

It’s going to be interesting to see if this people-power action will mean that other will go to these lengths to live The Broadband Dream.

The figures in the UK still don’t look great. In the current BT ADSL Demand Tracker only five of the 2323 listed have been converted, and of these 2323, more than ¾ of these exchanges haven’t even had a trigger level set yet.

At the end of the table, they’ve been kind enough to not order it the by number of households signed in an exchange. To some of these people where none of their neighbours are interested in ADSL like the Bod in Onich (North west of Glasgow, Scotland), The Broadband Dream must feel a long way off.

I tell you what would be interesting – installing a large number of Denham Broadband-type community networks across the country, as have been discussing for a long while.

Then sell the subscribers SIP phones (normal phone handsets that can use the Internet to carry the calls) and give them the benefit of making close-to-free phone calls to other subscribers. If enough people and especially businesses subscribed, it could start to hit BT’s cashflow.

WiFi Video at home

Clearly one way to distribute video around the home, be it from a cable signal or household PVR, will be wirelessly, The first company I recall announcing it as a product was Moxi over eight months ago.

The problem with this lies in the theoretical 11Mps that 802.11a offers. This could get used up pretty fast depending on the strength of signal, the number and quality of simultaneously- viewed video streams and the amount of bandwidth other users on the network are taking up.

Recognising this, ViXS Systems have designed a chipset to tackle it. Their customers are being offered samples of its XCode video network processor, which takes in number of sources of video, be it an HD signal or an MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 stream and compresses them down. This can then distributed over any IP based network, WiFi or wireline.

The smart part comes in the fact that the quality of the stream can be adjusted depending on available bandwidth [Acronyms alert – IDS (Intelligent Distributed Video) and the very catchy ABFM (Adaptive Bandwidth Footprint Management)].

The people behind the RealTime Streaming Protocol standard, RTSP, had the idea a while back and companies such as Apple and Real Networks implemented this. By exchanging performance information between the sender of the video and the client, different qualities of video are delivered to the viewer. The downside of this is, if the video wasn’t originally encoded with a version for really bad network conditions (say 80k), the next closest version is shown. This may a high bandwidth version (say 220k) that, as all of the frame information cannot be received in time will display badly. The reality of producing streaming video is that you cannot practically encode a version for every network condition.

The beauty of the Vixs approach is it will do this to any current video source, analogue or digital and, one would assume, finely adjusting quality over many different bandwidths.

They claim to guarantee deliver 30 frames per second (FPS), high quality video over any type of Internet Protocol (IP) network, wired or wireless which is pretty impressive.

Isn’t it interesting that, as we see the industry grow up, companies measure performance in units that start to mean something to the industry their aiming at rather than tech terms.

Germany public broadcasters want 3G levy

An interesting twist (of the knife?) for 3G licence holders, in Germany two public broadcasters want to levy a licence fees on 3G handset owners because they’re able to receive TV and radio.

There was some muttering from the BBC about 18 months ago about letting UK licence payers have free access to the BBC’s Internet content while charging residents of others countries but I haven’t heard much about it since then.

I suspect that this time the BBC won’t be raising the same questions as their German counterparts as they’re very conscious of their ability to licence their content to the 3G operators via BBC Worldwide.

My first few months with TiVo

I’ve been using a TiVo for the last for a couple of months and thought I’d give my initial impressions.

As soon as TiVo/ReplyTV was announced I have been thinking of getting one but felt £400 was an unreasonable cost, so when I saw them for £150, it felt like the right time to buy.

The setup and installation wasn’t very painful. Connecting it was a little long-winded but this is to be expected considering the number of boxes it connects to – the TV, a DTT (free-to-air digital STB), and VHS. The setup of the channels was pretty much automatic.

A couple of initial teething problems were quickly sorted out by the excellent phone support. The most annoying was the incredibly slow speed the TiVo changed channels on the STB, but by using the supplied Infra Red extension lead and making a menu change it was soon improved.

It’s very easy to understand the basic function of the system, as the built-in software has been excellent with the different routes to recording the shows being pretty flawless. Over the period there’s been a number of software upgrades which arrive and are installed without your intervention – which just reminds you of how easy computing should be but hardly ever is.

Pausing live TV has been less useful to me that the marketing material lead me to expect. What has been good is the ability to rewind the live broadcast to hear something that you might have misheard or missed, as the TiVo constantly records and stores the previous 30 minutes of the channel you’re watching. If you change channel the recording buffer starts again.

Of course the Season Pass is a great boon. This allows you to automatically record, for example, every time that Dr Katz is shown (Wow, Dr Katz has to be the best show on TV – brilliantly observed). Just set it up and you get a chance to watch a number of them in a row.

The only slight bugbear was when a schedule overran the end of show was sometimes cut off. This has now been got around by a software update that allows you to extend the finishing time of the recording.

The hard drive filled up pretty quickly as the novelty of recording lots and not deleting anything took over, but a concerted effort of archiving to VHS cured that.

Sadly you have to select and tape each individually and one improvement to the software would be if you could tag a number of shows to archive to VHS and let it save them all to tape. Perhaps the reasons why it might into have been included is in an attempt to placate the media owners who can be a prickly bunch.


TiVo is really a preview of what on-demand TV will be like.

After TiVo I hardly every watch live TV these days and it’s leading me to widen my viewing as I’ll record something and take a quick preview of the show to see if it’s the same as described and enjoyable.

My belief in on-demand content is what lead me to setup LemonTV in ’99. There are times when you want content to wash over you, ie live TV, but most of the time you want to watch what interests, appeals or stimulates you.

In the real World there are two problems; with huge amounts of on-demand content there needs to be a way for the potential viewer of finding what they like and obviously there is a need to make money from the content.

My long held belief is that one solution to this is scheduled broadcast TV show that is effectively a ‘shop window’ for the available programming. The viewers then have the option to pay for time-shifted content, whether this is a small amount of money for shows that have already been broadcast or a lot of money if it’s in advance of their scheduled broadcast.

The TiVo must be good – I’m seriously thinking of adding a second hard drive to up the capacity.

BT and Bulldog mount SDSL trial in London

BT and Bulldog are mounting an SDSL trial in 41 exchanges around London in late Autumn. The advantage of SDSL is the first S, Synchronous rather than the Asynchronous with ADSL, allowing both sending and receiving at 1.9Mbps.

Although it’s been announced, it doesn’t look like they really going to be pushing the service, as they estimate upwards of only 500 customers by the end of March 2004. I would have thought any company with a leased-line would seriously consider changing to this, given what will be a significant cost saving but I’m sure BT are very aware of this, hence their lack of ambition for it.

HMV announces online music offering

UK music giant HMV has announced their online music offering. Going live some time in September, the £4.99 you pay will give you 100 credits which can be spent on streaming (1 credit), temporarily downloading for a month (10 credits) or burning to CD (100 credits). It’s not clear how much of the past and current catalogues will be available.

UK 802.11a users currently need license

[This story, somewhat old now, was highlighted to me a while back but I somehow didn’t write about it. Thanks Andy for the initial highlight]

802.11a bring the huge advantage of speeds up to 54Mps but a severely reduced range of around 60 feet. Currently anybody wanting to use 802.11a equipment in the UK needs to have a licence from the Radio telecommunications Agency but sadly the RA appear to be sitting on their hands and not issuing any licences.

Sony announce broadband-enabled 160Gb PVR

Sony have announced a broadband-enabled 160Gb PVR device that will join their ‘Cocoon’ range. It’s expected to be available in Japan from 1 Nov.

At the same time Microsoft announced their Windows XP Media Center Edition. A derivation of XP it features PVR functions as well as handling digital music, photo’s and video editing and play back all via a TV-style remote – as well as keyboard. Interestingly the recorded TV content will be copy-protected to stop it being viewed on other computers and can’t even be burnt off on to CD for archiving.

It’s only going to available via OEM’s as MS don’t think the average Joe can put the required cards in and make it work – given any and all of my experience with PC’s over the past fifteen years or so, I’d say it a wise move.