From the Studio to the Home

I’ve just finished giving a presentation at the Conferenz ‘Digital Media & Content Summit’ in Auckland. While it was a lot of work putting the presentation and supporting document together, I found it quite a rewarding experience to be able to capture my thinking on the subject of Digital Entertainment.
The conference organisers are publishing my whitepaper and presentation notes on their website, but I felt it would be appropriate to also distribute them here to gain additional feedback on the topic.

So please feel free to download the documents, have a read, and let me know what you think. This is open source thinking, but an example of what I’m doing in my current role.
Note also the disclaimers in the documents, this is not a company policy statement, it is “free thinking” around what the future could look like and what challenges and opportunities exist therein.

Please note that the presentation is a ‘Notes View’ of a Microsoft Powerpoint slide pack and as such doesn’t have the transitions or builds of the slides, so things will look a little.. strange. I did try to host this on Slideshare, but it doesn’t handle builds either so, let me know if you have ideas as to where it can be hosted to represent the actual run through.

Has wireless come of age? Will 802.11n be the silver bullet?

This post is sparked by an article on CNet which covers a recent Burton Group report comparing Gigabit Ethernet to 802.11n, the latest version of WiFi. So – will it happen?

I’m still not convinced. It’s not because 802.11n isn’t a good technology, it’s because I don’t really like the idea of sharing, at least when I need guarantees as to my level and quality of service (read: bandwidth).

We have a ‘pre-n’ access point and some devices where I work and it’s great, it’s fast and it works – but it’s still not a ‘standard’. If you follow the Wikipedia link above you will find a timeline of the .11n draft which started back in 2004. I still remember discussing it when it was first proposed and it sounded oh so wonderful, theoretical 270 Mbit/s easier and better security… It would make right what was so wrong of the current .11 standards of the day (at that point being mostly .11b with a smattering of .11g gear and the glimmer of .11a on the horizon – which incidentally still hasn’t really taken off). The specification is still in the IEEE process and it’s expected in March 2009 and has been through a couple of drafts now, the 2.0 version of which has seen manufacturers such as Belkin, Linksys (Cisco) and Apple become impatient and release their own ‘pre-n’ gear.

While it’s good that the market is driving urgency into the process, it must also be recognised that the consumer is the potential loser here should radio design and spectrum management change significantly between the premature release of the pre-n and the eventual release spec due in 2009. The manufacturers won’t care, they will just build new kit – and they get to save themselves the anguish of handholding ‘early adopters’ through upgrading the firmware of their pre-n devices to bring the device into line with the released spec.

Now – to the nuts and bolts of my concerns (let’s focus on the technology and ignore the customer). There are five major things wrong with wireless which I’d like someone to reassure me over:

  1. Shared Spectrum (thus bandwidth/throughput)
  2. Ease of Setup for normal people
  3. Security of Networks
  4. Connectivity / Coexistance with ‘legacy’ a/b/g standards
  5. The growing number of ‘connected devices’

So, let’s knock them off one at a time (as best we can anyway). The 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum is shared that means that if (which over a 3-7 year period will turn into WHEN) my neighbours also get .11n gear, they too will be wanting to use that spectrum, along with my (and their) legacy .11b/g devices, and DECT phones, and baby monitors etc. etc. Of course, the reach of .11n is just over 5 times that of it’s .11a/b/g predecessors so, while I can see one of my neighbours access points currently, and need to walk outside and to the back hedge to pick up another two, with .11n I will be exposed to a whole heap more access points, all wanting to use the 2.4 & 5GHz spectrum around my home. That then raises the question of how can this cross over be mitigated, how easy can we, as an interested/responsible community, make it for end users to switch on their gear and tune it for their (and only their) environment?

So ease of use is the next point we need to cover. “It’s working I don’t need to do anything more” seems to be the attitude of many users, and I base this on my semi regular drives around the streets in my suburb with a Laptop on the dashboard and NetStumbler running. There are a frightening number of access points out there not only broadcasting their SSID, but broadcasting the default name of DLINK or Linksys. Logic would predict that, if someone has neglected to turn off the SSID, or at least change the default SSID for their access point, then the odds are also good that they have not changed the administrative password for their device, which then exposes them to people not only ripping off their bandwidth, but also accessing their system, opening up holes in their home network and potentially (if they’re “bad people(tm)”) implementing a war pharming attack on their modem.

You may be interested in seeing what size the issue is where you live, there are some good resources here to help you with that, just bear in mind that in many countries, use or even possession of these tools may be considered an offence. It’s not good practise to go changing peoples settings, or to leech their bandwidth, so I’d recommend you educate yourself in the regulations covering your corner of the globe before you set out on your investigation, and if you do find open nodes and have an overwhelming urge to do something about it, how about just dropping a few notes into the letter boxes surrounding the location of the strongest signal advising them that their AP can be seen and accessed from the road.

If it’s easy to setup, this ease also needs to extend not only to the radio strength to avoid crossovers with other nearby networks, it also must account for the security of the home network.

So, security then – an unsecured AP allows a malicious (*#&(* to change your DNS settings so, the next time you head off to do your internet banking you are in fact directed by their rogue DNS server to a site they have setup to look like your favourite bank and, a few seconds later they have your credentials, they display a “failed attempt” message, and then direct you to the real site where you log in again (being careful with your typing) and successfully complete your transaction. The fake site in the meantime has sent your details to them (or someone in a country with more… flexible internet crime laws) and your account is cleaned out. Okay, that’s bad – you lose some money, per haps a lot, perhaps none because you bank has some two factor authentication running and you are alerted to the fraud. But consider this… with access to your local network, the malicious (*#&(* scans the address space, finds the machines which are switched on, including the one where all your digital photos and videos are shared and… deletes them. All your digital memories gone in the click of a mouse – you’d better have a good backup regime, or a very comfy couch and understanding spouse because there’s otherwise no way of getting those images back of your wedding / kids birthdays / special anniversary where you got drunk and… well… the images have gone, or have been compromised and posted somewhere where you may not want them to be.

Connectivity and co-existence… Now (uncaffinated) I’m an easy going kind of guy, but if someone is affecting my ability to stream HD content to the average 2.3 televisions in my home, then I’m going to get grumpy. If my neighbour starts a big P2P download in the middle of an All Blacks test, pumps up his wireless signal to boost his throughput, and kills my bandwidth in the process, then I’m going to get grumpy. If my legacy 802.11b web cams are reserving the 2.4GHz channels for themselves and not playing nice with my .11n gear, then I’m going to get grumpy – and let’s not even discuss the lowest common denominator approach to wireless security, I don’t care if my Webcams can only handle 64bit WEP, I want the rest of my devices, regardless of their a/b/g or n to be using the strongest possible encryption available to them.
Let’s also look at the throughput question. Wireless technologies tend to have nice theoretical maximum rates, and this is what the crayon eaters plaster all over the box when you go to buy your kit. But the reality is that the typical throughput of wireless is around half that of the theoretical maximum – except for .11n, which is around a third of the posted top rate. Now don’t get me wrong – 74 Mbits/s is better than what we’ve had to work with previously, but as I stated in one of the previous paragraphs, we need to remember that this is shared spectrum and, as the spectrum becomes more and more saturated by wireless enabled devices from laptops to set-top boxes, IP security cameras to video and VoIP phones, we are going to get a lot of traffic all wanting to use this shared highway, and for those of you based in Auckland, you’ll know all too well what happens when lots of traffic wants to get from A to B (or A to D, or wherever) all at the same time. This could be a “Very Bad Thing(tm)” for the user experience.

So how many things are going to expect an IP connection? Well, Yamaha, Pioneer and Denon are just three of many examples of manufactures of home audio equipment who are putting IP connectivity into their Amps for streaming media and in home distribution. As ‘no new wires’ connectivity increases, so too will the desire to run multiple zones of media, Korsakov in the kitchen, “Rage against the Machine” in the rumpus room and Lucy Lawless in all her flat screen, DVD box set glory in the lounge. Our appliances will also have data they need to share with the house, air conditioning units need to respond to remote sensors reporting a change, the fridge may be reporting that it no longer detects any bottles of milk inside itself. That’s not forgetting that we still will have data driven devices for VoIP calling, email and playing games all of which will have impacts and differing quality of service requirements on the home network. Then question very quickly becomes not if 74 Mbits/s can deliver a good experience, it becomes – will 74 Mbit/s be enough for all of the devices in your home to co-exist and transmit what they need to, without you noticing.

To summarise what has become a very long post – I’m looking forward to 802.11n. It’s been far too long coming and as an industry we need to shorten the cycle time for standardisation, 5 years is way too long to wait for a new generation of wireless.
I don’t think that 802.11n will solve all of our issues – and believe that there is still the need for a structured cable / wireless connectivity hybrid in the home. Am I wrong? Tell me why!

Taking it to the street(s) – I’m providing an open WiFi node…

Continuing on in the vein of community content, I’ve just started running an open wireless access point, segregated from my network and throttled to protect my cap from leechers, but open none the less.

People joining the network are greeted by a splash page prior to continuing on to their content

This is an experiment in offering open wireless access to the community in which I live.
I have throttled the speed of this network to protect my usage cap, but it should be fine for commuters pulling down emails etc. (Don’t read and drive 😉 ). This network is UNSECURED so it is up to YOU to protect YOUR machine, and make appropriate choices about what data you transmit across this link.
If you are interested in seeing how this project is going, please check out the following:

[A Graph Goes Here]

Please do not abuse this network or I will be forced to block your PC and/or pull the access from everyone.

I’m hoping that no one does screw with the network as it’d be nice to think that people will appreciate the access for what it is, freely given as a service to SHARE with others.

Yeah – that ought to almost do it…

Yeah… 100Gb/s – that’s what I’m talking about!!

I just saw this article on Engadget about the University of California who have sucessfully stood up a 100Gb/s link over fibre between Houston, Texas and Tampa, Florida.

Now THAT kind of speed to the premisis would certainly support multiple HD streams for all the TV and PVR devices in the home! Now if only we could sort out a fair DRM system and allow for local caching so as not to kill New Zealands international link 🙂

Blogging from my Browser…

Okay, I’m supposed to be on holiday, but since the in-laws are running a Bed & Breakfast called The Olde Millhouse B&B in Renwick, Marlborough they have got themselves broadband (yep – ADSL ‘JetStream’ is even avalible in the South Island!) so they can stay on top of their guests emails and stuff.
Anyway, it would have been a shame to go away without being able to access the interweb thingy, so I duly packed my notebook and my Linksys SRX wireless access point and setup when I got here.
Continue reading “Blogging from my Browser…”

Where’s *my* honey monkey?

Not to be confused with the well known “squadron of flying butt-monkeys” (who seem to be the ones enlisted to attempt to deliver anything important and requiring both timelyness and robust creation), Microsoft are deploying web-bots they’ve named ‘Honey monkeys’ to attempt to discover and interpret new attack vectors against their operating systems.

Microsoft are using “Honey Monkeys” to see if they can catch any previously undiscovered attack vectors (assumably against their operating systems).
Now that would be an interesting project to work on as I’ve seen a number of machines where I work get compromised simply by visiting sites which look innocent enough. I sure like to know how you’d programatically emulate the social engineering which seems to be all the rage “Warning – your computer may be running slow, click here to fix” … yeah – right!

Predictions for 2004

After spending the best part of a couple of weeks away from my beloved broadband, I find myself with an almost unquenchable thirst for news and reviews that I may have missed out on during my time down south with just a simple CDMA connection to rely on.

I’ve found that I don’t have much of a job to come back to as internal wrangling over moving from one department to another have left me a little “underutilised” until it gets resolved. This is a mixed blessing as, while I can spend my time on the strategic stuff I was working on prior to Christmas, there is no clear desire for that work to be performed due to the departure of the manager for our little group of people. The transfers must be going ahead though as both myself and my colleague are now reporting to one of my colleagues team members who has been given the role of acting manager. Anyway � enough on that…

The lack of imminent work allows me time to not only reflect on and plan for my impending wedding it also gives me some leeway to catch-up on what I’ve missed over the Christmas break.

January is traditionally the time where all the industry commentators compare their past predictions with what happened in the previous year, and make a whole set of new predictions for the year ahead.

In keeping with this tradition (and starting the same tradition myself) I’m making the following predictions for 2004.


WiFi

Ah yes, my December blog was supposed to have covered this in some detail, but, suffice it to say, the message got lost in the post (pun semi-intended). I believe that wireless devices will be come more mainstream this year as the 802.11 standards have been ratified and manufactures scramble over themselves to get devices to market including all those wonderful retro-fits which will enable us early adopters to get connectivity for our, now ageing, devices.
To achieve this penetration the industry will need:

  • Relevant content & services
  • An attractive price point (includes device AND bandwidth costs)
  • Ease of configuration
  • Connection security

Relevant content and services must be the enabler for effective uptake of wireless as, without something to use it for, the technology is pointless.

In a similar vein, the price point for both wireless enabled devices and, possibly more importantly, access but be within reach of the average consumer. If the devices are cheap but the access is prohibitively priced then devices will still be bought, it’s just they won’t be used to their full potential as the wireless side of the technology will not be utilised until such times as it’s affordable.
The ease of configuration is a tricky one, while early adopters are fairly tech-literate, the penetration into the market depends on pretty much a click and go philosophy. I’m not sure if it’s that we’ve been ‘dumbed down’ by the installation ease demanded by the newbie’s to computers and delivered by our friendly Mr Gates or if indeed technology honestly should be easier, but suffice it to say, if it can’t be plugged in and/or turn on and work then we’re in for an uphill battle. Users lose interest REAL quick and take a long time to be coaxed back into trying again. This issue is/will be compounded by the inability to access in “mesh” context, rather, requiring users to re-authenticate, possibly with different credentials, at every access
point they encounter.
Security should be top-of-mind for every user, but the simple fact is, it isn’t. Perhaps it’s the ‘dumbing down’ I referred to earlier or maybe people just don’t care about their data/identities. I suspect it’s a bit of both and, much like a hard drive crash to a backup policy, it’ll take something extraordinary to change peoples mindsets. We’re already seeing a bit of a turnaround when we look at email attachments and user behaviour, but it more of a vendor focus to change the way people use their gear, and in the interim I suspect
we’ll have to live with whatever can be shoehorned into default settings
without affecting that ever important ease of configuration.


Local Loop Unbundling

I pretty much cover this in my December blog so I’ll save some bandwidth by directing you there. I do think that the LLU will end up going ahead in New Zealand, however I believe this will be more of a vote buying exercise than an honest attempt to get broadband access to the masses and open the market to innovation. If it was my call to make I’d be inclined to legislate that broadband coverage must be available to 90% of the residents of the country at an affordable rate within 3 years and available to the entire country by say, 2008, mainly because it’s a nice round number than any external influences.
I’d say with this kind of motivation along with some financial backing in the right areas to fund innovative approaches to the task, we’d get there in time. I think the bun fight that will take place if LLU goes ahead will not only remove the focus from where it should be (i.e. providing broadband access to all citizens) but it will also cost a huge amount which could be invested in other ways toward the same end goal. Let’s not forget that if it was any other company who was incumbent on the local loop they would be doing exactly that same thing to protect their position.


PDA / Smart Device Penetration / Phone Wars

Smart Device Penetration – sounds really painful right? I’m predicting that smart devices will become more prevalent, following the lead of those crappy pxt phones. People will want them because they’re there and yet, unlike pxt, there is some real benefit to the technology that the smart devices will make avalible.
You will be seeing a real toe-to-toe battle between the big names in this area in 2004 as each tries to buy the market into it’s version of what is essentially the same technology. While it might be nice to have a pretty blue phone that plays Oh Fortuna when the mother-in-law calls, whilst allowing you to roam all the way around the world (very few of us do), the killer app will not really be an app at all, it will be the enablement of content. And that is where the battle will be won, who can get the best content and services to the people at an affordable price.


Home Entertainment

Home Entertainment will be where the push comes from in regards to getting broadband to consumers and convincing them to undergo a full technology refresh.
It is the easiest way to catch the attention of the public, give them some ‘wow-factor’ and build the need/desire for the latest stuff. The backbone for this will be wireless networking, very few people are like me (which is good) and because of that (average people simply don’t run CAT5 through their walls) wireless is *the* way to get multiple devices into the home environment and talking to each other. The more devices that you can get into the home the more services can be sold, the more services that can be sold the more bandwidth will be consumed – do you see where this is going? The providers win any which way you cut it, if the technology is subsidised it will be based on service subscription, if the service subscription is subsidised it will be based on the bandwidth required to drive it, if the bandwidth is subsidised it will be based on the services subscribed to. At the end of the day both the hardware and the services suppliers have a very nice earner.

I have a 31 year relationship with television. If I can be exposed to new content and services via devices which plug easily into, and are controlled from, my television then it’s the perfect way to generating new revenue streams using an appliance that pretty much every home has and is comfortable with. Try getting the same engagement via a PC. Traditional telecommunications companies profits are continuing to shrink as the products they offer get marginalised by advances in technologies and the resulting cost savings that can be enjoyed, and supplied, by almost everyone. Content and content services may well be the lifeline that these companies can use to stay alive. Those that can’t get their heads around the shift will almost certainly go under.
At the end of the day we’ll be able to have one entry point for broadband, feeding multiple devices from hard wired PCs to portable notebooks, to wireless audio/visual components in the lounge, all sharing the same bandwidth, all able to access a pool of content either from the PC or from the service provider/internet as a whole and all using devices and interfaces that the consumer feels comfortable with.

I’ll see you next January and we’ll see how well I did[n’t] do

The Access of Christmas Future

I’m sitting here – like much of New Zealands population – in the sun, contemplating the Christmas carry on. It’s this time of year where we all escape the craziness of the cities and head off to holiday homes, batches or cribs (depending on what part of the country you live in).
For many of us, myself included, the thought of taking our holidays in the absence of the internet is just too much to bear and so we dutifully take our notebooks, PCs, PDAs or any other device we need to stay in touch with along with us – praying that we’ll be able to connect up to the beloved internet and stay in touch.

For people like myself who have DSL at home can’t take it with us so we’re driven to scout out an internet caf�, open a short term dial up account or take with us some alternative access such as a CDMA PCMCIA card or connection via cell phone.
Of course the additional hassle of setting up a dialup account and being tied to a wall socket is not contusive to the freedom that holidays are all about. Internet caf�s are typically noisy, expensive and increasingly filled with young people playing the latest multiplayer network games – which makes a leisurely latte while tapping out thank you emails or reading the latest industry articles somewhat less than relaxing. And of course there’s the whole security aspect to consider along when using someone else’s PC, along with the inevitable pining for that high speed connection.
Cellular access is also very expensive and, while it frees you from the shackles of the dreaded wall socket and those oh so slow 56K connections (if you’re lucky enough to get such speeds at your holiday destination) the cellular coverage is still kind of patchy and there’s always those dollar signs ticking away at the back of your mind while you hurriedly attempt to open as many pages as you need, spending as little time as you can on line to avoid that horrid bill shock at the end of your holiday.

The solution as I see it is going to be provided by wireless access. WiFi (802.11[a/b/g]) and it’s bigger faster brother WiMAX (802.16)
provide relatively simple connection to a network, the main issues being security. I’ll explain why in a little bit, but for some background – read on…

While I tap away here, I’ve got literally hundreds of emails coming through on various email lists I belong to and they’re all discussing (some more vehemently than others) the surprise announcement by the Telecommunications commissioner.

Just to bring you up to speed, New Zealands Telecommunications infrastructure was once owned by the NZ Government through the New Zealand Post Office.
In 1987 Telecom bought this Telecommunications business from the NZ Post Office and became a State Owned Enterprise (SOE). This was an interesting time in New Zealands political history as a number of SOEs were also created in infrastructure areas such as power generation and transport around the same time, following on from this many of the core services were also privatised (such as NZ Railways, now Tranzlink).
Anyway, just three years after the SOE was formed, Telecom was sold in its entirety subsidiaries of Bell Atlantic Corporation and Ameritech Corporation for NZ$4,250 million. It was during this same year (1990) that Clear Communications (now TelstraClear) started building it’s network to compete with Telecom.
It is the feeling of a number of people that, while the SOE could and should have been sold to ensure it was run as efficiently as possible, government ownership over the infrastructure should never have been relinquished. There is a similar argument pitched toward the rail services of the country – though, as more people use a phone and/or the internet than freight goods/travel via rail, the rail privatisation hardly makes for newspaper selling subject matter.
The view of those against the privatisation of the core infrastructure is that, with government retaining ownership over the local loop.

Right, now I’ve explained all of that we can get back to the cause of this recent flurry of activity on the NZNOG and NZADSL email groups.

Introducing the Telecommunications Commissioner investigation into the Local Loop.

You see what has happened is, the Telecommunications Commissioner has done what appears to be a complete about face from the draft report which was release in October of this year.
What the draft report appeared to have recommended, is that the Local Loop (the copper infrastructure across which much of the telecommunications traffic in the country flows) should be unbundled thus allowing other companies to access the infrastructure and put their own services over it. It’s no surprise then that what has just happened has come as a shock to many interested parties with the final report recommending against the unbundling of the local loop.

The OECD has released a report on local loop unbundling (LLU) written in September. The report (without delving too deep into it’s 60 pages) states that while “the majority of countries consider that LLU has the potential to enhance local competition and assist in the development of competition for broadband services�” it recognises the difficulties in undertaking a LLU including the co-ordination required between the incumbent and ‘new’ entrants to ensure that, once unbundled, the local loop doesn’t fall over due to a lack or clarity/responsibility over fault handling and ongoing maintenance. To me, the most interesting bit is the section stating that “LLU is not a panacea� Goals for a broadband society can be attained in many other ways…”
This is kinda obvious stuff I’d have thought, but politicians and company heads all like to create large, expensive committees to slowly reach the same conclusions that anyone with a brain and a bit of Googling skill could have come to in a very short space of time. The fact is, LLU “could’, “should” and “has the potential to” make life easier for those wanting to rollout broad band services, however – everywhere that I’ve looked at where LLU is theoretically taking place the story is the same, it’s taking ages, the newcomers are unwilling to share the costs of ongoing maintenance of the loop and years down the track only a small percentage of lines have been unbundled to competitors (0.01% according to the European Competitive Telecommunications Association).

The question must be asked then, what the f**k is the point in spending all the time and money on commissioners reports, ongoing regulators, paying out some kind of compensation (I assume this would happen (perhaps naively), to my mind the NZ Government sold something and now wants it back. While is can legislate and take/do whatever it wants, it’s hardly moral – but then this *is* government.

The only place LLU works is in areas where an exchange has a large number of business users. Well bend me over and use me as a toast rack! Fancy that, high concentrations of users of a wide range of telecommunications services are more attractive to new players than Joe Average and POTS. This is precisely why New Zealand already *has* alternative networks -where it makes sense- where it makes sense is where the business users are, and where they are concentrated.
Wellington has CitiLink offering broadband, voice services and has spun off a WiFi offering in the shape of Caf�NET.
It also has an alternative network being strung up by TelstraClear.
Christchurch has a similar alternative network being put in and lets not forget the smaller players such as Dunedins wireless Scarfies.Net or Nelsons ThePacific.NET

– all of these people (there are more, Google if you’re interested) are setting up their networks *where it makes sense*. Face it, if you live in the sticks you’re stuffed. You won’t be using a terrestrial based system for anything much in a few years anyway so initiating a headache like LLU won’t have any benefits to you because by the time the regulatory bollocks has been sorted out, technology will have moved on and the whole thing will have become an expensive bunch of arse. You can tell by the continuing degradation in my tone that I’m getting a bit passionate here, but I think that apart from some short term political point scoring, LLU is not going to do anything to help the average NZer, it’s going to cost us (as the poor saps whose taxes will fund the whole thing) an absolute fortune, and at the end of the day it’s going to be superseded by alternative technologies� which brings me back to where I was just over 1000 words ago…

The access of Christmas future will be delightfully wireless� Of course by this stage we’ll all be wanting access to MB or GB a second speeds. Oh well, at the end of the day holidays are for holidaying, and until someone creates me an affordable laptop which can deal with sand, seawater and a frighteningly close proximity to boisterous kids, the kind of access I’ll need will be just enough to keep me in the loop until I return, refreshed, revived and ready to swap my summer beach for the florescent bleach.