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2009 Likely to Be a Big Year for WiMAX

wimax-world-tour-motorola

In the continuation of our series of executive interviews, I spoke with Motorola’s Fred Wright last week on WiMAX milestones in 2008, and the prospects for WiMAX in 2009. (Scroll down for podcast) In the US, we saw the launch of Sprint’s Xohm service in Baltimore in October, the approval of the Sprint/Clearwire merger, and a Clearwire soft launch started in Portland Oregon. Those are all big achievements, but they’re just the beginning of a nationwide WiMAX network that should see major advancements in the next 12 months. For the US, 2009 looks to be *the* year for WiMAX deployments.

In addition to network infrastructure, we’re going to see a lot of new WiMAX consumer devices in 2009. Sprint’s Barry West indicated at the Baltimore launch that 13 different laptops with embedded WiMAX have been or are ready to be released. Meanwhile, Clearwire is launching its network with a Motorola WiMAX adapter and CPE device. And there are many more WiMAX gadgets on the way.

In the rest of the world, the focus is on fixed and nomadic WiMAX rather than the brand of mobile WiMAX being deployed here, but momentum certainly continues.  Motorola is expecting more contracts in 2009 beyond the 23 (21 outside the US) currently in hand.

These are just a few of the insights from the full conversation with Fred Wright. To hear more, take a listen to the interview via the player below. (Audio file is just over six minutes) And stay tuned for a conversation on LTE with Motorola’s Darren McQueen next week.

Interview with Fred Wright (Hit play below)

Motorola DOCSIS 3.0 Modems in the Wild

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After months of watching news on Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.0 deployments, it finally occurred to me to troll around online to see how subscribers are responding to the new higher-speed service tiers. I didn’t find much, but what I did find was promising. Check out this post from a Broadband Reports forum:

I called up to have my speeds increased to Ultra in Northeastern MA. They said no problem, but my SB5100 wasn’t going to work and I needed a new modem. They sent me a [Motorola] SB6120 DOCSIS 3 modem via UPS the next day as part of a self-install kit… With the new D3 modem, I am seeing 30+ on powerboost down and a steady 5 up. The new modem definitely makes a difference.

The modem has a gigabit ethernet port and also shows channel bonding for download. Upload speed is single channel.

It’s quite fast. I was able to get 9GB (yes GB) downloaded in about 50 mins downloading some video…

Comcast hasn’t said much publicly about when and where it’s deploying DOCSIS 3.0, but so far you can find D3-enabled service tiers running in the Twin Cities, Boston and Philadelphia. Jeff Baumgartner reported last week that Comcast still plans to have 20% of its network upgraded to DOCSIS 3.0 by the end of the year. Parts of Washington and Oregon are next on the list.

More than Gadget Deals this Holiday Season

Bargains are the one upside of a down economy, and it looks like we’ll see low prices beyond just the Black Friday gadget deals this year. Cable and telco providers have a lot of reasons to entice video subscribers this season.

First, even though pay TV is essentially a luxury service, it’s the type of service that is really hard to drop when you’re limiting vacation plans and enjoying fewer evenings out. If you’re going to be at home more, you want to expand your TV viewing options. A little financial incentive from a video service provider is probably enough to keep a lot of people from skimping on their TV packages.

hdtv-apple-displaySecond, serious bargains on HDTV sets this year may push a significant number of standard-def holdovers over the edge into HD. New HD subscribers are extremely valuable to operators, which is why we’re seeing HD service deals to go with those discount big-screen TVs. Comcast has an offer out now in my local area for 12 months of free HD when you buy their triple-play package.

Third, service providers are looking at the upcoming broadcast digital transition as a major opportunity to convert OTA TV viewers into pay-TV subscribers. Since analog consumers already have to make a change, it’s a good time to reconsider a pay-TV subscription – especially with video packages that now include features like widgets, huge on-demand content libraries, and whole-home DVR.

I’m don’t think we’ll see a price war among service providers, but the confluence of a down economy, massive discounts on HD sets, and the digital TV transition may result in some nice video service deals through the end of 2008.

Keeping a DTV Nightlight On

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Multichannel News reports that the Senate passed a bill today to keep some analog stations on the air for 30 days beyond the fixed February 17th transition date. The idea is to provide a “nightlight” period before complete analog darkness that allows stations to broadcast public safety announcements and information about the DTV transition. While the bill still has to pass the House, it’s being endorsed by FCC chairman Kevin Martin and the NTIA administrator Meredith Attwell Baker.

Given the continued confusion around the broadcast transition, this probably isn’t a bad idea. Maybe someone could also broadcast an analog tutorial showing how to set up a digital converter box?

CTO Ray Sokola on 2009 and Beyond

About this time last year I started doing a series of interviews on the blog with executives leading up to CES. This year I lucked out and had a chance to meet face to face with CTO Ray Sokola for his take on what we’ll see in 2009 and beyond. The video above (about three and a half minutes in length) shows part of my conversation with Ray. He talks about how mobility and personalization in the broadband industry will create new revenue streams, the possible effect of February’s digital TV transition, and how Metcalfe’s Law means opportunity ahead, even in a difficult economic environment.

Take a look and listen.

Oh Broadband, Look How You’ve Grown!

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The Broadband Forum has a new report out (warning: PDF link) based on a study of broadband growth conducted by analyst firm Point Topic. The good news is that there are now more than 400 million broadband subscribers worldwide. That’s up 600,000 percent since 1998. Says senior analyst Oliver Johnson:

Getting to 400 million subscribers… has been one of the fastest rollouts of a major new technology the world has ever seen.

The growth is impressive, but the number that really rocked me back was the stat on fiber broadband subscribers. Since 2002, the number of subscribers accessing broadband via fiber has rocketed to more than 45 million. That’s in six years! According to last month’s OECD report, fiber’s share of the broadband market keeps growing too. In Japan, 45% of broadband connections are fiber-based.

Beyond the DTA – The Tech behind the Cable Transition to All-Digital

Even as the broadcast digital transition date nears, cable operators are in varying stages of moving to all-digital transmissions.  The buzz around digital transport adapters started back in the spring, and we’ve seen updates since then about how operators plan to market and distribute DTAs to support their analog-tier subscribers. However, DTAs, which are essentially stripped-down set-tops with no conditional access technology, are only part of the transition story. At the back end of the cable network sits the Digital Access Controller. The DTASs don’t work alone. They require support from the DAC to deliver all-digital service to analog homes and to enable the all-digital conversion of the cable plant.

I talked to Motorola’s Chris Poli recently to find out how the Motorola DAC is being updated for the new DTAs. Poli told me that the DAC has to be able to perform three major functions:

  1. Provide standards-based system information such as operator channel maps (data must be SCTE-65 compliant)
  2. Provision individual DTAs based on a subscriber’s video service package Turn on/off individual DTAs
  3. Support code downloads for software updates over an in-band stream to the DTA

In short, the DAC has to be able to communicate with DTAs in consumer homes to turn on cable service and support basic upgrades and service changes.

There is good news for consumers among the technical details. First, the updates to the Motorola DAC enable it to support a range of different DTA models. While the company would love for everyone to purchase only Motorola DTAs, the fact is that opreators are buying from multiple vendors. Luckily that doesn’t mean that different equipment is needed on the infrastructure side to communicate with each brand of DTA an operator rolls out.

Second, the in-band communication between the Motorola DAC and end-user DTAs means that consumers should be able to plug in a DTA at home without a house call from the cable guy. The remote provisioning function allows operators to turn on service without stopping by for a visit.