Released in 1997 by the IEEE organization, 801.11 wireless protocol was designed as a data link layer for Local Area Networks and subsequently standardized by the WiFi Alliance in 2000. Now it is set to power a host of commercial data, voice and media services over the broadband internet connection. The original version used infrared signals on the Industrial, Scientific and Medical Frequency band. It was soon superseded by the more robust and commercially viable 802.11b, capable of streaming various media at a maximum throughput of 5.5 Mb/s and connecting WiFi-enabled devices within 50 meters of the Access Point. However, it was the 11g version that paved the way for the reliable streaming of video and home entertainment, offering a wholesome 54 Mb/s peak, or about 24.7 Mb/s average throughput, combined with the range of the previous â€˜b’ standard, to accommodate streaming of up-to four simultaneous streams of standard definition movies, or, theoretically, two high definition streams encoded in highly compressed MPEG-4, Windows Media Video, or DivX formats. Now technophiles can choose between a, b and g flavours of the standard or simply select a tri-mode device, with all-in-one wireless connectivity under one chassis.
Finally, the security issues associated with wireless connectivity are being resolved with the introduction of the WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) technology utilizing Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption and dynamic key exchange mechanisms â€“ temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP)
A major push in the home wireless connectivity market is associated with the launch of the Intel Pentium M Centrino chipset that gave consumers instant built-in wireless connectivity for notebooks as well as increased battery life of the device by means of reducing the CPU clock speeds. And what’s more: it promoted to the consumer what we now call the “unwired” lifestyle and extended the concept of digital entertainment beyond the PC â€“ into the living room.
Leading consumer electronics brands, without exception, are embarking on a new strategy that will reinvigorate their brand image, create new value to the consumer and drive demand in what seemed to be a cyclical market â€“ home entertainment devices. This strategy vehicle is the Digital Home concept which stands for â€˜any time, any device” access to personal and protected premium digital entertainment over LAN.
From a technology perspective, the complexity of such appliances cannot be underestimated, adding to the challenges associated with consumer education and ease of set up and use. The measure of successful proliferation of this technology is seamless connectivity and cross-platform interoperability of these devices afforded by two technology standards: WiFi and UPnP.
WiFi has become a critical technology building block allowing consumers to stream personal and downloaded content such as photo slideshows, music and movies to televisions, making for an ultimate home theatre experience. Sharing the resources of the hardware with media processing tasks, WiFi operates in unison with embedded software solutions, DTCP-IP link protection, plug-and-play device interoperability and user interface solutions.
One user interface can enable the consumer to control the devices on the WiFi network from the comfort of the living room or from the PC. This involves password setting, parental control, Quality of Service – establishing the bandwidth usage priority of devices on the network, User Interface settings and home surveillance systems.
The so-called battle for the living room does not end with juxtaposition of pricey Entertainment PCs and Consumer Electronics. Rich multimedia experience is seen as one of the value added services targeted by the telcos and cable operators, suffering from eroding traditional dual-play revenue streams. The vertical model of device distribution for Wi-Fi-enabled devices offers the consumer a more comfortable alternative: a reduced learning curve and no monetary investment associated with acquisition of new technology. These advantages, combined with the incumbency of service operators, put the vertical camp into a stronger position enabling them to market the feature as “wireless multi-room entertainment”.
As the members of the vertical and retail value chains recognize the potential of home networking, we are observing the emergence of dual-purpose media silicon from Sigma Designs, Texas Instruments and ST Microelectronics, enabling convergent “IPTV plus Digital Media Adapter” functionalities. The underlying mechanisms for media processing and networking tasks are essentially identical regardless of the content source, as long as the media delivery happens over Internet Protocol (IP).
One of the inhibiting factors for the uptake of the wireless-enabled Consumer Premises Equipment (CPE) concept is the associated cost delta, added to the total hardware Bill of Materials, averaging at around $9 USD for an 801.11g solution.
According to Chris Taylor, Director of RF Components division at Strategy Analytics, the trend towards significant price reduction in the networking chipset market through standardization is further strengthened by the innovation among silicon vendors like Marvell and Broadcom who have developed single-chip systems with pre-integrated CPUs and built-in wireless capabilities targeting home gateways, mobile devices and CPE for delivery of voice, video and data applications.
Interestingly, the fist category of entertainment device to commit to adding wireless connectivity to the list of features is game consoles: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, PSP and Nintendo DS Multiplayer. WiFi will deliver multiplayer experience and access to internet services on these devices.
Another service that will make an impact on further proliferation of wireless is the ubiquitous mobile internet access zones, known as hotspots. According to Jwire â€“ a global hot spots online directory, there are now 69,994 Wi-Fi hotspot locations in 102 countries. Service alliances between mobile phone manufacturers and VoIP services, similar to this year’s announcement of Motorola and Skype, can ultimately bolster the consumer demand for wireless technology.
Adoption of broadband, driven by the value-add services, such as Video on Demand, Voice over IP, Interactive TV, PVR and network gaming – will create the scenario where multiple devices need to be easily connected within a home network. Today, IEEE 802.11 – a firmly established, ubiquitous and constantly evolving standard – is best suited for providing seamless connectivity between these devices. Importantly, Digital Living Network Alliance specifies WiFi as the default standard for wireless connectivity, which positions it as a clear leader, set to power future digital lifestyle appliances. According to the semiconductor research group at IDC corp., in 2004 less than 1 percent of consumer electronics applications contained WLAN. The group predicts that the ratio of CE devices in the overall wireless market will grow to 20 percent by 2009.
About Oregan Networks
Oregan Networks is a leading provider of embedded software for convergent digital home entertainment devices. Oregan offers unique expertise in highly integrated media client solutions catering for IPTV, VOD and home network media distribution. More information: www.oregan.net