Published: 10 March, 2011
The fight for wireless video in the home has had many contenders, but always WiFi has staked the claim that its reach is ubiquitous and that new systems like 60 GHz technologies will never replace it and that existing No New Wire technologies based on existing Coaxial cable, twisted pair or power line technologies, will be short lived, due to the convenience of WiFi.
WiFi is a bit of a mystery when it comes to video. We have all watched video on a laptop in a part of the house where a web page takes a minute to download, and wondered how the WiFi protocols manage to send enough data to make the video work. We have all also seen sporadic video “artifacts” across big flat TV screens which take the sheen off watching quality video.
We remember that one IPTV system needed specialist forward error correction in the Netherlands, because the vibrations caused by the running of trams, somehow made the signal more noise prone. Video generally can be a mystery and solutions which promise to “solve” all IP video packet problems in one go will make someone very rich.
Right now we are reaching that period of development when Over the Top systems are being planned in every country in Europe and in the US, and new IPTV services using QoS are still springing up around Europe, while existing IPTV sites are constantly questing for support technologies which eliminate IP packet loss.
Even OTT services like the UK’s YouView (nee Canvas) which are supposed to be widespread within their territories, and which are sponsored by major broadcaster groups, have shot themselves in the foot by having CE suppliers produce devices which don’t support WiFi.
All of this sets up the market for WiFi delivered video as one of vital interest over the next two years, and at least one major supplier is set to emerge, probably one per continent (USA, Europe, Asia Pacific) and perhaps more. Eventually, creating non-standard firmware in either standard or specialist wireless router chips, which can support multiple HD video streams, will become just part of the WiFi eco-system, but right now there are three companies which stand out attacking this market and each of them was just given another round of funding, ostensibly to see them through to profitability.
Over the past decade Atheros made something of a name for itself, being a pure WiFi play which supported MIMO earlier, and some argue better, than anyone else, and took this and other talents to create $927 million revenue in its final full year of operations as an independent company and an acquisition at a price of more than $3 billion. So could it be that the chip company or software provider that leads the race to make WiFi more video friendly, can also make that kind of progress, before being subsumed into one of the major chip vendors like Broadcom or Qualcomm.
All three of the companies we highlight, one Israeli firm in Celeno, Turkey’s Airties and California’s Quantenna, will all be on display at London’s IPTV World Forum later this month and each has landed some form of recent investment, the last step in most cases, supposedly to take their respective technologies to profitability.
Fundamentally it is the software tricks that make this market hum. All of these providers use more than one antenna, but the more you add to your design, the more expensive it can get, and MIMO from 2 x 2, right up to 3 x 6. All use beamforming techniques, and spread the signals across all available WiFi bandwidth, both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, so have far more channels available to them than previous solutions.
Broadly speaking they seem to create a kind of forward calculation on each channel and pick one which currently has good enough conditions from transmitter to receiver, to send the next chunk of IP packets or frames.
Airties uses Broadcom off the shelf chips and says that there are limited throughput improvements above 2 x 2, Celeno says that it can use 3 radios but send or receive from anywhere up to 6 antennas and re-calculates delivery options for every packet. Quantenna reckons that its 4x4 MIMO delivers more than double the throughput of 3 x 3 MIMO, and it doesn’t have to worry about re-calculating channel workload delivery because it can achieve the near-zero packet error rate which is needed for HDTV.
There are differences clearly in sophistication between the three solutions, but then again there will be differences in price. If an operator out there decides that it needs video delivery to be assured, it can take its pick of these three players, and any more that emerge, and pay whatever it believes that’s worth to his or her business opportunity. There are roughly 100 viable pay TV operators in Europe. There are in fact 7,000 cable operators, but these are being rolled up slowly in acquisitions, and in some cases are as small as a single apartment building and although they have specialists delivery plant, the small ones don’t all have a head end and mostly take aggregated video feeds. So there will be around 100 deals to chase in pay TV in OTT delivery in Europe over the next two years. If you add to that at least one major broadcast OTT initiative per country, there could be 125 major deals up for grabs.
Of course these may not be the only players. Ruckus Wireless had signed up as many as 90 operators for its own IP video WiFi delivery devices, but these were built at a more macro level and were more expensive. Ruckus systems offered beamforming, and had memory to store about 200 milliseconds of video in the router and resent any packets that were damaged or lost. But Ruckus no longer talks about this market openly, and is really in the enterprise and carrier class WiFi business these days. It has used its WiFi expertise to target cellular offload channels and feels it has an edge here, so the video side has gone quiet.
Also Atheros under Qualcomm’s guidance could attack this market alongside its
Intellon acquisition, the chipmaker behind the homeplug powerline success, and has pledged to merge it with WiFi chips to create a general purpose digital home landscape which is video capable. A single chip that can convert to and from Homeplug, send HD video around a home and then send it intra-room as WiFi, may create a compelling general purpose video delivery mechanism.
Similarly Broadcom which bought Gigle Semiconductor to cover moves into G.hn multi-phy networking, and which has also begun bundling MoCA capability on its set top chips, might take one further step and add MIMO WiFi to its chipset with clever video delivery algorithms, and take this market.
But to us none of these larger companies are looking at this market at all yet. The size of the market is yet to be proven and one of these three we have named above seems most likely to be able to carve out a niche and grow it to maturity, before the chip and device volumes are likely to attract these majors.
But what exactly are the devices we are talking about. We know that Celeno came to light with a deal in China which would see its chips used in a China Telecom device, and in Europe to provide Liberty Global, probably inside its Horizon OTT DVR or in cable modem attached WiFi routers, or both.
At CES Celeno also announced a deal with Technicolor to go into its Home gateway, the MediaEncore and also in Taiwanese Zyxel’s Media Streaming box – the WAP5605. These are both in set tops, home gateways and specialist OTT devices. Airties takes a different route to market. It provides devices and is attacking the set top market from the point of view of inclusion inside set tops for IPTV and OTT broadcast connectors. Airties this week launched three wireless set-top boxes for service provider and hospitality markets, including the Air 7110, an HD IP STB, a DVR version which uses either a disk drive or onboard flash, and a specialist hospitality version.
It also offers a point to point video connector from your home gateway to your TV, designed as a retail product to retrofit into homes that have things like YouView set tops but no way to get a broadband signal to them (YouView is now delayed until 2012).
Quantenna similarly last year launched a device with Netgear to act as a video-bridge for Swisscom to use in field trials for HD over WiFi service.
So there are multiple points in the home network, there is an operator sale, there is a sale to the major CE providers to offer set tops and home gateways to retail or to those operators, and there are pure device sales. In as way these three companies don’t actually have to compete at all.
You could take the Quantenna MIMO design, put it into a Celeno chip and still use the Airties firmware or put it in an Airties box. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but you can see that these players all cite HD video over WiFi as the value add, and rely on the same technical understanding, but they don’t address it in the same way. Celeno does it at the specialist chip level, Quantenna at the generalized WiFi level and Airties at the device provisioning and support level.
Quantenna and Celeno can co-exist with existing set top suppliers, Airties perhaps seeks to replace them. Even when Celeno found favor at Liberty Global it had to have an Intel chip and a Samsung device to pull it all together, as well as NDS UI software.
Celeno told us this week that it has now shipped 100,000 chips in 2010 and claims deals with over 50 service providers. It says that it has a deal with one of Europe’s largest Telcos as well, but this deal has not yet been announced – Our guess is one of the major French IPTV players, perhaps Orange, but we’ll find out in a few weeks. We know Celeno has development arrangements with Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom and Orange, so it might be any one of those.
But it also says that there is an undercurrent of RFP’s throughout Europe, reflecting all those planned OTT service launches and it claims to have landed most of these which will lead to sky high volumes in 2011, which is why it needed $12 million, not to win more business, but to pay for the chip runs.
There were early doubts that Celeno actually had a chip, because some chips were witnessed either with its ODM brand on them or because it did some demonstrations on regular MIMO chips. It now says it is shipping two chips, the CL1300 is an 802.11a SoC and there is an 802.11n version called the CL1800. This second chip is a joint venture with Ralink. Despite what Celeno said to us at IBC, that its MIMO chips can work with existing WiFi chips, this is very much the case that the CL1300 acts as an Access Point chip and uses implicit transmit beam forming and the Ralink deal provides a specialist client throughout the home. It could be that Celeno gains more than client technology from Ralink, such as extra production volume muscle with its ODM chip maker.
Already Celeno says that it will go for a third generation using the emerging 802.11ac standard. This standard, when ready at the end of 2011, should go into products in early 2012. All three of these companies will surely have a long hard look at this. 802.11ac uses 5GHz spectrum in 80MHz and 160MHz channels, and can use up to 8x8 MIMO, and modulate with 256 QAM and other techniques to deliver 867Mbp per channel, but can also multiplex multiple channels, so deliver an aggregate of 6.9Gbps across all channels. One estimate has it that 1 billion 802.11ac chips will ship annually by 2015.
Quantenna in September announced it had landed a $21 million fifth round funding and probably has all the market lead in the US, but outside the US it needs to unseat or work with some powerful players. In particular we don’t yet know which way global Pay TV set top leader Pace has jumped, but it could be that it is working with multiple devices here, and its 2Wire home gateway subsidiary in the US is sure to be talking to Quantenna as well as gaining an insight into the R&D programs of Broadcom and others.
Quantenna said that its funding round will be used to proliferate its products into a broader range of end user equipment and it talked about this being a 100 million device market now and a 430 million device market in 2014.
If we look at Europe alone, it has around 121 million pay TV homes (according to our latest European Pay TV report from Rethink-TV). In each of those homes there is the potential for a home gateway chip, a multiroom DVR chip and a chip for each TV, let’s say 3 per home on average. OTT video services, along with video capable WiFi, will likely be rolled out to around 50% of these homes over the next 4 to 5 years. We’d calculate something in the order of 180 million chips in Europe alone in that timeframe, with the US being bigger and Asia Pacific being around double, so we wouldn’t be surprised if that number was closer to 700 million, if, and we emphasize this, if no other technology takes an appreciable proportion of HD video distribution around the home, and there are several which might.
Even at $100 per device, and something like 5% of that per chip, drives a $350 million chip market in the 2014 time frame, influencing a $7 billion device market on the back of it. With that kind of money at stake, we should be seeing each of these players in the acquisition sights of a larger predator prior before 2014, and if one of them threatens to tighten its grip on this and neighboring markets during that time, at a significant premium, as video over WiFi becomes not only the flavor of the month, but something that everyone is expected to have.
This week the FCC in the US approved an IPTV set-top designed by Cisco for AT&T's U-verse TV service which receives video over a home wireless Wi-Fi connection and uses a 2 x 2 Broadcom WiFi chip – our first guess is that this is similar to the Arties approach and may even use Airties firmware, or Cisco has come out with a similar set of firmware to optimize it for 6 Mbps HD video.