Friday, July 28, 2006

City-wide Wifi Networks – Potential Replacements for Cellular Service

The city of Anaheim recently launched a city-wide Wifi network that will eventually cover its 49 square mile area. With great fanfare Earthlink and Tropos Networks (who supplied the service and equipment) joined Anaheim’s city leaders in proclaiming the service which the city will sell at $21.95 per month. Earthlink is losing its dial-up service and seeks to replace it with city-wide Wifi networks. They are planning rollouts in Arlington, Va.; Long Beach, Calif.; Milpitas, Calif.; New Orleans; Pasadena, Calif.; Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Is Anaheim the first? By no means. That honor goes to Grand Haven, Michigan. Other groups are striving to bring wireless to the city dweller. AT&T is teaming up with Metrofi, a Silicon Valley startup to roll out municipal WiFi across the US. Currently, Metrofi offers service in a handful of Bay Area cities.

In my last post a number of new players including Packethop, Kiyon, Firetide, and Strix Systems were rolling out new Wifi tools to enable mesh networks. Packethop targets its mesh networking solutions at Homeland Security applications and emergency situations. In this story they recently participated in a simulated terrorist attack. Packethop tools coordinated the response including emergency services. Since mesh networks don’t need a central networking system, they can be built up quickly and reconfigured on the spot. This makes them ideal for terrorist or disaster situations such as Katrina.

Tropos Networks continues to roll out systems for video surveillance, wireless meter reading, and a number of other applications.

The Cloud, one of Europe’s wireless network operators recently announced a number of city-wide WiFi hotspots most notably for the business district in London for £11.99 per month.

The city of Taipei is creating a city-wide Wifi network to replace cellular calls. By switching to VOIP delivered through a Wifi network, the city hopes to use the money saved to improve schools.

Rolling out Wifi throughout a city does have its challenges. The Techborg blog highlights a number of them including the fact that Wifi must share unlicensed spectrum with a multitude of other devices including microwave ovens, baby monitors, cordless home phones, and more.

Virtual instrumentation brings solutions to Wifi. Seasolve provides LabVIEW-based Wifi test solutions such as the Wilanta testing the PHY and MAC layers. A host of other companies use LabVIEW to program their Wifi-enable tools such as Zworld and Ipsil, and Winsoft.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Holographic Data Storage—the Next Generation in Storage

The concept for holographic data storage was first proposed by Pieter van Heerde at Polaroid but key researchers and companies are bringing this emerging technology closer to commercial application. The concept behind holographic data storage is based on a signal beam that goes through a spatial light modulator (capturing an image of binary zeros and ones) that then intersects a reference beam and stores the resulting image on a recording medium. Using a charged-couple device and the same reference beam (at the same angle and wavelength), one recovers the signal beam image. By varying the wavelength and the angle one can store additional images on the same medium thus increasing the density of the storage system. Since one need only change the angle or wavelength of the reference beam, data storage and access is fast as well.

This technology brings two benefits to the storage problem. First, a “page” of data is captured and stored at a time rather than a bit of data. This speeds up the process of data storage and retrieval. Second, since data is retrieved using unique wavelengths, more data can be stored by “stacking” one image on top of another in a three dimensional fashion.

Some sites predict desktop systems to have storage capacities of 1 terabyte and transfer rates of 1 gigabyte.

Key companies to watch start with the leader in this field called InPhase Technologies. Based in Colorado they were spun out of Lucent in 2000. They offer boxes that can store up to 35 hours worth of broadcast video at 19 mbps. Challenges in bringing holographic storage to the market include finding a suitable material that can hold stackable images. Bayer Materials Sciences helped solve this problem with a unique photopolymer material. Also, the cost of lasers had to come down. The commoditization of lasers in CD and DVD players helped here. This whitepaper provides more background detail. They offer a cool technology demo of their product here.

Virtual Instrumentation applications include Daewoo who uses LabVIEW and Compact Reconfigurable I/O devices to drive the electro-optical motion control system including a linear motor, a stepper motor, a galvo mirror, and a CMOS camera.

JPL used LabVIEW to develop a custom phase-array profile driver which controls a unique beam steering mechanism for reading and storing data in a holographic memory system.

What is beyond holographic-based storage? Protein-based storage. Scientists in India have found a protein that reacts to light turning data into information which can hold information for several years.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, July 14, 2006

IPTV—More than Just a Cable TV Replacement

Most people when they hear “IPTV” today think of it as an impending replacement for Cable TV. But the technology can provide much more. In addition to the Telcos providing video service to compete with the cable companies, individuals and companies can generate and distribute their own content over the internet.

IPTV or Internet Protocol Television is defined in this primer as a packetized delivery of video via Internet Protocol. Instead of pushing all the available channels to a consumer’s home as satellite and cable TV does, IPTV lets the user select the channel and then sends only those packets of information. It uses MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 encoding which operates in the 1-2.5 Mbps. Wikipedia gives an overview of the architecture. New standards are coming into place such as H.264. H.264 is a next generation digital video codec which will replace MPEG-2. Its goal is to create a good quality video but at a lower bit rate.

A report from the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) entitled The State of IPTV discusses how the Apples Ipod and Sling Media‘s SlingBox – a placeshifting technology which allows you to view your Digital Video Recorder content from anywhere not just your home, spur the on-demand market and make IPTV an attractive technology.

IPTV is coming to the US soon. It’s expected to grow from 2M to 34M users between now and 2010. That’s an annual growth rate of 60%. It’s already well rolled out in Asia due to the density of the population in the cities located a short distance to the central office and the lack of an existing cable infrastructure. Om Malik’s blog provides more details. It’s not unusual to see press releases like this one in which Australia and Thailand are adopting an upgraded version of an IPTV service.

A host of companies provide software services and platforms to enable IPTV.
Microsoft offers a software platform for developing IPTV. It enables broadband providers to deliver TV services over their existing IP networks. Media Excel, an Austin-based company provides advanced real-time digital video encoding, transcoding, and streaming for IPTV. Interactive Television Networks Inc, develops set top boxes that stream IPTV packets into a consumer’s home. COMTEK created PowerTV which lets its customers create their own video content and distribute it.

An virtual instrument-based imaging system could be set up to make use IPTV technologies to provide a real-time monitoring at a much lower price, using the commercially available technologies made possible by IPTV providers.

Best regards,
Hall T.