Raising a Ruckus - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

June 01, 2006

Not just for IPTV

While the company's main focus is on video distribution—because it sees the most pressing need for the technology in the emerging IPTV market—the technology can also help triple-play providers more efficiently distribute signals for VoIP and other multimedia content within the home, Callisch says.

Many IPTV providers have tried Wi-Fi for in-home video distribution but almost always found it wanting. Pioneer was no different—until it found Ruckus. "I've brought a lot of products back into our lab," Ulsaker says. "This is the first one that my techs couldn't break." Pioneer did exhaustive testing to see the effects of a variety of RF interference, including microwave ovens, treadmill machines, dishwashers, variable speed fans, and grinders.

According to a Ruckus press release, the ultimate test was placing a Ruckus access unit upside down in a file cabinet in a completely metal building. "We put the Ruckus receiver in a pickup truck and began streaming IPTV signals from the access unit to the Ruckus receiver," Ulsaker is quoted as saying in the release. "Then we drove the pickup truck off to see how far we could get before the stream stopped. To our amazement, we got nearly a block away before the video stopped."

Not mentioned in the press release is that Pioneer did find one interferer that could effect IPTV performance—2.4GHz cordless phones, which work on the same frequency as Wi-Fi. However, the company considers the risk acceptable. The phone has to be turned on and brought to within a few feet of the Ruckus unit before any degradation in video is detectable, Ulsaker explains.

Testing, testing

Pioneer is still beta testing the Ruckus gear. It has asked the company to develop a standard configuration that will further streamline the provisioning process. And it has asked for new functionality that will allow Pioneer to remotely manage Ruckus units in customers' homes—to upgrade firmware, troubleshoot or change configurations. These enhancements may also eventually enable self-installation by customers. The remote management piece is crucial because Pioneer serves communities two or more hours in either direction from its headquarters in Kingfisher, near Oklahoma City.

"We'll wait to evaluate the results of the remote access [development effort], but we're fairly confident it's going to be good," Ulsaker says. "We're pretty committed to rolling this out as a product to our customers. The only thing holding us back at this point is the remote management and preconfiguration pieces."

The remote management features will make the Ruckus product more attractive to other customers as well, Ulsaker points out. Ruckus agrees. "For massive deployments we need the remote management features Pioneer has requested," Callisch says. The company will have them in place no later than the summer, he adds.

Pioneer is by no means Ruckus's only customer. The company announced in March that Dublin-based Magnet Entertainment in Ireland has selected the Ruckus products to use in the first European commercial roll-out of wireless IPTV in the home. Magnet has said the Ruckus technology will allow it to cut installation time and cable and labor costs by up to 84 percent.

Europe and Asia Pacific are the hot markets for IPTV with big deployments that dwarf Pioneer and other regional telco operators in North America. Ruckus has 30 other customers in Europe doing tests of one kind and another. Selling test systems to PCCW in Hong Kong was a significant coup, Callisch says. "PCCW is really the poster child for IPTV. They're really well known for knowing how to make money at IPTV. Once we [sold to them] everybody and their mother started calling us."

While the products have a consumer look and feel to them, and are available from online retailers in some markets (although not the U.S.), Ruckus insists it is focused exclusively on the IPTV operator market for now. Developing a retail brand and distribution would require too much time and too many resources for such a small company, Lo says. Ruckus is talking to set-top box and consumer electronics manufacturers about incorporating its technology in their products.

In the meantime, many IPTV operators—once burned, twice shy when it comes to Wi-Fi—are waiting for 802.11n, the higher-bandwidth Wi-Fi upgrade currently in the midst of the standards approval process, before giving wireless another try. Ruckus insists it feels no threat from 802.11n because, despite the higher bandwidth, the new technology doesn't solve the reliability problems with Wi-Fi. And waiting for 802.11n makes no sense when the Ruckus technology works today, the company argues.

"A lot of people think 802.11n will be a panacea," Callisch says. "We think it will be fantastic. In fact, it will be necessary to move HD TV signals around. But it won't work that well unless you have technology like ours to pick the best signal path and adapt to the Wi-Fi environment in real time."

Story courtest of ISP Planet.

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