The Best Medium For Home Entertainment Networks Is Already In Your House!
Rob Gelphman, Chair, Marketing Work Group, MoCA
The way we watch TV is undergoing dramatic change. Hectic lives, longer hours at work, community involvement and other demands on our time all conspire to affect what were once consistent and hardwired viewing habits. Even the most loyal viewers are challenged to watch their favorite program when it's scheduled. Linear or appointment TV is on the way out, with the possible exception of sports. Anytime, anywhere entertainment is in.
VCR's attempted to solve this problem back in the 70's but limited tuning ability, and complex event programming without any up to date guide made this technology useful only to those gifted enough to make the box stop flashing 12:00.
The digital video recorder (DVR) has been an innovating technology ushering in this new world of television. The widespread use of DVRs is leading to multi-room DVR where the consumer can record and distribute a program to any room in the house. This new but increasingly accepted consumer viewing phenomena of multi-room DVR has inspired the home entertainment network, which should not be confused with the data or voice network. The entertainment network may be distinct from the voice and data network, but whether operating in separately or in concert, all will require stringent assurances and guarantees governing performance, reliability and security depending on the application.
But before the consumer groans and thinks that this is just another example of collusion by the retailer and manufacturer, and technology industry in general, to get the consumer to purchase more expensive equipment and suffer through a lengthy installation process (despite the claims of ease of installation that scream at you from the vendor's package), the folks at MoCA want to assure you that the home entertainment network is already in your house. You know it as coaxial cabling.
The home is the final frontier when it comes to networking. But the sheer volume of alternatives based on different technologies and mediums promoted by a dizzying array of standards bodies elevates market cacophony while drowning out value. Too many choices confuse both the service provider and end consumer and ultimately delays purchase.
Home networks are and will continue to be a blend of standards and technologies, each with their advantages and disadvantages. We do not think or propose that there will be a one size-fits-all networking scheme, but that decisions will be made based on application and ease of use.
A home entertainment network is defined as multiple streams of standard and high definition content distributed anywhere, anytime. There are numerous other technologies and mediums vying for supremacy but not all are created equal and not all are suitable for high definition video. Many of these mediums are voice and data centric including 802.11n, though its increased data rate performance (more on this later) is designed to accommodate video applications. The most obvious medium for delivery of video around the home is still the one that is well understood by service providers and consumers and has been in the house for more than 50 years – coax.
There are inherent benefits to coax not available with or from other standards and technologies. Coax is a shielded medium which helps to allay concerns regarding interference with other technologies and networks, intrusion or unauthorized access.
A recent Parks Associates' (Dallas, Texas) report, "Trends in Consumer Technology: Defining and Sizing the Market", notes the challenge will be not in the number of players providing delivery, software development or platform design – but in the way these companies and organizations determine the technology standards and delivery mediums that make the digital lifestyle a reality.
While wireless networking has garnered the headlines and is increasingly prevalent if not prominent in people's homes, it is still primarily a data-based experience. It would be great for one standard to provide the ultimate solution for home networking, but that just ain't so.
While it is presumed that many readers have a wireless network in their home already, it is also possible that they have experienced less than adequate coverage. There are interference and security issues to be worked out. The 802.11n specification that is in process extends the range of the network. While this will improve reception, it also increases the range by which others can gain unauthorized access to your network if not properly secured, inviting intruders, security breaches and intellectual property theft. This is not an environment in which service providers or end consumers are comfortable.
In addition, WiFi operates in an unlicensed spectrum, so sources of interference cannot be controlled. These include microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth, baby monitors and neighboring WiFi networks.
Despite some of the issues surrounding wireless networks, it is hard to beat mobility as a compelling benefit. Wireless networks will continue to play a vital role in the hybrid digital home network because they offer you the ability to 'roam' within your household and stay connected virtually anywhere in the home.
It should be noted many of the wired and some of the emerging niche wireless standards bodies are claiming to work over their native medium and coax. We think this just proves our point.
Most other technologies and mediums, wired and wireless included, were designed with data transfer as their primary objective, and are more than adequate for such applications. Video, however, is another matter. Video delivery, especially delivery of high definition programming, is far more difficult and unreliable over any current wireless or wired technology or medium, save one--coax.
Reliability and uninterrupted delivery of video is mandatory or the entire viewing experience is affected. We may tolerate a dropped cell phone call—and can redial and complete the conversation— Interrupted video ruins the experience by disrupting the plot continuity or spoiling that suspenseful moment.
For a satisfactory video viewing experience, there must be a guarantee of reliability. While most wired and wireless networks deliver data extremely well, errors can still occur with video. If sending data and errors occur in loading a web page, or receiving email, or if service is interrupted, the packet (information) is resent. However, for streaming video and audio throughout the home, lost packets can result in skipped frames, garbled sound or blank pictures.
Cable, satellite and even telecom operators have been using existing in-home coaxial wiring to distribute analog video throughout the home for years. Coaxial cable already exists in more than 90 percent of U.S. households and many countries in Europe and Asia. It is understood by service providers and consumer alike that coax is for video!
Coaxial cable is ideal for carrying electrical signals because it is a shielded wire, meaning that the signal being carried is not subject to interference from outside sources. Because coax is designed to carry TV signals, coax outlets have historically been placed in close proximity to the consumer's desired TV viewing locations such as the living room, family room and bedroom. Many service providers are already reaping the benefits of coax-based networking technology enabling them to send multiple streams of high-definition content to practically any room in the house.
Unlike wireless networks which require sophisticated encryption schemes and lengthy setup, MoCA encrypts the signals automatically. MoCA transmits signals over a shielded cable; therefore you can be assured that your data, personal information and digital media are safe from interference and theft. Best of all, this means you don't have to become a security expert. By combining shielded wiring, easy isolation from neighbors and automatically enabled security protocols, MoCA's home and entertainment networking technology is designed to be a safe and secure component of hybrid home networks.
Transmitting signals over coaxial cabling allows MoCA to operate at much higher speeds than other technologies such as wireless or powerline networks which are prone to interference. Wireless networks predominantly operate in the same frequency spectrum (2.4 GHz) as cordless handsets, microwaves and other wireless networks.
Beware of the data rate claim
Because network performance of other technology can be seriously degraded through interference and environmental issues, a high theoretical data rate, while impressive, does not automatically translate into an equally high net throughput rate, especially when taking into account network overhead and other issues that affect performance.
In field tests around the U.S., MoCA validated 100 Mbps net throughputs in more than 95 percent of all outlets, a minimal requirement by service providers. The recently ratified MoCA 1.1 includes packet aggregation that will ensure net throughputs of 175 Mpbs. This far exceeds the net throughputs of any other home networking technology available today. More importantly, service provider and consumers can expect this level of performance all the time.
Home networks are evolving to support high quality video viewing experiences. The entertainment network needs to ensure freedom from interference with a sustained performance over a well-behaved medium.
The home network will be a blend of wireless and wired implementations. Wireless for voice and data and coax for video. The standard for coax is MoCA.
MoCA. It's in your house!