IPTV over wireless? Why not?

Ruckus' Selina Lo talks home improvement and Wi-Fi futures

When she exited Alteon, she decided to take a holiday. It was a long one, ending up eating much ice cream in Italy... and trying to install TV in two rooms in her home in Silicon Valley. She wanted it in two rooms; to do that, she found herself spending thousands on rewiring and ended up with a socking great hole in the ceiling, watching the installer trotting off complacently explaining: "We don't do interior work."

"So I thought, why can't I use Wi-Fi for the TV signal?" She found a couple of guys trying to start a company up which could. And they couldn't get funding "because everybody said Wi-Fi is a commodity, so the three of us put up a million and a half dollars of seed capital, and the VCs like Sequoia followed."

Lo, it turns out, was born in Hong Kong, and originally went to America with her family, aiming to learn enough English to get a degree which would enable her to teach. While she was studying, things in Hong Kong changed and she felt less and less like teaching English in the colony, so switched to UC Berkeley and computers.

Now, with MediaFlex starting to sign up big carriers like Telefonica and PCCW and a soon-to-be-announced European contract with one of the big five, Ruckus is starting to promote its latest baby: ZoneFlex.

"It's aimed at the Unfortunate Five Thousand," summarises Lo. "The middle size company can't run to the big-bucks networks with all the bells and whistles, but they can't manage by buying the cheap stuff, because it won't scale. We can handle their needs. We recently deployed it in a Holiday Inn, a building with 100 rooms, 3 stories, 18,000 square feet per storey.

"It had only one Ethernet port per floor. We deployed Zoneflex in this Holiday Inn with less than a dozen access points. One on each floor has the AP connected to Ethernet - ll others are wirelessly connected through that one. It took us three hours, 10,000 dollars to cover the hotel."

She's preaching to the choir, with me. In the last year, I've watched my inner London network slow down further and further, until it really isn't something that you can rely on. The 802.11n MIMO technology will make things worse, and the collapse of the ultra-wide band standards process means that there's no hope from that quarter, even with the Bluetooth SIG working on the problem.

Sadly, the one thing they can't do ("but we're working on it!") is synchronise the stream from one TV antenna, to two sets. Digital streaming doesn't work like that; there is a variable latency much of the time, and so when you walk from kitchen to living room, there will be a chance that the one set will sound like the echo of the other.

"We can live with that. The important thing is that the carriers can install IPTV in someone's home quickly, and without pulling co-ax cable through holes in the walls. And if we can solve the IPTV problem, which is the hardest, we can solve the others too." ®

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