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[chox] Drahtlose Netzwerke als Infrastruktur für "Sweetspot Neighborhoods"

Danke an Kim Veltman für diesen Hinweis!

The Limits of SpongeBob SquarePants
One Canadian's Wireless Neighborhood Network Could Someday Serve Us All

By Robert X. Cringely

Like many of us, Andrew Greig put a WiFi access point in his house so he
could share his broadband Internet connection. But like hardly any of us,
Andrew uses his WiFi network for Internet, television, and telephone. He
cancelled his telephone line and cable TV service. Then his neighbors
dropped-by, saw what Andrew had done, and they cancelled their telephone
and cable TV services, too, many of them without having a wired broadband
connection of their own. They get their service from Andrew, who added an
inline amplifier and put a better antenna in his attic. Now most of
Andrew's neighborhood is watching digital TV with full PVR capability,
making unmetered VoIP telephone calls, and downloading data at prodigious
rates thanks to shared bandwidth.

 Is this the future of home communications and entertainment? It could be,
five years from now, if Andrew Greig has anything to say about it.

The advantage Andrew Greig has over most of the rest of us is that he
works for Starnix, an international Open Source software and services
consultancy in Toronto, Canada. Starnix, which deals with huge corporate
clients, has the brain power to get running what I described above. And it
goes much further than that simple introduction.

Somewhere in Andrew's house is a hefty Linux server running many
applications, including an Asterisk Open Source VoIP software PBX. There
is no desktop PC in Andrew's house. Instead, he runs a Linux thin client
on a Sharp Zaurus SL-6000 Linux PDA. Sitting in its cradle on Andrew's
desk at home, the Zaurus (running a special copy of Debian Linux, NOT as
shipped by Sharp) connects to a full-size keyboard and VGA display, and
runs applications on the server. Another cradle, monitor and keyboard are
at Andrew's office, where he also doesn't have a PC. Walking around in his
house, the Zaurus (equipped with a tri-mode communications card) is a WiFi
VoIP phone running through the Asterisk PBX and connecting to the Vonage
VoIP network. Walking out of his house, the Zaurus automatically converts
to the local mobile phone carrier, though with a data connection that
still runs back through Vonage. At Starbucks, it's a Wifi Vonage phone. At
Andrew's office, it is a WiFi extension to the office Asterisk PBX AND to
Andrew's home PBX. That's one PDA doing the job of two desktop PCs, a
notebook PC, and three telephones.

Yeah, but what about that wireless TV? How does that work? Andrew's server
runs Myth TV, an Open Source digital video recorder application, storing
on disk in MPEG-4 format (1.5-2 megabits-per-second) more than 30,000 TV
episodes, movies and MP3 music files. "As each new user comes online, I
add another TV card to the system so they can watch live TV," says Andrew,
"but since there are only so many episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants,
nearly everything that isn't news or sports is typically served from disk
with full ability to jump forward or back at will. We've reached the point
now where the PVR has so much in storage already that it is set to simply
record anything that isn't already on disk."

Think about it. These folks up in Canada can not only watch everything we
can watch on TV, on a whim they can watch every episode of the original
Star Trek in the order they were broadcast ALL ON ONE WEEKEND. I wouldn't
do that, true, but I also CAN'T do that.

At this point, intellectual property lawyers are supposed to start
reaching for their telephones to call Canada, but it won't do any good
because all this content is perfectly legal and here's how. With the
exception of local channels, which come from an antenna, all of Andrew's
video content comes from a C-band (big dish) satellite receiver
(receivers, actually), and is fully paid for. "I buy the channels just
like a cable system does or a motel that wants to offer HBO, from the
National Programming Service," says Andrew. "And as a result I pay
wholesale prices. People don't realize how much of a markup there in is
the cable business. The Discovery Networks, for example, cost me $0.26 per
customer per month. The IP laws in both the U.S. and Canada say that if I
have legal access to this content I can store and use it. And the
over-the-air channels, of course, are free."

Remember how in the go-go Internet days of three to four years ago, we
used to talk about "disintermediation?" That was using technology to
remove middle men from transactions. Well, what Andrew Greig is doing is
dis-intermediating both the telephone and TV cable companies. And he'd
like to dis-intermediate the Internet Service Providers, too.

Starnix is getting ready to take its technology on the road, so to speak,
selling and licensing it to all comers. One plan is to create a wireless
ISP offering these services, growing it around what Andrew calls "wireless
sweet spots." The difference between a "hotspot" and a "sweet spot" is
that a sweet spot is both hot AND cheap. "We were installing a wireless
network in a large hospital and showed them that there were economies of
scale to be gained from lighting four of the fiber pairs coming-in from
their ISP, rather than two. Their costs go down and we benefit from that
lower pricing and pick up the additional bandwidth for wireless service
outside the hospital." Since Starnix installs wireless networks all over
(other Starnix sites include the Time-Warner intergalactic HQ in New
York), this is a provisioning model that could be used over and over.

Unlike most other wireless networks, Starnix uses 802.11a, which matches
the 54 megabits-per-second speed of 802.11g, but does so in the five GHz
band where there is less interference. Even more important, while 802.11g
(and -b) have a maximum of only three non-conflicting channels, 802.11a in
North America supports 24 non-conflicting channels for at least eight
times the total bandwidth.

This would all be just an interesting and very nerdly proof of concept
except that Starnix has a global reputation (one of their wireless network
customers is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- Canada's more colorful
version of the FBI), and the Canadian Government is putting some money
into helping establish the wireless ISP.

But there is an industrial or commercial side to this, too. Right now,
OEMs are lining-up to bring this Starnix model of hardware, software, and
connectivity to the workplace. "It's the six percent solution," says
Greig. "Businesses don't want to admit this, but they spend up to 12
percent of gross revenues on IT including communications. By going to Open
Source and thin clients and VoIP we could cover all their needs for half
that cost -- six percent. No separate hardware, software, bandwidth, or
support costs, just a flat six percent. We have large partners right now
who are getting ready to take this proposition to market."

What's happening in Andrew Greig's neighborhood is going to happen in
three to five years in many neighborhoods. The look will be slightly
different with technologies like WiMax wireless networking playing a role.
Moore's Law, too, is going to have a significant impact on bringing down
the cost of implementing this dream. That Starnix thin client needed to
drive your TV costs $250 in volume today but three years from now it will
cost $70. Or maybe the thin client will be in the TV, itself. With Linux
proliferating in consumer devices that's almost a sure thing since even if
Sony doesn't do it some firmware hacker will.

That's the big lesson here, not that some guys up in Canada can run their
own Star Trek marathon, but that Open Source software is leading to
digital devices being used in large volumes in ways their designers never
envisioned. This takes control of the network out of the hands of the
providers and into the hands of the users. And the outcome doesn't have to
be some socialistic information economy. On the contrary, it means that
whole new business models will appear to take advantage of the fact that
all types of communications and all types of content will be able to reach
all parts of the market with almost no friction. Following that line of
thought, even I might find a way to make a living.



[English translation]
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