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May 2007
Volume 10 / Number 5
Publisher's Outlook
Rich Tehrani

Redefining Telecom

By Rich Tehrani, Publisher's Outlook

Software defined radio (SDR) systems are somewhat of a holy grail in technology as they use software to shift frequencies and modulation schemes while utilizing multipurpose underlying hardware. In a perfect world you could use software defined radio technology to receive cellular calls, WiFi, bluetooth, GPS, AM/FM, Sirius, XM, HDTV, etc.

Imagine if your smartphone used all the communications modes above with need for just a single processor - wouldn’t that just be amazing? Of course this will likely be possible some day but for now there are hardware components which handle each of the above functions. In many cases multiple functions can be combined on a single integrated processor module or chipset.

If SDR was ubiquitous today we wouldn’t worry much about the various new flavors of 802.11 such as A, G, N, etc… Why? Because our devices would all be software-upgradeable, allowing us to take advantage of the latest wireless standard without the need to forklift our existing access points and devices.

For wireless service providers the problem is even bigger as base stations are very expensive and forklifting a base station is a daunting prospect. But with newer and more efficient wireless technologies continuing to be developed how do you combat the evergrowing cost of throwing out the old ands supporting the new?

One way is to consider SDR for you base station via the technology being developed by Vanu Inc. (news - alert) The company was founded in 1998 by Dr. Vanu Bose the son of Dr. Amar Bose who made a name for himself in high-end audiophile products ranging from headphones to home theatre and commercial systems.

Vanu develops software-defined radio solutions for wireless service providers and similar to the world of HMP (Host Media Processiong) you use the CPU as your DSP. For those of you who are familiar with the DSP resource board market you know companies like Dialogic and Aculab make HMP solutions today that once required proprietary boards.

But leaving HMP and heading back to the world of SDR, Vanu’s Anywave Radio Access Network software runs on Linux boxes with Intel processors.

Vanu’s company uses a single underlying software architecture to generate a variety of wireless communications modes.

One major benefit to a software approach based on off-theshelf hardware is the dramatic decrease in cost achieved when compared to fixed function, proprietary systems. As a software house, Vanu can instantaneously take advantage of Moore’s law without having to do additional development work.

This cost savings is passed along to the carrier and in addition the provider now knows they are able to upgrade the base station when needed to support yet another standard. So far Vanu has shown they can operate a combined GSM, CDMA and iDEN base station through SDR technology.

The benefits of working with Vanu Inc. seem to be endless from lower power consumption to lower cost to future-proofing your investment. Still a major service provider may not feel like they should bet the farm on a small company as they need to make sure their suppliers are around for the long haul.

But then again when you consider Vanu is a software company you begin to realize the company has much less at risk compared to typical hardware manufacturers.

Where SDRs are especially attractive is at a company like Sprint where they need multi-mode radio base stations. In addition the femtocell market could be another place where SDR makes a great deal of sense allowing an enterprise or home to support a number of different wireless standards.

The rural telco market is a further area where SDR can help providers deploy low-cost wireless networks. To that end, the Massachusetts-based SDR company announced recently it will partner with Globecomm Systems (news - alert) to provide turn key-based base station solutions while allowing the latter to focus on the hosted switching service.

One wonders why there just aren’t more companies in the SDR space. I would expect about 20 players to be pumping out products by now. Is the technology too new for others to take the plunge? The concept has been around for fifteen years but perhaps CPUs have just recently become powerful enough to do a good job.

Could this be a technology that languished for a few years like VoIP (define - news - alert) and one vendor is needed to shake up the whole market. I don’t hear too much about SDR from the major telecom equipment providers so I wonder if there is a downside I haven’t considered.

Vanu seems to be acquiring customers in niche markets and one would imagine they are talks with the major players. I believe a single tier one service provider announcement is all that is needed to really make SDR a more popular term like FMC or IMS. Until then, we will have to focus on Vanu and the handful of other players in the space and wait for one of them to shake things up.

Software Defined Radio should certainly shake up the telecom landscape and make things interesting by, well, redefining the rules.


Redefining Dialogic

Speaking of redefinitions, the “new” Dialogic has taken on a more comprehensive technological persona.

The communications development world used to revolve around Dialogic. Ten years ago you virtually were compelled to buy a DSP resource board from this company or one of its smaller competitors if you wanted to develop an application such as unified messaging, voicemail, IVR, speech, recognition, ACD or just anything else.

In fact, for a number of years VoIP gateways were sold almost exclusively based on DSP resource boards. Larger telecom equipment providers would repackage systems with these boards through an integrator and claim the resulting gateways as their own.

I have taken many plant tours at industrial computer companies where I had to promise not to disclose the logos I saw throughout the plant. These were typically gateways under construction with boards from NMS or Dialogic.

In the late 1990s, while Dialogic was enjoying a nice time atop the enabling technology perch, the company received an offer from Intel it just couldn’t refuse. The processor king had the hope of integrating Dialogic’s core technology with Intel processors allowing HMP (Host Media Processing) solutions which were optimized for Intel’s chips. In addition, Dialogic played a nice role as part of a growing communications division within Intel.

Last summer Dialogic (news - alert) was spun back out of Intel and was purchased by Eicon Networks who subsequently changed the name of the combined company to Dialogic.

The announcement was a source of major buzz at TMC’s VoIP Developer Conference - now called Communications Developer ( I was in a standing room only session as the news was presented to the anxious developers.

A great deal has changed over the years and perhaps most importantly you can now develop applications without the need for DSP resource boards.

VoIP has changed the way the communications development market works and now you can build voice applications without DSP resource boards or even HMP-based solutions.

But while voice development has become somewhat easier and less expensive to accomplish, video is still a different world and video developers still have to grapple with processor intensive applications which benefit from fixed function hardware and DSP resource boards.

This may explain Dialogic’s CEO Nick Jensen’s passion about video. In my frequent conversations with Nick, he exudes excitement as he talks about the opportunity in video. It isn’t TV over the Internet that excites Nick, but bidirectional video streaming.

Nick tells me that 2G phones were used to send videos and pictures but 3G will take advantage of live video for gaming, video gaming and ringtones. He goes on to say that Singapore and Japan are way ahead in these areas and Europe is catching up. The U.S. is behind this curve still but will catch up eventually.

The way Nick sees it, video ringback tones will be hosted by a company for a fee and the videos will play based on the Caller ID of a caller. He sees the teen and consumer markets as the drivers for this sort of service.

From there his vision is that video greetings will become popular and a person - let’s say a high-value customer - will be greeted with a customized voice or video greeting when they call. This is a way to make customers feel more welcome and indeed this is similar in concept to having a gracious host or hostess seat you at a restaurant.

He also sees video playing an important role in the future of dating and social networking sites. Moreover in the video space he sees the need for certain games such as poker, bridge and chess to have video support as people playing these games want to see each other.

He also sees a potential for video rooms on auction sites where you can see other bidders. In online virtual auction houses you will be able to simulate a live auction experience. Obviously there was some discussion here about the Skype acquisition by eBay.

Nick also believes the enterprise space will see video adoption and voice and speech applications will be upgraded to support video. Nick thinks people will want to work for companies who use video in this fashion and throw out the notion of synchronizing meeting minutes with one another. So he even sees video as a way to attract and retain talent!

When you are mobile you have things worth showing. A foreign airport, a theme park, a skyline, sunset, sunrise, animals, everything and anything. In fact I recently wrote a bit that touched on video touring as another area of potential growth.

Nick thinks that in about six months, Dialogic will be even further along in video - he even used the term “major player” in providing video building blocks to companies who in turn will be building tomorrow’s leading edge video applications. It just so happens Nick will be keynoting Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Los Angeles ( in about five months. I invite you to register now for this event which takes place Sept 10-12 and make sure you are there to listen to Nick’s evolving vision of the video opportunity in communications.

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