Category: Network hardware design

What are the issues involved with updating device firmware

Article

Firmware modders keep legal storm brewing

My comments

There is an increasing trend to design devices as though they are a computer similinar to a regular desktop computer. Here, the operating software for these devices, commonly known as “firmware”, is designed so it can be updated in the location where the device is used.

Typically newer versions of this software are delivered over the Internet, most likely via the manufacturer’s Web site or, in some cases, through device-support forums.

Methods

One common way of delivering this software is to deliver the update as a binary package that you download using your regular computer, then upload to the device in one or more different ways.

This may involve physically transferring the package to the device using removable media which you install in the device. Then you may either restart the device or select a “Firmware Update” menu option to load this software in the device. An example of this may be a digital camera or an MP3 player.

It may also include uploading the software to the device’s Web management interface as is commonly done with wireless routers. On the other hand you may have to run a firmware-update program on your regular computer which delivers the software to your directly-connected device such as a printer or, in some cases, your network-connected device.

An increasingly-common method that is used for devices that are connected to the Internet is to invoke a firmware-update routine through the setup menu. Here, the device visits a special server run by its manufacturer, checks the version of the firmware on that server and downloads the latest version if it exists on that server. This may be performed as part of the setup routine for a new device or the device may poll the server for new firmware updates at specified times.

Benefits

The main benefit from device firmware that is updated through the device’s lifespan is that there is a chance for the device’s manufacturer to “iron out” bugs that may have been overlooked in the haste to get the device to market as soon as possible. This also includes “tuning” the device’s performance at handling particular tasks as newer algorithms come along.

In some cases, a firmware update may be about improving security, which is part of the increasingly-common “cat and mouse” game between the device manufacturer and the device-modding community. It also is about adding extra functions to the device that it didn’t come with when it was launched. An example of this include Draytek adding 3G wireless-broadband WAN functionality to their VPN routers or supporting newer wireless-broadband modems on these routers.

The field-updatable firmware packages can allow a device to enjoy a longer service life as newer requirements can be “baked” in to the software and rapidly pushed out to customers. Examples of this can include support for newer peripheral hardware or newer operating standards.

Drawbacks

There may be cases where some functions offered by the device may be broken due to a firmware update; or the device’s user has to learn new operating procedures to perform some of the functions.

As well, firmware updates that are drawn down by the device may chew up bandwidth especially if there are more of the same device to be update. This can also extend to frequently-delivered large firmware updates for the same device.

Experiences

One situation that I had observed was the use of a Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox as a music-playout device at the church I go to. Initially, there were problems with using this music play because the previous music-playout device, which was a MiniDisc deck had a time-remaining indicator for the currently-playing track.

Subsequent to the purchase of this music player, Creative Labs delivered a major firmware update across the Nomad Jukebox range and this firmware had a “fuel-gauge” indicator to show how far in to the currently-playing track the unit was as well as a time-remaining indicator. Once the latest firmware was applied to this Nomad Jukebox, it became easier to use the device for the purpose that the church bought it for.

Another example was the Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor. Through the time I had the unit, there had been many firmware updates with UPnP AV / DLNA media playback being delivered through one of the updates and full MediaRenderer functionality being delivered at a subsequent update. Similarly, this device acquired Facebook, TuneIn Internet radio and other network-service functionality.

Yet another example was where I reviewed two HP business laser printers for this site. I had noticed that once these printers received firmware updates, they were able to work with HP’s ePrint ecosystem.

Issues

A large software image for a small problem

One main issue with firmware updating is that the company typically needs to deliver a complete firmware image to fix a small problem in the device. This can be annoying as devices have a firmware size equivalent to earlier incarnations of the Windows operating environment and this figure is increasing rapidly.

A direction that may have to be looked at for firmware-update delivery is to implement practices associated with updating regular-computer operating systems. This is where smaller incremental updates are delivered to the device and installed by that device. Apple has headed in to that direction with the iOS and this has become easier for them due to the regular desktop computing system being their founding stone. This direction may not work if the firmware is to be subject to a major rewrite with a changed user-interface.

Making and breaking preferred content distribution mechanisms

The article looked at the issue of field-updatable device software as making or breaking a preferred content-distribution model. There are examples of this with games consoles having their software modified so they can play pirated, homebrew or grey-import games titles; the “jailbreaking” of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) so they run software not provided by the iTunes App Store; or DVD and Blu-Ray players modified to play pirated and grey-import movies.

The manufacturers are in a game of “cat and mouse” with these devices with the software-modification community to keep these preferred distribution mechanisms alive. This is especially with devices like printers or games consoles that may be sold at loss-leading prices so that customers buy software or accessories at higher prices through preferred distribution chains.

Limiting “out-of-the-box” functionality unless updates are performed

This can lead to devices and partner software being unable to function fully unless the device is updated.

Some examples of this may include the PlayStation 3 games console package cited in the original article where you needed to download a significant update to play a game that was packaged with the console. Then you had to download extra software on to the console from the game supplier before you could play online.

Another example would be the previously-mentioned HP LaserJet printers which needed to be updated before they could run with the ePrint ecosystem. This situation may happen if the new software requirement was ran out just after the hardware was released.

Update loops

A situation that can occur with devices that implement Internet-based updating is what I call an “update loop” or “update chain”. This is where the device completes many firmware-update cycles before it becomes useable. It has happened with the WDTV Live network media adaptor but can happen with other devices.

What manufacturers could do is to allow a “once and for all” update cycle that obtains and installs the latest firmware. The server software could prepare a software build that is particular to the device’s current firmware and supply that build rather than supplying earlier software builds.

PC-style functionality addition

The trend now is to have our devices work in a similar vein to a regular personal computer, where users can add accessory hardware and software at a later date through the product’s lifecycle.

This is intensified with the “app” ecosystem that has been driven by smartphones and tablets, where users visit an “app store” to download programs to their devices. Similarly, TV manufacturers are integrating programs like Skype in their network-enabled TVs and allowing customers to add on Webcams to these sets for video conferencing.

Here, we could the thinking of adding software functionality to devices either through apps and “drivers” that are downloaded as hardware is installed or subsequent full firmware updates. The former method could work well with devices that can have their functionality evolved by the customer or installer whereas the latter method would work with devices that perform the same function all the time.

What could be looked at with device software management

UPnP Device Management

The UPnP Forum have recently released a DeviceManagement Device Control Protocol which allows for network-based configuration and management of devices. This includes a SoftwareManagement Service which looks after the issue of software delivery for these devices.

This may be of relevance where another device works as a management point for another networked device with no user interface or a limited user interface. An example of this setup may be a regular computer or a tablet running an application that co-ordinates and manages firmware updates for a variety of devices; or an IPTV set-top box that is part of a “triple-play” setup managing the software on the router that is at the network-Internet “edge”.

Use of a network-attached storage to keep device software images

An increasing number of home networks are or will be equipped with a network-attached storage device which shares data held on a hard disk across the local network. One main application for this would be to keep music, picture and video files so that they can be shared across the network.

The industry could look at ways of using these NAS (network attached storage) to track down and keep a local cache of new firmware for devices on the home network. Then the devices can check this resource for newer software images when they need to update their firmware.  This may suit home networks where there are multiple devices running the same software, such as multiple units of the same games console or multiple TVs made by the same manufacturer within a close time frame.

It may sound like a practice associated with computing in the “big end of town” where the desire by business IT teams is to maintain standard operating environments; but this technique could be used to keep multiple devices from the same manufacturer up to date without using up bandwidth for firmware updates. As well, with the appropriate protocols, it could allow for a “hands-off” approach when adding new devices to the network or maintaining existing devices.

Conclusion

As more and more dedicated-purpose devices move towards the computing model used by regular computers, we will need to think of issues concerning keeping the software up to date and using the updates to improve the devices.

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Freebox Révolution–the first to be compatible with the full Apple ecosystem

 

La Freebox Révolution est compatible avec AirPlay et Time Machine – DegroupNews.com

My Comments

It is not common for Internet-gateway equipment that is typically supplied by a communications provider or ISP to support any of the protocols that are peculiar to Apple’s ecosystem. Typically a person who wanted a device to work tightly with their Macintosh or iOS device had to use a network device supplied by Apple or an Apple-approved third-party vendor.

Increasingly most network-attached storage devices started to support iTunes server functionality or Apple Time Machine backup functionality through the use of open-source components that were enabled through the device’s Web-based dashboard. But the AirPlay playback function has been based on code that Apple controls and devices had to have Apple approval in order to compete with the Apple TV device as a media player.

Now Free, one of the telecommunications carriers in France’s lively and competitive “triple-play” Internet market have integrated their latest Freebox Révolution customer equipment with the Apple ecosystem. This functionality is supplied for free as part of the latest firmware update for the Freebox Révolution router and set-top box.

At the moment, the AirPlay playback functionality is available through the Freebox Server’s integrated speakers or an audio device connected to the Freebox Server’s line output. The Time Machine network backup is done by using the Freebox Server’s integrated hard disk.

There are some other slight improvements for the Freebox Player in the form of  improved MKV compatibility and UTF-8 subtitle handling. But this device could really support the AirPlay functionality better because it would ordinarily be hooked up to the TV and a good-quality home-theatre system. As well, if Apple allows, it could support AirPlay video playback from from a Macintosh computer or an iOS device.

It certainly shows how capable the consumer-premises equipment for a triple-play service can become under a highly-competitive environment for “triple-play”Internet.

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Samsung to make the Super AMOLED touchscreen available for 7” tablets

Articles

Samsung to produce 7" high-res AMOLED display | SammyHub.com

Un écran tactile AMOLED 7″ à « forte » résolution chez Samsung | Le Journal du Geek

My comments

Samsung have been involved in developing the active-matrix OLED display over a long time and have refined it in to a single-layer AMOLED touchscreen display that is pitched at smartphones.

As you all will know, the difference between the OLED display and the LCD display is that the way the display is lit up. An OLED display uses power to actually light up the pixels rather than dynamically passing light through a filter that makes up the image, a practice that is done with LCDs.

There are some key benefits that these displays have such as high contrast, improved colour, a wide viewing angle as well as energy saving due to only needing to light up what is needed on the display. Infact I have described the OLED display as a “vacuum fluorescent display” for battery-operated devices because the displays have that same bright and crisp display characteristic as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on a large range of good-quality consumer electronics like DVD players and home-theatre receivers.

For that matter, I currently own the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone which has this display technology and have been pleased with the way it handles regular display activity including pictures and videos. This is even after I have owned the Nokia N85 Symbian S60 smartphone which uses the same AMOLED display technology in a non-touchscreen application.

Now they have taken this technology further by developing the Super AMOLED Plus which is the same AMOLED display with integrated capacitive touchscreen as used in these Galaxy S series smartphones, but as a 7” 1024×768 variety.

At the moment, the obvious application for this display would be the 7” tablet but I would see it appeal to more applications such as dashboard touchscreens for the car or boat. This may also include the double-DIN multifunction head units that will appeal to the young males who want to equip their cars with street-worthy sound systems.

If Samsung wanted to have sufficient manufacture quantities for these displays as they do for the small OLED displays used in the smartphones, they would have to build one of their Galaxy Tab 7” tablets with these displays. This also includes encouraging other manufacturers to implement them in a 7” tablet model.

Who knows when it would be that Samsung would take the integrated touchscreen AMOLED display technology up to the 10” size for the larger tablets and netbooks.

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Choosing a Brother small-business printer or HP inkjet printer could become like choosing a car

Recently, I had reviewed a few Brother printers and had observed a particular trend in how the products are being positioned. It is becoming more akin to how the typical vehicle builder is positioning a particular vehicle model or series of vehicles.

It is also becoming very similar with Hewlett-Packard’s Photosmart and OfficeJet inkjet printer ranges where there are a few common mechanisms implemented in the products. But, in HP’s case, the different models have differing cosmetic designs so as to integrate different feature sets and make the more expensive machines look classier.

A lineup of models with varying feature sets and throughput speeds but with the same design

In the vehicle world, an example of this was Holden’s large family cars sold through the 1960s to the 1970s. These vehicles had different model names depending on their level of luxury and / or their powertrain, with the “Premier” representing the top-of-the-line standard-wheelbase vehicle. Low-end vehicles were referred to initially as “Standard” or “Belmont” vehicles until the early-70s “HQ” series while “step-up” or “mid-tier” vehicles had model names like “Special” or “Kingswood”. This was until the “HQ” series where vehicles in that and subsequent series had “package” suffixes to differentiate entry-level and mid-tier vehicles.

For example, I had noticed that the HL-2240D direct-connect duplex monochrome laser printer was part of a series of laser printers based around a new printer design and print engine. There was a low-end model known as the HL-2130 which couldn’t print both sides as well as the HL-2250DN which was equipped with Ethernet networking and the HL-2280DW being equipped with Wi-Fi networking. Similarly, the more expensive models in the lineups also benefit from higher page throughput due to more powerful components in the design.

A model range derived from another model range

But the practice becomes very similar to how the vehicle builders derive a model range design from another concurrently-running model range design. An example of this would be them designing a longer-wheelbase luxury “executive” car as a derivate of a standard large family car like what Ford have done when they derived the Fairlane and LTD designs from the Falcon designs.

Here, this is reflected in how the designs for this company’s laser-printer lineup are used. I had observed that the multifunction series including the MFC-7360N that I reviewed were derived from the previously-mentioned dedicated laser printer series that the HL-2240D was part of. Here, all the units in both printer lineups used the same print engine and the same replacement parts.

Benefits for product choice

This will allow for a granular range of products in a product class where a person can choose or specify the right kind of printer based on their needs and budget; without needing to create new designs in order to satisfy the different market segments. This also allows the manufacturer to keep product prices within affordable territory because there is the ability to reuse parts across the different models. It also can allow a salesman room to upsell customers to better products or make deals that offer better value.

In most cases, the mid-tier product will offer best value for most users. For example, in these two printer lineups, the mid-tier models (HL-2250DN dedicated printer and MFC-7460DN) will offer the two currently-desirable features – double-sided printing which saves paper; and network connectivity. In some other cases like the dedicated colour laser printers based on Brother’s latest high-throughput colour-laser print engine, the HL-4150CDN which just has Ethernet network connectivity and reduced-time-penalty colour duplex printing would suit most users.

Conclusion

The creation of a granular product range with incremental functionality but a few common design bases and /or descendent product classes can then allow manufacturers to keep consistent value for money when they want to build out a product range.

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Encouraging the use of the UPnP Printer device class

The UPnP Forum have established a printer device class in the early days of this standard and have provided an “improved-printing” service for this device class. This was an attempt to allow a device to print text, Webpages and photos without the need for the device to have printer-specific drivers.

HP Envy 100 all-in-one printer (D410a)

I know that a lot of Hewlett-Packard’s network-enabled printers in the Photosmart range like the Photosmart Premium Fax C309a support this functionality. This also includes the HP Envy 100 printer which I have just reviewed. Some other manufacturers like Epson may support this functionality in a few of their products.

HP Photosmart Premium Fax C309a

The reason that there is inaction concerning the UPnP Printer device class is that there aren’t enough client devices that properly support this function. So far, some of the Nokia phones that work on the Symbian S60 Third Edition platform like the N95 and N85 can print photos to these printers using this platform. But I know of no other devices or platform apps that exploit this functionality.

Key enabler for this device class

Platform devices

An increasing number of manufacturers are moving towards the use of device platforms like Android and Maemo as the baseline operating system for embedded-platform devices like set-top boxes, PVRs and TVs as well as smartphones and tablet computers. These platforms typically use “apps” as a way of adding functions to the device, effectively turning the device into something that resembles a general-purpose computer. These “apps” are typically written by third-party developers and provided through an “app-store” or similar menu that is hosted on the device, either for a low cost or, in a lot of cases, for free.

These platforms, save for the Apple iOS platform, don’t have a printer-interface function that these apps could exploit and what is happening is that printer manufacturers are writing photo-printing apps for these platforms that work with their devices. They can support the UPnP Printer Device Class as a printing interface rather than reinventing the wheel for this function.

Key applications

Hardcopy from the tablet computer

As the tablet computer becomes increasingly popular amongst home and small-business users, there will be a requirement to turn out hard-copy from the apps loaded on these devices. Examples of this include printing emails or chapters from ebook apps to printing out photographs taken using the device’s integrated camera.

At the moment, the iPad can work with AirPrint-enabled printers like the HP Wireless-E B110a, the HP Envy 100 and the HP Colour LaserJet CM1415 that have been reviewed in this site. Windows 7 tablets can use the conventional driver-based Windows printing platform but Android and WebOS tablets don’t have an integrated printing platform. Access to the printers for these platforms is through photo-printing apps which are limited in purpose because they only print photos or, in some cases, PDF files; and are also tied to particular manufacturers’ printers.

If Google, HP or other companies who are behind tablet-computer and smartphone operating systems implement the UPnP Printer Device Class, they can add a driver-free printing ecosystem to these operating systems.

Hardcopy for Interactive TV

As the TV set becomes integrated with the Internet, there will be an interest in interactive TV. This will allow the viewer to interact with broadcast material using their remote control. Initially, it is being used with some broadcast-TV set-top boxes that use a cable-TV or dial-up-modem return path to facilitate purchasing of pay-per-view content or increasingly to allow viewers to register votes when they watch panel shows or talent quests. The Internet path is increasing the interactive TV abilities through the delivery of extra material to the viewer, thus permitting concepts like “catch-up TV” and on-demand availability of extended interviews and supplementary material. It is being augmented by set-top boxes, PVRs and TV sets (especially the main-lounge-area ones) being equipped with network connectivity.

The UPnP-enabled printer can work well with Interactive TV by offering a hard-copy option for editorial and advertising content. In the case of editorial content, this could lead to the availability of factsheets, end-of-show leaderboards and similar material.

The best example of this would be MasterChef, the popular cooking-based reality TV show. In a typical season, there are many recipes that will appeal to one’s tastebuds and may “fill in the gap” for a cooking situation that may be particular to one or more viewers. Here, the viewer would have to go to the MasterChef website using their computer and search through the recipes for the one that interests them in order to print out the hard copy they need to work from when they build their shopping list and when they cook the dish in the kitchen. It could be made easier by the viewer pressing a button on the Interactive TV remote control while the recipe is being cooked to have that recipe printed out, or obtain a recipe list for this current episode so they can choose what to print out.

Even the commercials could be augmented with “print-to-redeem” coupons, “specials lists”, factsheets and product-disclosure notices that the viewer can print out at the touch of a button when they see the ad. This can be extended to programs like game shows or talent quests that exploit viewer participation and use “print-to-redeem” coupons as incentives for viewers who participate in these shows.

Games and apps that are part of the interactive TV experience can be augmented with hardcopy options. Examples of this could be skill-based games that reward users with prizes for successful completion or being at the top of the game’s leaderboard; or apps that provide hardcopy information on demand.

Companies who are behind interactive-TV platforms like those involved with Internet TV could implement UPnP Printer Device Class in order to open up the possibilities offered with hard copy for Interactive TV.

Hardcopy snapshots from digital cameras and electronic picture frames

The UPnP Printer Device Class offers the ability for a connected electronic picture frame or digital camera to print snapshots through an existing home network rather than having to use “peripheral connections” like USB or Bluetooth.

This can avoid the need to locate a frame that receives “new” images via email or online services near the printer to print out the snapshots. Similarly, one could print out snapshots taken with a Wi-Fi enabled digital camera or mobile phone without worrying about whether the camera will work with the printer. This would be more acceptable for people who like creating “picture walls” from special events that they host. These “picture walls” are collections of pictures of the event taken by guests that are stuck to large sheets of cardboard.

Conclusion

But there are more applications like the ability to obtain a copy of a “dashboard” screen from a monitoring device through to “on-demand” news-printing from other devices. It also means that the UPnP Printer Device Class can open up paths for innovation when it comes to the functionality roadmap for a device targeted at a home or small-business user. As well, the UPnP Printer Device Class can also be useful as a “generic printer driver” for general-purpose computers so that basic text and graphics print jobs can be turned out without the need for awkward print drivers.

What needs to happen is that companies need to get serious about implementing this device class in their printers, computers and network-enabled devices.

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Understanding the new Thunderbolt peripheral-connection technology

Another of the new technologies that Intel has been promoting alongside its “Sandy Bridge” processor architecture has been the “Thunderbolt” peripheral connector.

Capabilities

This connector has a current raw transfer speed of 10Gbps but could have a theoretical maximum is 40Gbps (20Gbps up and 20Gbps down) when both pairs of wires are used. You can use this same “pipe” to pass a DisplayPort-based audio-video stream for a display as well as PCI-Express-based data stream.

There is the ability to daisy-chain 7 Thunderbolt-connected devices but you can have less than 3 metres between the devices at the moment.

Thunderbolt at the moment

This technology will complement USB and other connection technologies but will be like what happened with USB in the mid-90s. This means that it will be an Apple-only technology and this will appear on the latest run of MacBook Pro laptops.

It will appear on PC-based computers in early next year. As far as retrofit opportunities go, Intel had mentioned that it could be available for new motherboards but there was nothing much said about availability as an add-in expansion card.

The main peripheral applications would be external storage subsystems like the LaCie “Little Big Disk” storage array; as well as displays. Such peripherals that have this connection will typically be marketed as being “Thunderbolt-ready”.

What could it offer

Another storage-expansion connection for computing devices

One key application would be to provide a high-bandwidth direct connection between computer devices and one or more external hard-disk storage subsystems. The reason I use the term “computer devices” is because such devices could encompass PVRs which could benefit from capacity expansion, routers and network devices that convert attached external hard-disk subsystems to network-attached storage; as well as the general-purpose computers.

Multifunction devices that are fit for the new generation of compact high-performance computers

There is the possibility for one to exploit the Thunderbolt concept to design a multifunction desktop console unit. Here, this unit could house a screen, audio subsystem, video camera, removable storage such as an optical drive or SDXC card reader and/or a USB hub. Another variant could house a keyboard instead of a screen and connect to one or more external displays using DisplayPort or regular monitor connectors.

This display unit would be connected to an ultracompact system unit that has only the processor, RAM, graphics-processor, network connectivity and a hard disk, plus some USB sockets for a desktop application. On the other hand, this display could serve as a “desktop display” for a subnotebook or ultraportable computer. The USB hub would come in handy for connecting keyboards, mice, USB memory keys and similar devices.

Here, these multifunction devices can be designed so that they are no “second-class citizen” because they have multiple functions. This means they could render the multiple video streams as well as support the high-capacity removable storage technologies like Blu-Ray Disc or SDXC cards.

This is more so as the Intel Sandy Bridge technology makes it feasible for small computers like book-sized ultracompact desktops and notebooks of the “subnotebook” or “ultraportable” class to “have all the fruit” as far as performance goes.

Issues that may be of concern

One main issue that I would have about the Thunderbolt technology is that Intel could limit it to computer applications that are centred around its chipsets. This would make it harder for competing processor designers like AMD or NVidia to implement the technology in their chipset designs. It would also place the same implementation limits on system designers who want to use chipsets that offer improved performance or better value for money alongside Intel processors on their motherboards.

This is like the Intel Wireless Display technology which allows a special display adaptor to connect to an Intel-based laptop computer via a WiFi wireless network and show the pictures on the attached display device. Here, this functionality could only work with computers that have certain Intel chipsets and couldn’t be retroactively applied to older computers.

Another issue would be to encourage implementation in “embedded” and dedicated-purpuse devices like PVRs and routers as well as the general-purpose computers. For some applications like the previously-mentioned storage-expansion application, this could add value and longer service life to these devices.

Conclusion

Once the Thunderbolt technology is implemented in a competitive manner, it could open up a new class of devices and applications for the computing world by making proper use of the “big fat pipe” that it offers.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 3

Now we come to the issue of network-infrastructure equipment that will need to support the increasing demands placed on the home network by the previously-mentioned smartphones, tablet computers and Internet-enabled TVs.

Network Infrastructure

Network Connectivity

Some newer chipsets have appeared which will increase network bandwidth for the 802.11n Wi-Fi segment and the HomePlug AV segment. The current implementations may use manufacturer-specific implementations which won’t bode well with the standards.

The first new “call” is the 450Mbps 802.11n WPA2 WPS Wi-Fi segment which is being provided by most network makes for their midrange routers and access points. Access points and routers that work with this specification use three 802.11n radio streams to maintain the high throughput. The full bandwidth may be achieved if the client device is equipped with an 802.11n wireless network adaptor that supports the three streams but your existing devices may benefit due to reduced contention for the wireless bandwidth due to the access point / router offering three streams.

Most of the routers shown at the Consumer Electronics Show this year that support the 3-stream 450Mbps level for the 802.11n wireless network functionality also offered dual-band dual-radio operation to the same specification. Here, these devices could work on both the 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band at this level of performance.

Some manufacturers were trying out the idea of a 60GHz high-bandwidth media network which may be based on a Wi-Fi (802.11 technology) or other proprietary scheme. This could lead to three-band multimedia routers and access points that use 2.4GHz and 5GHz for regular whole-home wireless networking and 60GHz for same-room wireless networking.

The second new “call” is the 500Mbps throughput being made available on high-end HomePlug AV devices. These powerline network devices may only achieve the high bandwidth on a segment consisting of the high-bandwidth devices that are based on the same chipset. Here, I would wait for the HomePlug AV2 standard to be fully ratified before you chase the 500Mbps bandwidth on your HomePlug segment. Of course, these devices can work with HomePlug AV segments.

The third new call is for midrange high-throughput routers to have Gigabit on the WAN (Internet) port as well as the LAN ports. This is more relevant nowadays as fibre-based next-generation broadband services are rolled out in most countries.

Everyone who exhibited network-infrastructure equipment offered at least one 450Mbps dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit Ethernet on the WAN (Internet) connection as well as the wired-LAN connection. As well, most of these routers are equipped with circuitry that supports QoS when streaming media and some of them have a USB file-server function which can also provide media files to the DLNA Home Media Network.

Trendnet also offered an access point and a wireless client bridge that worked to this new level of 802.11n performance. They also demonstrated power-saving circuitry for Wi-Fi client devices which throttles back transmission power if the device is in the presence of a strong access point signal for their network. This was ostensibly to be “green” when it comes to AC-powered devices but would yield more real benefit for devices that have to run on battery power.

They also ran with the TPL-410AP which is a HomePlug AV Wireless-N multi-function access point. Another of those HomePlug access points that can “fill in the gap” on a wireless network or extend the Wi-Fi network out to the garage, barn or old caravan.

They also issued the TEW-656BRG 3G Mobile Wireless N Router, which is an 802.11n “MiFi router” that is powered by USB and works with most 3G / 4G modem sticks available in the USA. It is of a small design that allows it to be clipped on to a laptop’s lid or a small LCD monitor.

TP-Link had their 450Mbps three-stream dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit on bot WAN and LAN Ethernet connections. As well they fielded a single-stream 150Mbps USB stick as the TL-WNT23N.

They also tried their hand with IP surveillance with the TL-SC4171G camera . This camera can do remote pan-tilt, and 10x digital zoom. It connects to the network via Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi (not that much chop nowadays) and is equipped with an IR ring for night capture, as well as a microphone and speaker.

Netgear were more active with the 450Mbps three-stream routers with Gigabit LAN. Two of the models are broadband routers with Gigabit WAN, while one is an ADSL2 modem router which I think would serve the European and Australian markets more easily. The top-end model of the series has a USB file server function which works with the DLNA Home Media Network and also with Tivo “personal-TV devices”.

They also released the XAV5004 HomePlug AV switch which is the 500Mbps version of the their earlier “home-theatre” four-port HomePlug switch. Of course, they released the XAV2001 which is a compact “homeplug” adaptor which connects to the regular standards-based HomePlug AV segment.

They also have released the MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router which works with 3G/4G wireless broadband or  Ethernet broadband. This unit is being provided “tuNrnkey” for Verizon’s new 4G LTE service.

Netgear have also fielded the VEVG3700 VDSL2/Gigabit Ethernet dual-WAN router with Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Cat-IQ DECT VoIP phone base station. This device, which is pitched at triple-play service providers also supports DLNA server functionality. As well, they also had a DECT VoIP kit available for these providers

As well, Netgear have tried their footsteps in to IP-surveillance for home and small business with a camera and an Android-driven screen for this purpose.

D-Link’s network hardware range include the three-stream 450Mbps routers with Gigabit WAN/LAN, a multifunction access point / repeater for the 802.11n network as well as a new DLNA-enabled network-attached storage range

As far as the MoCA TV-coaxial-cable network is concerned, Channel Master is the only company to release any network hardware for this “no-new-wires” network. It is in the form of a MoCA-Ethernet 4-port switch for the home theatre.

“Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband routers

Every one of the US cellular-telecommunications carriers are catching on to the 4G bandwagon not just with the smartphones and tablets but with the wireless-broadband routers.

Sprint have a unit for their WiMAX service while Verizon are fielding a Samsung LTE “Mi-Fi” as well as the aforementioned Netgear MBR1000 router.

Computer hardware and software

Monitors

Some of the companies who manufacture monitors are looking at the idea of “Internet-connected” monitors which have a basic Web browser in them so you don’t have to fire up a computer to view the Web.

CPU/GPU combo chips

These new processor chips combine a CPU which is a computer’s “brain” as well as the graphics processor which “draws” the user interface on to the screen. AMD and Intel were premiering the “Accelerated Processor Units” and the Core “Sandy Bridge” prcessors respectively at the CES this year.

Intel were trumpeting the fact that this technology could make it harder to pirate movie content but this is more about mainstream computing and small-form-factor hardware being behind this space and power saving processor hardware.

Sony had lodged a commitment to AMD to use the Zacate “Accelerated Processor Unit” in some of their VAIO laptops.

Other hardware

AMD haven’t forgotten the “performance computing” segment when it comes to processor chips and released the quad-core and 6-core “Phenom” desktop and gaming-rig CPUs.

Seagate have also made the “GoFlex” removable / dockable hard disks a standard by building alliances with third-parties to make hardware that works to this standard. Could this be another “VHS-style” alliance for dockable hard disks?

Microsoft also used this show to premiere their Touch Mouse which uses that same touch operation method as Apple’s Magic Mouse. Do I see an attempt for them to “snap at” Apple when it comes to “cool hardware” as well as software?

The Microsoft Platform

There has been some activity with the Microsoft Windows platforms now that set-top boxes and tablet computers are becoming the “order of the day”

One direction Microsoft is taking is to port the Windows Platform, which was primarily written for Intel-Architecture processors, to the Acorn ARM-architecture processors. The reason that this port is taking place is due to these energy-efficient RISC processors being commonly used in battery-driven applications like tablet computers. They are also popular with other dedicated multimedia devices like set-top boxes and TV applications.

As well, Microsoft will be working on a lightweight Windows build for TV applications like set-top boxes. This is although they have previously written Windows-CE builds for this class of device.

Microsoft also want to make a variant of the Windows Phone 7 for tablet computers and are starting work on the Windows 8 project.

Similarly, Somsung has demonstrated the second incarnation of the Microsoft Surface platform This one comes in a slimmer table-based form rather than a unit that is as thick as the 1980s-style “cocktail-table” arcade game machine.

Conclusion

The Consumer Electronics Show 2011 has certainly put the connected home on the map. This is due to affordable smartphones and tablet computers becoming more ubiquitous and Internet-provided video services becoming an increasing part of American home life.

It will be interesting to see what will happen for the other “pillar” of the consumer-electronics trade fair cycle – the Internationaler Funkaustellung; and how more prevalent the Internet TV, smartphone and tablet computer lifestyle will be in Europe and Asia.

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The Telstra T-Hub can now become a fully-fledged Internet radio

News article

Tune into the world with the latest T-Hub software update – Radio, Software, Global | Telstra Exchange

My comments

Previously, the Telstra T-Hub multipurpose Internet device had an Internet radio function but this was limited to receiving the Internet streams of Australian radio stations. Most of us would think that this is limiting because of radios like the ones reviewed on this site being able to pick up Internet streams from overseas radio stations or the fact that we could use vTuner or Reciva web sites to “tune in to” these streams.

There had been a lot of discussion about this on Telstra’s “Exchange” website especially as they were about to release new software for this device, especially with a desire to have this functionality on board. Now Telstra have answered these calls by integrating the fully-fledged Internet radio functionality in to the T-Hub as part of the latest (version 1.10k) firmware update.

Someone raised in response to this article an issue about whether the Internet-radio service would be counted towards one’s Internet-traffic limit and there is a fear that it may not be so for overseas stations. Another key issue that also has to be resolved would be the quality of service that one gets with Internet radio because, as from my experience, there are times where there is increased jitter and latency with Internet radio stations especially when the station’s home country or we enter peak Internet-use times.

This news is also of interest to manufacturers, distributors and users of other multipurpose Internet devices that are intended to supplant or supplement landline-telephone functionality.

How to update the T-Hub to the latest version

  1. Touch the “Settings” icon on the T-Hub’s second home screen
  2. Touch the “Software Updates” icon.
  3. Touch “Check for New Software Updates”. This will identify if the T-Hub is on the latest firmware or whether there is an available update.
  4. If an update is available, touch “Download Now” to start the update process.
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Devolo has raised the bar with a HomePlug AV WiFi-N access point by adding a 3-port Ethernet switch

Articles

German Language

Der Devolo dLan 200 AV Wireless N organisiert Ihr Heimnetzwerk – COMPUTER BILD

From the horse’s mouth

Web page for this product (Deutschesprachen, English language)

My Comments

Previously, Netgear had released an 802.11n wireless access point which can connect to an Ethernet network or a HomePlug AV powerline network. This is a product that I had commented on as being suitable for extending the coverage of an 802.11n wireless network or establishing the footprint of your home network in to an outbuilding or static caravan that you are using as part of the house.

Now, Devolo have answered Netgear’s effort by releasing a similar product in the European market which also has a 3-port Ethernet switch.  This unit, which sells in Germany for €109.90  has similar WiFi functionality to the Netgear unit, including WPA2 security with WPS push-button setup. As far as I know from the research I have done at Devolo’s Website, this unit doesn’t seem to support WPS-based quick setup for multiple-access-point wireless networks – the WPS function only works for setting up a wireless client to the access point. This function could be added to this unit through a firmware update.

The 3-port Ethernet switch would come in handy for a lounge area with an Internet-enabled TV, a Blu-Ray player and/or a games console; or an office set up in the garage or barn where there is a desktop computer and / or a network printer. It also can come in handy if you have to use this HomePlug AV access point with another HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge to extend the coverage of your HomePlug AV powerline network to another building or caravan as I have explained here.

At least someone else has come up with another HomePlug AV wireless access point for the home network and have taken this concept further by adding a 3-port Ethernet switch rather than the typical Ethernet port found on this class of device.

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A serious wireless router / NAS combo from LaCie – ready for next-generation broadband

 

LaCie Intros ‘Wireless Space’ Wi-Fi Router / Access Point / NAS Media Server All-in-one | eHomeUpgrade

 

Video direct link

My comments

There have been previous attempts to combine a network-attached-storage device with a broadband router but most of these have resulted in devices having the worst of two worlds unless you build a computer to work as this kind of device. Mostly you have a “storage router” which is a regular wireless “edge” router which can convert a USB-connected storage device in to a network-attached storage or a network-attached storage which can serve two networks and offer elementary routing functionality.

But LaCie have made a better attempt to bring the best of both worlds together. They have released the “Wireless Space” which is a NAS with integrated wireless-router functionality in a beautiful piano-black housing.

The network-attached storage can do what most single-disk systems can do such as offering integrated backup using operating-system-integrated backup functions that are part of Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS X. Of course, files can be stored using the SMB or CIFS in a network-public share or a private share and the unit can provision media using UPnP AV / DLNA or Apple iTunes. One feature that I would like to know about with the UPnP AV media server is whether it can work with the full metadata for audio, image and video files or simply provide a folder view.

The unit can be set to work as a wireless “edge” router, a wireless access point or a wireless client bridge which provides for high flexibility, no matter whether you want to keep your existing broadband router going or replace it with something better. There are 3 Gigabit Ethernet ports for the LAN side of the connection and one Gigabit Ethernet port for the WAN (broadband) side of the connection, which makes this unit fit for use with “next-generation broadband” setups. The wireless network is based on 2.4GHz 802.11n technology and can use WPS quick-setup options.

When the unit works as a broadband router, it has the full expectation for a mid-range broadband router including UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality and VPN pass-through. If it works as a switch, it can work alongside UPnP Internet Gateway Device routers to enable remote access to the network-attached storage resources.

It could have support for 4-port switch functionality when in switch mode rather than the 3-port switch + “recovery port” functionality that it has. As well, it could do well with support for WPS-assisted “extension access point” setup so it can work quickly and easily as part of an “extended service set”. Of course, I would prefer to hook this device to a wired backbone or run it as a wireless broadband “edge” router in order to avoid putting your data at risk due to the radio-interference risks associated with wireless networking and the fact that the wireless network is a shared-bandwidth network.

This may raise questions about this device being an “infill” NAS/access-point network device for a small network or being a replacement for an existing broadband router such as to “fatten the pipe” for next-generation broadband.

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