Freebox Ultra now the technical hallmark for home broadband routers

Article

Freebox Ultra router and extender press image courtesy of Iliad Free

Freebox Ultra Wi-Fi 7 router being defined as the cutting-edge for carrier-supplied customer-premises equipment for home networks

The Freebox Ultra’s First Test: Wi-Fi 7 Surpasses Expectations – GAMINGDEPUTY

French language / Langue française

Freebox Ultra : pourquoi elle est devenue rapidement une référence technique | Freenews.fr

Test de la Freebox Ultra : notre avis complet sur la box Internet de Free (frandroid.com)

My Comments

The competitive telecommunications and Internet market in France has led towards some exciting equipment being offered has led to the local telecommunications providers offering customer premises equipment way above the average for this class of equipment.

One firm I have given space to a lot on this site is Iliad who run their “Free” Internet service in France as something that raised the bar for value there. They ended up offering a highly capable piece of equipment in the form of the Freebox Révolution with a highly-capable router / NAS unit / DECT cordless-telephone base station in one Phillippe-Starck-designed box and a “décodeur” set-top box with Blu-Ray player in another similarly-designed box. It even ended up with features like “box-to-box” or “client-to-box” VPN support, software-defined Wi-Fi 5 support and a gyroscopic remote control and both devices benefited from continual firmware upgrades that offered new functionality.

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Previously, the Freebox Révolution was defined as the cutting edge for this class of hardware

Now Iliad have taken things further with the Freebox Ultra which is usurping the role of the Freebox Révolution. This, like the Freebox Révolution uses fibre optic as the WAN connection but can work at 10 Gigabit speed, allowing for a competitive 10G Internet service courtesy of Free.

There is an extraordinary local network offering with a Wi-Fi 7 4-band access point with two streams for all of the bands. This media network is protected using the latest WPA3 security specification and there is the ability to steer client devices to the best band to work with. As for the wired network, this Freebox is about multi-gigabit Ethernet all the way with a 10 Gigabit SFP connection and four 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet sockets as a switch.

The CPU in this Freebox Ultra is an ARM Cortex A73 RISC CPU, something that wouldn’t look out of place in smartphones, tablets or the connected car. Here it is about using less power to handle a lot of data and offer a rich user interface. A user can install a NVM3 2280 SSD stick in to this router to have this work as a NAS the Freebox way with support for UPnP AV / DLNA, Apple Time Machine and other common standards. The other approach for connecting storage to this device is to use a USB-C socket with 60W PowerDelivery power for a USB hard disk or SSD of some sort.

Like the recent Freebox setups since the Révolution, this unit works on the Freebox OS which has a user interface that wouldn’t look out of place on a recent consumer or small-business network-attached storage device  or a desktop operating system’s GUI. Here, I wouldn’t put it past Free to add more functionality with a Freebox OS firmware update, even have it work with newer Wi-Fi or other network standards.

This device even comes with an extender known as the Freebox Répéteur 7 which works on Wi-Fi 7 to cover larger French homes like the “mas en Provence” so you can have continual Wi-Fi coverage through them. There is even an Ethernet connection so you could connect a wired Ethernet device to the extender or, perhaps, run a wired backhaul to the Ereebox 7.

Due to this connectivity and these capabilities, it bas been realised that the Freebox Ultra is about achieving a future-proof home network for your French home. This device is typically offered for EUR€49.99 per month with a fibre-optic broadband service that offers Internet, TV and fixed-line telephony of the kind expected in a French competitive telecommunications market.

Once you have the French telecommunications providers and AVM continually offering cutting-edge consumer-premises network equipment, it wouldn’t take long for these firms to compete with Silicon Valley and become an “Airbus” or “Arianespace” equivalent.

Dell tries “Gentleman’s Express” approach to the gaming laptop

Article

Alienware M16 R2 gaming laptop product image courtesy of Dell

The Alienware M16 R2 gaming laptop that presents itself as a “Gentleman’s Express”, offering a classy boardroom-friendly look but being a high-performance gaming machine

https://www.zdnet.com/article/can-you-use-a-gaming-laptop-at-work-this-clever-feature-by-dell-made-me-a-believer/

My Comments

There is still an interest in combining performance and everyday functionality in to regular laptop computers as these computers are appealing to more user classes than gamers or full-on professionals who use advanced software.

Previously Dell have been taking the “sports sedan” approach to creating laptops that appeal to workday use but also appeal to gaming or similar high-performance computing use cases. The “sports sedan” approach is where a standard family car design is used as the basis for a high-performance variant of that car, typically with the difference between the regular car model and the performance variant being a powertrain that has a lot more grunt.

This was demonstrated with the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop that I reviewed but was followed on with the G-Series budget gaming laptops that the same manufacturer offered.

Jensen Interceptor gentleman's express car

.. just like the Jensen Interceptor “gentleman’s express” sports coupe

But Dell have also headed down another path similar to some British and European-built cars like the Jaguar XJ S or the Jensen Interceptor. Here, a significant number of British and European vehicle builders engineered these cars to look subtle but yield a fair bit of performance and some of these cars ended up being described as “gentleman’s express” cars – conveying a mixture of youthful sportiness on the road and a classy look that doesn’t look out of place at that 5-star restaurant or that corporate office.

This is demonstrated by the Alienware M16 R2 gaming laptop which has the look and performance of other Alienware gaming laptops. But this comes across with muted colouring and has the option to turn off the RGB lighting to convey that demure look for the office. This also scales down the performance requirement for the laptop so it can work with most office workloads but not needing to spin up fans to permit high performance so you can convey that sense of professionalism.

But this doesn’t necessarily allow you to save on battery runtime due to a “performance first” design. This would then mean that you have to keep the charger with you all the time. The reviewer even described it as though computer manufacturers are moving away from gaudy looks as a sign of the times.

This computer still has an Intel Cor Ultra 7 155H CPU, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 graphics with 8Gh display memory, 16Gb RAM, a 16”2K (2560×1600) screen with a refresh rate of 240Hz. Storage comes out at 1 Terabyte SSD. But the review sample in that article costed USD$1849. There is the option to use an external graphics module thanks to a Thunderbolt 4 port, which means that you could use a fit-for-purpose graphics card in a “card-cage” external graphics module if you are thinking of different tasks like CAD or engineering.

Like a lot of gaming laptops, this could earn its keep with students who use CAD, engineering, statistics or similar software as part of their studies but are not ready to buy a certified workstation for this software until they are sure that what they are studying for is their vocation. Also this computer could become a viable creator / multimedia / prosumer option for the creative types who value the Windows platform.

The review is also conveying the computer as being suitable for “work+personal” computing setups like BYOD or people who run their own businesses, where the goal is to have one machine for work or studay and play.

Wi-Fi 7 gains more legitimacy as a home network technology

Article

Freebox Ultra router and extender press image courtesy of Iliad Free

Freebox Ultra Wi-Fi 7 router and extender available in France’s highly-competitive market

Best of Wi-Fi @MWC 2024 featuring Vantiva, ZTE, Qualcomm, & Intel – Wi-Fi NOW Global (wifinowglobal.com)

Previous Coverage about Wi-Fi 7

What is Wi-Fi 7 to provide for yoThur Wi-Fi wireless network?

My Comments

This year (2024) is being seen as a year for Wi-Fi 7 to gain legitimacy as a Wi-Fi network technology for the home and small-business network space. It is because the Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) standard was set in stone on January 8 2024.

This will be about leading wireless networks towards multiple-gigabit networking, something that will be facilitated by Gigabit fibre Internet-service networks that can be easily upgraded to this direction. There is expected to be reduced latency which will benefit online-multiplayer video games, videoconferencing and similar time-sensitive activity. There will also be time-sensitive network support at the media level that will benefit multichannel sound, multi-camera video production, robotics and the like.

Wi-Fi 7 feature and benefit list courtesy of Wi-Fi Alliance

But these networks still work on a “best case” approach but in a way that permits Wi-Fi 7 networks to support equipment that works to prior standards.

What is now happening is that more telcos and ISPs are being offered home-network routers that support Wi-Fi 7 and offer these kind of advantages. This is something to be expected of in a competitive market like France where Free is offering the Freebox Ultra (Product Page – French language / Langue française) which is the first “n-box” router to work Wi-Fi 7. along with 4 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet ports.

ZTE Wi-Fi 7 router lineup for different Internet services - press picture courtesy of ZTE

ZTE’s Wi-Fi 7 router lineup

ZTE is coming forth with a range if Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points – a range of 10 models covering every possible configuration with some routers supporting FTTP setups and DSL-copper setups as well as broadband Internet, Then Vantiva demonstrated their EasyMesh-compatible Wi-Fi 7 extenders alongside their 5G fixed-wireless modem routers at Mobile World Congress 2024. Here, most of this equipment will be made available to telcos and ISPs who are offering Gigabit Fibre Internet services. As well, Netgear and TP-Link are offering a range of Wi-Fi 7 compatible routers, distributed Wi-Fi systems and access points in their home-network product ranges, typically for high-performance users.

There is still a trickle of client-side equipment with Samsung S24 Series smartphones and the Google Pixel 8 Pro smartphone being the first recognised smartphone model to support this technology. But this year, Wi-Fi 7 will become part of product refreshes for smartphones, tablets and laptops at the premium end of the market.

The fact that network equipment manufacturers are offering Wi-Fi 7 routers ‘under contract” to telcos and ISPs for sale or lease to their end-users and that the next generation of smartphones is to have Wi-Fi 7 shows industry confidence in that standard. It would still be a valid upgrade for networks running Wi-Fi 5 or prior-technology equipment especially if the equipment is significantly old. Or as the equipment comes in to affordable mid-range territory, it could be seen as a long-term upgrade for your Wi-Fi network.

As well, it could encourage the sale of multi-Gigabit Ethernet switches due to a need to have at least 2.5 Gigabit as a wired backhaul option for distributed or many-access-point Wi-Fi 7 networks with 2.5 Gigabit unmanaged basic 5-port switches coming in to very affordable territory.

What do I mean by a “small logical network”

Through this Website, I often talk of a “small logical network” when describing the kind of networks that connected devices can use when there is the desire to work with each other.

What is a “Small logical network”

This is a network typical of one set up in your home or small business as a primary network primarily by people who live in your home or work in your business. Here, the network is intended to be used by people who effectively know each other.

Basic DLNA Media Network

Basic DLNA Media Network – an example of what the small logical network is about

It can use Wi-Fi wireless technology; Ethernet new-wire technology; or a “wired no-new-wires” technology like HomePlug / G.Hn HomeGrid powerline, or MoCA / G.Hn HomeGrid TV coaxial cable; or a combination of these physical-connection technologies. But this network is connected to the same router / Internet-gateway device and established as one network.

The router device will use DHCP to allocate the IP addresses to each device from a particular pool of addresses so that they are discoverable across this network. It is also configured without any isolation across this network so that the users’ devices can discover each other across the network. This is important for file transfer across the network, printing (including driver-free printing) to network-connected printers, and AV / multimedia protocols and setups like network-based multiroom setups, AirPlay, Chromecast or UPnP AV / DLNA, with this concept being highlighted in the diagram opposite.

Guest Network Functionality

An increasing number of routers are supporting the creation of “guest networks” which are another logical network that may be used for tenants or guests. These networks have a different set of IP addresses and can’t discover the devices associated with the main network, although they can gain access to the Internet service.

These can either be set up to be another small logical network with device discovery within that network or as a public-access Wi-Fi network of the kind outlined below that doesn’t support device discovery across that network.

Public-access Wi-Fi

A properly configured public-access or community network is set up for device isolation so that the devices which use that network cannot discover each other but can discover the Internet connection. This is because such networks are used by people who don’t really know each other. Such networks wouldn’t fit in to that term of a “small logical network” that I use on this site because of the emphasis on device-to-device discoverability.

Newer hospitality networks

But tech vendors courting the hospitality and allied trades are working on network setups where each room or apartment of the facility has its own logical network. This is provided by a Wi-Fi network name (SSID) and password that is peculiar to the room or apartment and will last for the duration of your tenure. You will either have a docket with that Wi-Fi network name and password when you rent the room or even scan a EasyConnect QR code to enrol your device.

Then, when you enrol each of your devices to that network, they see each other as though they are a member of a home network. Some of these “solutions” vendors are even integrating devices like connected entertainment endpoints (Chromecasts, Apple TVs, smart TVs, Internet radios, etc) that work with these networks and are discoverable using the usual suspects (AirPlay, UPnP AV / DLNA, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, etc).

But this is distinct from a simple property-wide network like the headline Wi-Fi network that is pitched for use by guests that would be properly set up to isolate each device that uses the network. It is also distinct from the premise’s back-of-house network that is used for the hotel’s business IT needs.

Enterprise networks

Larger enterprise networks are typically engineered in a more intricate manner so that data flows within particular segments of that large organisation. This will typically be about the use of multiple virtual networks or multiple logical networks and even authentication routines not associated with the typical small network such as certificates.

Dependent on the use case, each logical network within an enterprise setup would be set up so that devices logged in to that network can find each other or they can be set up with the abovementioned device isolation.

Similarly, they will implement the Enterprise variations of the Wi-Fi WPA2/3 security protocols that use advanced sign-in requirements like usernames and passwords or device-local certificates. Most devices typically used on a home network wouldn’t support networks that use these kind of advanced security protocols.

Mobile networks

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

A small logical network can be created in a mobile environment through the use of a travel router or MiFi-type mobile broadband modem router. Some mobile NAS units also provide this kind of facility. Even a regular computer running recent versions of MacOS or Windows can create its own small logical network while connecting to a public-access Wi-Fi network thanks to “mobile hotspot” or “Internet Sharing” functionality.

Here, the Wi-Fi network that these devices create is essentially a small logical network as if it is acting as a home-network Wi-Fi router. This is typically used to connect a Chromecast, Apple TV or similar network-based multimedia device to your hotel’s Wi-Fi guest-access network in order for you to stream multimedia to that device.

Conclusion

The idea behind the small logical network is a network, independent of connection media, that exists behind a single router device and allows each device on that network to discover and connect to each other.

Bluetooth becoming a legitimate in-flight technology

Image from aeroplane over Lake Eildon

Bluetooth is now seen as legitimate for air travel

There is a strong question about how you should be using Bluetooth headsets and the Bluetooth functionality of your smartphones, laptops and tablets when you are flying.

The key drivers for Bluetooth in the airliner cabin are:

  • Bluetooth headsets and earbuds with active noise cancelling functionality being increasingly popular
  • Bluetooth earbuds and an increasing number of mobile devices not supporting wired audio connectivity
  • A significant number of travel-friendly Bluetooth transmit adaptors appearing on the market with a use case being to use Bluetooth ANC earbuds with in-flight entertainment systems
  • An increasing number of avionics (aviation-use electronics) manufacturers like Panasonic are offering in-flight entertainment systems that are designed to work with passenger-supplied Bluetooth headsets. This allows for passengers to enjoy in-flight entertainment content with their favourite headsets, especially as they have a wide choice of good-quality active-noise-cancelling headsets and earbuds at good value for money.

As well, aeroplane and avionics-system manufacturers are designing their aircraft and equipment for Bluetooth / Wi-Fi resilience so this technology doesn’t cause problems with aeronautical navigation or aviation safety.

The questions that will still remain are whether you can use your Bluetooth headphones in flight and whether you can use them through all of the flight or just when the plane is cruising at altitude. But the consensus that seems to have been worked out amongst civil aviation authorities, IATA (who represent airlines) and most airlines is to limit Bluetooth use to when the plane is cruising. Some airlines may permit the use of Bluetooth setups during take-off and landing.

You also may know that the aeroplane mode or flight mode for your smartphone, tablet or laptop may be primarily about disabling the cellular modem functionality for devices so equipped. This is so the cellular modem doesn’t “hunt” for mobile base stations which are on the ground while you are flying, thus interfering with radio-based air-navigation setups.

Here, if your device is in that mode, you may have the option to selectively enable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi depending on the circumstances such as to use Wi-Fi-based in-flight connectivity. These modes are primarily about short-range radio connectivity rather than long-range connectivity.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

.. especially in the context of ANC-capable Bluetooth headsets like the Sony WH-1000XM4 headset

As well, if your phone and your headset has a wired-audio connection, typically a 3.5mm audio jack or audio via USB-C or MFi Lightning typically facilitated by an adaptor of some sort, this would be your fallback if you aren’t sure. It would apply to the traditional-designed over-ear headsets like the Bose or Sony ones because these would have an audio input jack that works with a cable for wired-audio connections.

If you are unsure about this, it may be worth asking the cabin crew about the policy that is in place for Bluetooth-capable headset setups in the plane. They may advise you on information that may pertain to the aircraft you are flying on.

What to watch out for

A technology to watch out for is Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast being implemented within the aircraft cabin. This is a “next-generation” Bluetooth audio standard which supports efficient audio streaming which leads to battery efficiency for mobile devices and headsets while yielding high-quality sound; as well as Auracast which is about broadcasting audio content using Bluetooth LE technology.

Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast will be driven by the use of bearing-assistance devices (hearing aids and cochlear implants), along with true-wireless-stereo earbuds. This is because of the efficiency that is part of the design and the ability to implement true wireless stereo from the source in a heterogenous manner.

Airlines will need to be aware of Bluetooth LE Audio as an upcoming passenger infotainment technology. This is expected to become ubiquitous over the next few years with headsets and audio-capable devices to be equipped with chipsets offering dual-mode (Bluetooth Classic Audio and Bluetooth LE Audio) operation for best-case operation.

A key feature that will benefit this industry is Auracast broadcast audio. Here, this could be about support for multilingual flight-safety briefings where you only hear your language, audio environments where you hear your device’s multimedia entertainment but not miss the announcements as they come through the PA system nor lose out on the active-noise-cancelling your headset would offer.

In the case of flight-safety briefings augmented with audio or video content, there could be the ability to have concurrent multilingual audio where the passenger has the choice of which language they hear. This would avoid that repetition of the same message in different languages which can be a bane for frequent travellers.

As well, Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast, with its relevance for people who are hard-of-hearing may increase the legitimacy of Bluetooth audio usage during all phases of a flight. Here, this would be about raising the technology to the level of an accessibility measure thus considering its increased use during flights.

Conclusion

What is being realised is that Bluetooth in the context of headsets is being seen as a legitimate in-flight connectivity technology especially when it comes to entertainment whether from your device or the in-flight entertainment setup.

What can be done to support FTTH independent install

What is independent install

Fibre-optic connection pots in ground - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

As more fibre-to-the-premises connections become ubiquitous, there will be a call towards independent-install as a service provisioning option in order to save costs for subsequent FTTP deployments

Independent installation of fibre-to-the-home / fibre-to-the-premises broadband Internet is where the installation and provisioning of this service doesn’t require a technician employed or contracted by the infrastructure provider or ISP to come to your premises.

Most likely these kind of FTTH / FTTP installations will take place in an environment where the consumer owns the optical network terminal and can replace it with equipment that suits their needs better. As well, such equipment will be typically in the form of desktop equipment that is the size of a typical home-network router.

Independent install approaches have been seen to be successful with ADSL and cable broadband Internet due to the copper infrastructure being ubiquitous in most households. In a lot of cases, this has allowed ISPs and telcos to offer cheaper broadband Internet to the masses.

New connections

A new connection to a premises that hasn’t been previously connected would require a technician employed or contracted by the infrastructure provider or ISP to run a connection from the street to the building or premises. They would be required to install a “demarcation point” on the premises where the infrastructure provider’s legal responsibility ends as far as the infrastructure goes.

Some ISPs or infrastructure providers may supply and install the fibre-optic cabling from the demarcation point to a wall socket close to where you are to have your optical network terminal and home-network router. Here, this would be part of the installation cost for a new connection to an existing premises.

On the other hand, an independent third-party installer with fibre-optic skills would install fibre-optic runs as part of electrical / AV / data cabling during the construction of a new building or full-on renovation. This would be paid for by the building owner as part of the project costs.

As well, there will be pressure on building developers to install the necessary infrastructure for fibre-to-the-premises Internet as a standard offering. This will be exerted by customers, urban planners, regulatory authorities, competing developers and the like to have that project set up for today’s online expectations. In this case, electricians engaged by the developers will be required to be skilled in FTTP fibre-optic installations.

Existing connections

Connections on AVM FritzBox FF30 Fiber router image courtesy of AVM

The AVM Fritz!Box 5530 is one of these home-network routers with a connection for fibre-optic internet in the form of an SFP plug.

As fibre-to-the-premises broadband takes hold, there will be more of the existing connections to this kind of infrastructure. This will be where independent install will earn its keep. It will also include premises that are part of a previously-mentioned building development that have been wired for fibre-to-the-premises.

Self-install, including wires-only / BYO setups

Self-install is where there is cabling to the premises and a wall socket installed therein. The customer picks up the equipment they need and, perhaps, a flylead or adaptor from the ISP’s bricks-and-mortar presence or a retailer. Or this equipment is delivered to the customer’s premises by post or courier.

Then the customer unpacks the equipment and installs it themselves. They may find that the ISP or infrastructure provider has to remotely activate the equipment and set it up for the Internet service.

If the arrangement is described as a BYO or wires-only setup, the equipment isn’t bundled with the service. Rather the customer buys the equipment from the ISP or infrastructure provider or a technology retailer. They can take the equipment between premises rather than leaving it behind when they move.

The BYO or wires-only setup would be pushed for in the name of competition and innovation. This is due to the idea of offering higher-performance ONT modems or ONT/router combo equipment a.k.a. fibre-optic gateways that is equivalent to modem routers. As well, it would be pushed as a lower-cost service-provisioning option due to the ISP or telco not needing to have customer-premises equipment on their books as a rapidly-depreciating asset including the cost to warehouse the equipment, nor needing to have technicians drive to the customer’s premises to deliver or install the equipment.

Should the equipment fail, the customer would have to disconnect the equipment and organise to have it repaired. Here, they would send the equipment to the ISP or infrastructure provider if it is bundled with the service. Or they would send it to a repairer if the equipment isn’t bundled, such as a BYO equipment deal. The same situation also applies where a technical upgrade is taking place and the customer needs to use newer equipment.

Similarly, self-install especially BYO / wires-only setup may permit a customer to take the equipment with them when they move to premises where there is already the FTTP infrastructure therein. This would appeal with people who purchase ONT modems or ONT/router units that are about higher performance.

Independent technician install

An independent-technician install relies on a suitably-trained technician engaged by the customer to install the fibre-optic wiring between the demarcation point and where they want to install their equipment.

Such technicians would be able to move the fibre-optic connection on the customer’s side of the demarcation point if you had to reposition it to a newer location. The technician would also be able to do repairs on the fibre-optic cabling if it failed or was damaged.

If you are renovating your home or working on a new-build premises, having an electrician or AV technician who is skilled with fibre-optic handling will come in to its own. Here, you have the same tradesperson doing the fibre-optic cabling as well as other copper-based cabling runs, whether AC wiring, RF for a TV aerial or master-antenna TV setup, AV for multiroom audio and video or Ethernet cabling for your home network.

What is needed

Demarcation point

The fibre-to-the-premises installation has to have a distinct demarcation point at the user’s premises. This delineates the point of responsibility between the service/infrastructure provider and the premises owner/occupier as far as the fibre-optic infrastructure is concerned.

This would have to designed so that a skilled independent technician can connect a fibre-optic installation to this point when they have installed it. It could be feasible to have this support a “multi-fibre” connection with a “mutual / independent / open” demarcation point for environments that support infrastructure-level competition, something that is already established in France. That is where multiple street-side fibre connections are connected to this point and a technician engaged by the service provider the user is contracting with switches the user to that infrastructure.

Of course a consumer may want wall points for two or more infrastructure-level fibre connections. This would be called upon by businesses, for example, who subscribe to service providers on different infrastructures for increased fault tolerance of their Internet connection. In these cases, there would be two or more of the demarcation points on the premises in addition to two or more wall points or one multi-fibre demarcation point is used to serve two different outlets with connections to different infrastructure providers.

Multiple-premises buildings like apartment blocks or shopping centres may have the demarcation point in the telecommunications equipment room, typically in the basement or on the ground floor. This may be held as the building demarcation point while the cabling is maintained by technicians appointed by the building committee or owner. Some setups may then require a second demarcation point per premises with this being installed in a cupboard therein. In that area, cabling to the wall socket may be serviced by a technician engaged by the premises owner or occupier.

To assure access to infrastructure-level competition, there may be the idea of having multi-fibre connectivity to each premises with the premises-level demarcation point being where a household is switched between competing infrastructure providers.

Wall point

As well, there would be a requirement to have a fibre-optic wall point so that customers can easily connect and disconnect their optical network terminal. This would make self-install or “BYO device” arrangements work properly because the customer would have to be able to easily connect equipment that they supply.

Such wall points would be required to be installed where the customer wants their equipment placed. There will be instances where a customer wants two or more wall points that are connected to different fibre-optic infrastructure providers so as to provide a fault-tolerant setup.

Rugged flylead with rugged plugs

Then there would be the need for a rugged flylead with rugged plugs that the customer uses to connect between an optical network terminal (fibre optic modem) and the wall point.

Such cables and plugs would be about being able to be connected and disconnected easily by anyone and not being at risk of damage. It may also be about having these cables offered at lengths that suit the customer’s needs. These would be supplied through retail outlets, packaged with the ONT equipment or supplied by the installer. Most likely this will be in the form of the Single Form Pluggable connection on the equipment side like with the AVM Fritz!Box 5530 advanced home network router.

Why independent install

Having independent install as part of a fibre-to-the-premises setup for home and small-business users would become an economical measure for infrastructure providers. This makes a lot of sense with existing installations where a premises has FTTH / FTTP cabling to the point where a user wants to set up their network equipment.

Here, a technician doesn’t need to come out, supply and install an ONT modem in the premises; avoiding the need for the customer to book an appointment and make sure a responsible adult is waiting around to welcome and supervise the installer.

It would also permit the customer to choose their own kind of FTTP optical-network-terminal equipment. This is more so where the ONT equipment is part of a router and there is the desire to offer innovative better-performing equipment that has functionality that is desired by the customer. As well, manufacturers are encouraged to design smaller desktop units that fit in with the customer’s premises.

This also applies to installation modifications where a customer engages a trained technician to do the job. For example, the customer could engage an electrician who has been trained for AV, telecommunications and other similar work to do any “customer-side” work like moving their equipment or even to wire up a new building or premises.

The role of the infrastructure-supplier’s technicians would be reduced so as to “pull” the fibre-optic cabling from the street to the network demarcation point on the building and maintain that connection. As well, in an environment where there is competing infrastructure providers, the technicians supplied by the competing provider can know where to connect in their cabling to the building’s cabling infrastructure.

The disadvantage associated with independent install for FTTH setups is that the infrastructure provider would lose quality control over the installation. This may not necessarily apply to a self-install arrangement where the goal is to connect customer-supplied equipment to existing connections. But it would apply where new fibre-optic cabling is installed or an existing fibre-optic cabling installation is modified by a third-party technician.

Conclusion

As more countries take on fibre-to-the-premises broadband Internet, there will be the question about making sure that independent installation options are part of the course. This is more so as more premises become wired up to FTTP and the prospect of self-install where customers install replacement or improved equipment themselves becomes appealing as a way for operators to save money.

Marantz takes the network CD player further with the CD-50n

Article Marantz CD50n network CD player press image courtesy of Marantz

Marantz’s new streaming CD player and stereo amplifier are TV and turntable-friendly | What Hi-Fi? (whathifi.com)

From the horse’s mouth

Marantz

CD-50n Network CD player (Product Page)

My Comments

The last decade has seen the traditional vinyl record gaining a revival as a preferred physical medium to collect recorded music on. But the CD, which has just turned 40 this year, has been simmering along as a collectable music format over this same period and is gaining a similar kind of recognition and acceptability to vinyl.

Some of us still use CD as our preferred physical music medium due to it being cheap on the new or secondhand market or easy to have in a mobile or portable form such as through ripping to hard disk and syncing to our smartphones. As well, the small size of these discs appeals to those of us who want to build or maintain large collections without it taking up much space. Even the record labels have exploited this further by justifying CD as a medium to offer collectable album editions that hold more musical content than the standard album editions, perhaps due to a disc holding extra material or multi-disc compilations stored in a case that is the same size as the standard CD jewel case.

Marantz CD 50n network CD player lifestyle press image courtesy of Marantz

Are we still playing CDs nowadays

This has been more so due to CDs being a cheaper format to replicate and sell than vinyl although able to yield a very-high-quality sound. As well, more of the premium hi-fi brands of respect are giving CD as much developmental and promotional space as vinyl, with this manifesting in component-type CD players that you connect to your hi-fi system appearing in more audio product lineups. Even Yamaha has reintroduced the 5-disc CD changer where all the discs are loaded on to a carousel that is part of a large drawer, in the form of the CD-C603 changer. As well, some consumer-electronics manufacturers are still persisting with CD receivers or stereo systems that play CDs with the former being a component that has radio, CD and, perhaps, network / Internet audio sources which you just connect to a set of speakers of your choice.

I have covered on this site some of the “network CD players” that Yamaha, Marantz and Technics have launched over the years. These combine a CD player and a network-audio streamer in one box, only requiring you to use one input on your amplifier or receiver to play CDs or content held on online sources or your home network.

Marantz have solidified  their position in the network-CD-player space in two ways. Firstly they have released a network SACD player in the form of the SACD-30n with similar features but omitting the HDMI ARC connection. But this time they have released the CD-50n network CD player which follows on from the ND-8006 network CD player that I covered previously.

The Marantz  CD-50n is a CD player with the expectations of a current premium full-width component-type CD player. This includes a mechanism and signal path that is engineered for high-quality CD reproduction and the same kind of advanced CD play functions associated with that format for a long time.

This unit even underscores the “single input on the amplifier” advantage associated with network CD players further by being equipped with an HDMI-ARC connection for TV audio. Here, you would connect the Marantz CD-50n to your TV’s HDMI-ARC connection so you can have the TV’s sound play through your hi-fi system.

Of course, there are the coaxial and optical SP/DIF inputs and outputs that make this unit work as a digital-analogue converter for TVs, MiniDisc decks or other digital-audio equipment; or pass the sound in a digital-audio manner to a digital amplifier or DAC. You can use this network CD player to stream audio content from smartphones and similar Bluetooth-capable devices through it to the connected sound system.

The Marantz CD-50n works as a sound card for computers that are connected to it via USB but some Windows computers will need to run a Marantz-supplied driver to work properly with it. As well, there is a USB Type-A connection for a Mass-Storage device that is full of music held in the common audio file formats.

As mentioned previously, this Marantz network CD player can connect to a digital amplifier or DAC via an SP/DIF optical or coaxial connection. There are two line-level outputs, represented as two sets of RCA sockets on the back. One of these is a fixed-level output typically used with most stereo systems where you have an amplifier that you regulate the sound level with while the other is a variable-level output that can he used with a power amplifier or active speakers. This also comes in to its own in other use cases where you expect the Marantz unit and its remote to be the point of control for the sound level.

There is a built-in headphone amplifier so you can connect a pair of wired headphones to the Marantz CD-50n. But it can serve as a Bluetooth source device where you use a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a Bluetooth speaker as the audio output device. In this case, you have to use the Bluetooth device’s volume control to adjust the sound volume to your tastes. The Bluetooth functionality for both source and target device roles works according to the Bluetooth Classic specification.

As far as your home network is concerned, you can connected to it via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. This leads you to it being part of the DLNA Home Media Network where you can play content held on a media server or NAS. Or through the Denon/Marantz HEOS platform, you can stream a variety of online services like Spotify, Deezer or Tidal, managing them from your smartphone with the HEOS app. For Internet radio, the HEOS platform has support for the TuneIn Internet radio platform so you can listen to a wide range of radio stations including from overseas through the Marantz CD-50n.

Being part of the Denon/Marantz HEOS ecosystem also means that the Marantz CD-50n can work as part of a network multiroom system using other HEOS-capable wireless speakers or hi-fi / AV components made by brands in the Denon-Marantz group. As well, it can be part of the Apple AirPlay 2 or Roon network-audio ecosystems, especially the latter which is seen as the “audiophile network multiroom audio” standard.

If you have a recent Marantz amplifier with the appropriate connections, the CD-50n can be connected using Marantz’s proprietary inter-component control arrangement. This will open up the possibility of single-remote-control operation, one-touch start-up and one-touch shut-down operation.

This player costs AUD$3200 in Australia, but you have a highly-strung CD player and network-audio streamer in one box which may seem to justify the price when you are in to premium hi-fi. Personally, I would like to see more hi-fi companies keep at least one of these network CD players in their product range for those of us who want that single-box solution to a digital audio source in our audio systems.

Should established free-to-air TV have a strong role in the connected TV experience

Apple TV tvOS Home Screen

Will free-to-air TV apps be required to have pride of place on your connected TV device’s home screen?

There is a fight brewing between the established free-to-air TV lobby and the pay-TV / subscription video-on-demand lobby about what should take the primary position on connected-TV devices.  It is part of a continual debate regarding the continued existence of the free-to-air TV services with other issues surfacing like anti-siphoning protection so that the sports that matter don’t end up exclusively on pay-TV or online subscription services.

This is more intense in countries like the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia whose governments and society place strong importance on the established public-service, commercial and community free-to-air TV services and their continual role in informing and entertaining us.

It is although younger generations are drifting away from these services towards the likes of Netflix or YouTube for their entertainment. This has been driven by the “cord-cutting” movement in the USA where younger people are ditching their cable or satellite pay-TV subscriptions in favour of online video services.

Why protect established free-to-air TV?

There is a strong societal defence for traditional established free-to-air TV in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia and similar countries. This is because the national free-to-air TV platform is based around at least one popularly-accepted and well-respected public-service broadcaster and a handful of commercial free-to-air broadcasters. In a lot of cases, most of the TV services existed since TV was commercialised in the Western world with some services, especially the public-service broadcasters, existing at the dawn of regular radio broadcasting in that area.

As well, due to the fact that the free-to-air TV broadcasters have to have a government-issued license or public-service-broadcasting charter to operate on the VHF and/or UHF wavebands, there has been strong human oversight over the content they publish and that it matches current social standards. This has led to it being considered a socially respectable platform and broadcasters who run advertising know that they are operating a brand-safe platform for their advertisers.

People who live in nations that value free-to-air TV see the free-to-air broadcasters as offering more locally-produced content due to various local-content mandates associated with their licences or charters. They notice that the free-to-air broadcasters play a significant part in boosting their nation’s cultural “soft power” and identity on the world stage. For example, there are shows like ABC Australia’s “Bluey” or Network 10’s “Neighbours” or “MasterChef Australia” that have acquired significant international viewership because they represent that Australian camaraderie.

Free-to-air TV broadcasters, especially the public service broadcasters like the BBC or Australia’s ABC are being valued as reliable sources of news and information. This is more so in the era of “post-truth” where fake news and disinformation delivered by social media is muddying the waters about what is accurate information or not and established media is seen as the preferred go-to if you are after accuracy in your news.

The debate is also about an existential threat to established media including free-to-air TV from Silicon Valley. This is because the online services offered by Silicon Valley, including social media, are being seen as offering newer fresher content than what established media can offer, something valued by younger people.

The current situation with connected TV devices

Connected TV platforms, whether represented by a Smart TV, a set-top box or a streaming stick, place importance on the home screen that these devices show up when you turn them on initially or press a “home” button on their remote control. These platforms are driven by client apps for various video-on-demand or streaming-TV services with users having to use the platform’s app store to install these client apps for the services they use.

Such services are represented by the likes of Netflix, YouTube or Vimeo; but also include local subscription-funded or advertising-funded video-on-demand services. This  may include the classic local pay-TV platforms that have set themselves up to deliver via Internet in addition to or in lieu of their legacy satellite or cable means, using an app rather than a set-top box for access to their content. Then most of the connected TV platforms have links to their own transactional or advertising-driven video-on-demand facility, FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) service, video game store or other services.

In addition, some connected TV devices have dedicated buttons on their remote controls to facilitate one-touch access to video services like Netflix or YouTube. This is part of a partnership between the connected TV platform and the video service provider to maintain that kind of access.

To preserve their relevance in the connected-TV era, established free-to-air TV broadcasters are offering Broadcaster Video-On-Demand apps which make their content available on-demand This is based on previous “catch-up TV” services where you can catch up on prior episodes of a TV series, but now offer extras like binge-view opportunities or supplementary content.

Some broadcasters even offer free streaming TV channels through these apps that they wouldn’t be able to offer via RF means. This would include access to versions of their channels that are editorially different in other parts of the nation, such as to allow travellers and the like to follow content in their home area.  Or they would include special-event channels like showing each sport in the Olympic Games as separate channels. They may even stream channels from other content providers they have a strong business relationship with like what the Paramount-owned free-to-air channels are doing by hosting at least some of the Pluto TV FAST channels on the 10Play and My5 BVOD apps.

Even some of the advertising on content viewed through these apps has interactive TV elements such as “shoppable” advertising or access to long-form video content. This is in addition to experiencing a reduced ad load during the commercial breaks with the ads being more relevant to you, when you watch a show on demand through these services. But the important fact with the advertising is that the broadcasters control and benefit from the commercials that appear.

But there are a significant number of connected TV platforms that require the user to download the BVOD apps from the platform’s app store before you can use them. Then these apps typically end up at the bottom of the home screen and you would have to move them around to be visible when you turn the TV device on.

This may be an exception with some Smart TVs and RF-tuner-equipped set-top devices sold in the UK, Australia and New Zealand that implement the HBBTV-enhanced Freeview electronic programme guide that supports the ability to see prior shows. These have free-to-air BVOD apps pre-installed so as to facilitate this kind of viewing from the EPG.

Apple TV tvOS content recommendation screen

Will connected TV platforms be required to recommend content from established free-to-air channels here?

An increasing number of connected TV platforms are integrating “one-stop” content search, “next-episode” and content recommendation functions that tie in with their various video-on-demand apps and platforms. This allows a viewer to search for a particular show or identify shows worth watching at one point rather than diving in to and out of the various apps to find a desired programme. This is facilitated through the use of application-programming interfaces that provide a link to the content services via their apps.

Other upcoming trends to impact connected TV

The UK and Australia at least see the distribution via RF means using the outdoor aerial as the universal standard for access to free-to-air TV. This is although Continental Europe and, to some extent, Canada place acceptance on other RF-delivery means like cable or satellite delivery as part of universal access to free-to-air TV.

Free-to-air TV via the Internet or your home network

But the DVB Forum have established standards for delivery of TV service including free-to-air TV via local-area-network and Internet setups. One of these is DVB-I which is about streaming from Internet servers hosted by the broadcasters themselves while the other, known as DVB-HB, is about streaming from a broadcast-LAN tuner device connected to an aerial, cable-TV setup or satellite dish via a local area network. Both these systems provide the same user experience as traditional RF-based TV setups such as the ability to “channel surf” with the remote control.

This is in addition to the broadcast video-on-demand apps offering access to the broadcaster’s own free-to-air offerings and extra free streaming TV offerings through the Internet. In many cases, this also includes an electronic programme guide for these online channels, You may even find that you have access to area-specific content like news bulletins from other locations. But these apps don’t necessarily offer the classic user experience associated with watching TV.

Internet-first TV devices and setups

Your laptop, tablet or smartphone are replacing the traditional small portable TV as the way to watch TV in areas like the kitchen or garage. This is thanks to the broadcast video-on-demand platforms being available as an app or Website for regular or mobile computing platforms.

Add to this the smart display platforms like Amazon Echo Show or Google Nest Hub where you can summon particular channels using your voice. LG and Samsung haven’t forgotten the dot-com-era idea of Internet fridges with their products that could have support for video apps including free-to-air BVOD apps.

Subsequently LG and Samsung have been offering Internet-first TV devices, also known as smart monitors. LG has been offering the StanByMe range of monitor-sized battery-operated lifestyle TVs with one that folds up in to a suitcase. Samsung has also offered their Smart Monitors which combine the smart-TV functionality in to a computer monitor but don’t provide the RF tuner. It also includes people using connected-TV devices without RF connection to an aerial to watch their TV content, thanks to BVOD or TV-over-IP apps.

Here, these are devices that implement computing, smart-display or Smart TV platforms including access to video-on-demand platforms but omit RF tuners. With them, you could pull in video content via apps whether it be streaming in real time or playing from a video-on-demand server. In the case of the Internet-first TV devices, they would have a remote control so you can select what you want to view or regulate the sound from afar.

Delivery to airliners and ships

In some countries like India, it has been proven that they could use higher-bandwidth satellite Internet to deliver live free-to-air TV from the local TV channels to airliners flying domestic flights and offer this as a form of live inflight entertainment. Such setups would come in to their own with the sports that matter where people want to follow those matches during their flight.

This is facilitated with current-generation high-bandwidth satellite broadband Internet that is being delivered to commercial jets equipped with the necessary technology. More of these jets are being equipped for Wi-Fi Internet from the satellite broadband typically to provide as a passenger amenity whether bundled as part of a premium airfare or purchased at an extra-cost option. In a similar context, this could appeal to the maritime cohort where the passengers onboard ferries, cruise ships, yachts and the like, or the crew within navy or merchant-navy ships could gain access to free-to-air TV via Internet-based delivery thanks to satellite or other means.

Here, the combination of Internet-based TV service delivery and these satellite Internet services could make it feasible to have live free-to-air TV from local TV stations delivered as an entertainment option for air or maritime travel. Add to this the ability to use BVOD apps to allow air or ship passengers to watch shows from these stations on demand.

The issues here

The free-to-air TV lobby had noticed that connected TV platforms are engaging in some form of “pay to play” when it comes to what appears on the home screen by default. Here, it was perceived as being financially and ethically difficult for local free-to-air broadcasters to get their BVOD apps on the home screen within their country of operation.

Here. the local free-to-air TV establishment want the national governments to use legislation or regulation to make sure that their BVOD apps are installed by default and easily discoverable. This includes a similar want for content offered by free-to-air broadcasters, preferably locally-produced content, to be brought forward in any platform-wide content-search or content-recommendation engine.

On the other hand, the pay-TV lobby who are also representing subscription video-on-demand or even Big Tech want to maintain the status quo “in the name of the consumer”. This is due to a perceived fear that the customer who currently subscribes to an online video service not offered by free-to-air TV broadcasters won’t be able to install or satisfactorily use any client-side apps for these services. This includes not being able to see the online video service’s content in search results or content recommendations.

I see this argument of relevance when it comes to content search and recommendation engines that are being built in to the connected TV platforms. As well, this may impact one-touch access buttons on remote controls where it wouldn’t be economically feasible to provide this kind of access to any online video service, whether free-to-air or paid.

Which kind of devices will this affect?

Primarily I see this requirement affect TVs and set-top devices including streaming sticks pitched for household use. This is because these devices are primarily marketed for watching video entertainment in the home.

But there will be a call for Internet-first TV devices like the LG StanByMe family or the Samsung Smart Monitor family to face this requirement because of them being marketed for video entertainment consumption as a key use case.

Computers, mobile platform devices and games consoles may not face this requirement due to their core use case not being video entertainment. This is although you can use them to enjoy video entertainment using Websites or apps. But you may find that companies selling tablets or 2-in-1 laptops will want to court the countries that value free-to-air TV as an entertainment source by packaging the likes of BBC iPlayer, ITVX, ABC iView and 10Play alongside Netflix or YouTube when users register these devices in those countries. Or the app stores simplify the process of installing these BVOD aps.

A question that can come up is whether this requirement will only be for TVs and set-top devices sold primarily for household use. This is because TV manufacturers also sell a separate range of “commercial use” TVs that are pitched for installation in hotels, bars, common rooms, hospitals and the like. Here, we are likely to use these sets to watch TV content away from home such as in our hotel rooms and we would like the same user experience that we have at home.

These sets and devices are likely to have extra programmability in order to satisfy particular use cases like hotels. The software may be updated at a later time or manually compared to what is installed on equipment for the home and there may be a “business use” app store for apps used in a business sense. But there is a risk of manufacturers offering a Smart TV or set-top device as “commercial use” but sell them to householders to evade the various mandates associated with equipment sold to the residential market.

Small lodging places like bed-and-breakfasts / guest-houses, motels and inns are likely to prefer to purchase and install residential-use TVs. Similarly, houses or apartments available for short-term rental will prefer residential sets. This is due to the sets being cost-effective and offering a familiar user experience; and the businesses not wanting or needing superfluous levels of sophistication for their technology.

But could they be required to adhere to the same rules as residential-use equipment such as prominence for free-to-air apps on the home screen?

How does this impact connected TV device design and user experience

The impact of these mandates will affect the connected TV experience in a few ways,

When you set up a new device

Firstly, when you set up a new Smart TV or other connected TV device, you will find that the mandated apps are downloaded and installed by your device when it is connected to your home network. These will then appear on the home screen as part of the default setup, This is because of the fact that you have to select the country you’re in at or close to the setup / install routine and this determines what apps are downloaded and installed in your connected TV device.

This situation will also occur if you have to subject your connected TV device to a factory-reset due to it being balky or something you should do when you take possession of a second-hand device. Some devices may rearrange the screen for the mandatory apps and download or update them during a major software upgrade.

The home screen

Under these mandates, the home screen on a connected TV device will be required to have the free-to-air BVOD apps in the home screen and accessible with a minimum of scrolling.

Some home screens may create a “local TV” strip with the free-to-air BVOD apps inhabiting that strip on the home screen towards the middle. It most likely would exist alongside an icon that allows you to view an electronic programme guide and change channels if it has RF-based or IP-based tuning means.This will most likely be above a larger strip with Netflix, YouTube and other popular subscription services inhabiting that strip.

This is whereas others like Apple TV will simply sequence the free-to-air BVOD apps ahead of Netflix, YouTube and co.  These may even have to group them on the same row and have each icon highlighted in a distinct manner.

You will still be able to use the “screen edit” function that your connected TV platform offers to rearrange the app icons on the home screen. This may be to bring all the services you use frequently and regularly closer to each other on the home screen. This kind of option may be either invoked through selecting a “screen edit” function on the setup menu or holding down on one of the icons to invoke “screen edit”.

Content search and recommendation behaviour

A mandate for free-to-air-TV prominence that impacts content search and recommendation would require a content search engine that works across a connected TV platform to place free-to-air TV content at the top of the “found content” list.

The content recommendation or “up next” (list episodes in a series that aren’t viewed)engine in the connected TV platform would also be required to place content from free-to-air broadcasters at the head of the recommended-content list. There may even be a requirement to place locally-produced content first, to encourage us to prefer this content for our evening’s viewing.

This would put the pay TV lobby’s nose out of joint because it would be hard to discover the content that a pay-TV or other online service has to offer. That is even though you have the likes of Netflix who are having their local offices commission original local work around the world and satisfy local content requirements for their social licence to operate in other countries.

One-touch access to services on the remote control

Another issue is how the remote control is designed if the manufacturer is to have one-touch buttons for access to particular online video services. If local free-to-air apps are being mandated as far as the remote control is concerned, it may be about adding five or more extra buttons with logos representing the online platforms offered by local free-to-air channels. This would be in addition to buttons for Netflix and YouTube,

Then the manufacturers forego the economies of scale associated with designing and manufacturing the same remote control with the same functionality and labelling for all world markets. Such an approach would also not survive any rebranding efforts that an online video provider undertakes.

This problem may be solved through implementing touchscreen or e-ink technology in remote controls. It also exploits the trend to use Bluetooth two-way communication in consumer-electronics remote controls so you are not having to have clear line of sight between the handset and the device.

It would come about with an array of six or eight e-ink-labelled buttons or a touchscreen that uses OLED or similar technology. The button array or touchscreen would be populated with the logos of the popular or mandated online video services for the country the device is used in and you use that to select these video services. Such a design may exist as a way to globalise the remote control design and bring back economies of scale by supporting “mass customisation”.

But this approach may require designers to go back to the traditional remote control design associated with TV sets and pay-TV set-top boxes rather than a very small “stick-like” design. This approach would come across as an approach that some consumers may prefer because it is a size that is harder to lose and would be welcome with devices that support traditional TV user interfaces.

What can be done

Customisation options

There is the issue of customising the home screen layout after you have set up your connected TV device. This is something you will have to do in order to make it easy to discover the services that you make use of, no matter what kind they are.

Here, any requirement to place free-to-air BVOD apps at the top of the home screen shouldn’t preclude you from rearranging your service icons around the screen. This may be due to you preferring and regularly visiting a particular mix of services whether free-to-air, classic pay-TV or online-first.

That means a connected-TV platform would have to have the home-screen customisation process assessed as part of its useability testing, with this assessed under “lean-back” operation conditions. That is where you are at a distance from the screen, typically in an armchair or couch, and using the standard remote control associated with the connected TV device.

The process could be simplified by “quick arrange” shortcuts like “Local TV first”, “Popular Online first” or “Frequently Used first” which sorts the icons according to particular orders.

These user customisations would need to be saved, whether on the device or on the user account associated with the connected TV platform.

Device-level / account-level content ranking preferences

There could be support for device-level or account-level learning of regularly used online video services. This would show up search results or recommended content results based on the services you have enrolled with and are frequently using.

Viewers should have the ability to enable ranking various factors such as services, locality of the content, content quality . Again these settings could be saved either on the device or the user account.

This could also be about connected TV platforms supporting the importing of watchlists from other sources. It could then allow film / TV experts and personalities that you follow to hand-curate and publish watchlists of recommended content so you can work through what they have recommended.

Conclusion

This debate over mandating free-to-air TV apps on connected TV devices will affect how they and their operating systems are designed. This will be about what appears on the home screen by default or which providers’ output appear at the top of platform-wide content search or recommendation results.

Apple to implement RCS messaging in iPhones

Articles

The Apple messaging app on your iPhone will support RCS messaging as a fallback platform in 2024

Apple announces RCS support for iOS. What does this mean for green vs. blue bubbles? | Mashable

Messaging Between iPhones and Android to Get So Much Better Next Year (droid-life.com)

Apple iPhones will support RCS starting 2024 but green bubbles will remain – SamMobile

My Comments

RCS Universal Profile messaging is a rich open-frame messaging standard defined by GSM Association that follows on from SMS and MMS messaging. This allows for IP-based text messaging and offers features typically associated with over-the-top messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal or Apple’s iMessage. But it allows mobile-phone service providers to offer these kind of features.

Android has provided inherent support for this messaging system as part of Google’s and Samsung’s messaging clients. But Apple was determined to use their own iMessage platform as the preferred messaging platform for iPhones or iPads. If you as an Android user communicated with someone who uses an iPhone, your messages would go through as an MMS message.

This wouldn’t have the rich messaging abilities of either RCS or iMessage and your messages come through as green bubbles in the conversation flow. Photos and videos would also appear at lower resolutions which may not do them justice. In some cases, people who want to engage in rich messaging with Apple users would end up resorting to WhatsApp, Signal or a similar platform.

Sometimes Apple fanbois see the green bubble as an indication that their correspondent is “not in the program” because they aren’t using an iPhone, with some tech and general press describing the green bubble as a “scarlet letter”. Recently Google and Samsung have been putting pressure on Apple to implement RCS messaging in iMessage including shaming Apple in front of industry peers. This is similar to how Apple products, especially iPhones, have been seen as status symbols.

As well, the European Union enacted their Digital Markets Act which is seen as a way to significantly regulate Big Tech and their market power. There was further interest amongst the tech press about having the European Commission use this law to enforce Apple to implement RCS messaging on iPhones and iPads. This is after the success that the European bureaucrats had with forcing Apple to install USB-C power-data connectors on the iPhone 15 in lieu of Apple’s preferred MFi Lightning connectors, with this connection appearing on the iPhone 15 family and newer iPhones offered around the world.

The RCS messaging feature will work as a fallback cross-platform messaging platform for sending messages to non-Apple devices. This is while the Apple iMessage platform continues to exist as the preferred messaging platform amongst Apple’s own platforms. That will still mean that Apple users appear in a conversation stream as blue bubbles while other platforms appear as green bubbles.

This feature will be expected to start sometime in 2024 and most likely be issued as part of a new major version or “point” update for iOS where functionality is introduced to the operating system, rather than a software-quality / security update.

Is there a necessity to offer English subtitling for foreign-language content hubs?

SBS On Demand Windows 10 platform app

SBS – the first broadcaster to provide English-subtitled foreign-language content on broadcast TV and also providing such content through video-on-demand.

An issue that will crop up with foreign-language video content providers who operate in a particular language is market pressures to offer English-subtitled versions of their content that they offer.

Popularity of English-subtitled foreign language content

There is a significant interest in English-subtitled foreign-language video content especially amongst discerning cinema and TV viewers.

This kind of foreign-language content was initially facilitated in Australia since the 1980s by SBS as part of that broadcaster’s initial multicultural remit. But there has been recent interest in the UK in this content thanks to the arrival of BBC4 who took on a high-brow content approach similar to SBS or HBO. In the USA, a significant number of premium cable-TV channels have been offering this kind of content because such content is similar in calibre to what the likes of HBO and Showtime are offering which appeals to discerning viewers.

Video-on-demand, still seen as a way to deliver premium TV content, is being used to bring more foreign-language TV content to many homes. This is more so with Netflix and similar premium subscription services but could also apply to transactional or advertising-driven services. FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV) services are also appearing that bring in this kind of foreign-language TV content.

It isn’t just the multicultural communities who are interested in film and TV content produced by their homelands or in their native tongues. But an increasing number of English-language viewers want to view the cultures that exist beyond their country’s borders or beyond the Anglosphere’s realms. This is more so where these countries exhibit different social norms to what is expected in the Anglo-American culture. Let’s not forget that an array of non-Anglophone countries are seeing their culture as part of their soft power that is to be promoted and exploited such as with the “Cool Japan” effort.

The video-on-demand sphere also exposed a significant number of providers offering this kind of content such as SBS on Demand, Walter Presents, and Netflix. In the case of viewing foreign-language content on Netflix, there is the option to select an English-dubbed soundtrack or an original soundtrack with English or original-language subtitles.

In a significant number of cases, foreign TV producers are aspiring to offer shows in a similar calibre to the English-language fare offered on the BBC, HBO or Netflix and are vying for their position in the “premium TV” landscape. This kind of content is best described as high-quality content that has a strong appeal with discerning audiences. That is while foreign-language cinema is perceived to maintains that independent artsy non-Hollywood vibe.

Add to this an increase in co-production efforts by non-English-speaking foreign TV producers / broadcasters with English-language TV producers / broadcasters who appeal to discerning audiences. An example of this that I saw for myself is the Norwegian crime drama Lilyhammer which was a co-production effort between Netflix and Norway’s public-service broadcaster NRK, but was shown on SBS in Australia before Netflix set up shop there.

Language-specific content hubs

Flag of France

The French language is being represented in some foreign-language-specific content hubs

But an increasing number of language-specific content hubs are setting up shop in their home markets and primarily delivering video-on-demand content produced in the languages supported by that hub.

The first kind of this content-hub class are niche content providers or broadcasters operating in the language’s home country or a country that has a significant diaspora who speak the language. This could include a pay-TV operator in the language’s home country who wants to create their language-specific content hub based on their original content. On the other hand, the second kind of content hub represents an alliance of public-service and/or private commercial free-to-air TV broadcasters in the country or countries that speak the hub’s languages.

Examples of the former type include Univision who offer Latin-American-Spanish content to the US’s Hispanic community, and France Channel who offer French-language content. It can extend to Canal+ setting up international operations in order to offer their original French-language content. Examples of the latter type include LOVETv which is a European-Spanish-speaking alliance comprising of Aresmedia, RTVE and Mediaset Espana; Salto who is a French-speaking alliance of France’s free-to-air TV providers; and Joyn who is a German-speaking alliance of Germany’s free-to-air TV stations and the ViacomCBS platform’s German-language outposts.

More of these content hubs would start to surface and refine their offerings; especially if they or their partner broadcasters are producing a significant amount of original content. These providers could realise that there is an international market for their content especially if there are overseas viewers out there who are interested in their offerings. This can range from expats and migrants who have the language as their native tongue or those of us who have some familiarity with the language and its associated culture.

Localising to the English language

The question for these foreign-language content hubs is whether they need to offer English-language localisations of their content and what method. These services could implement at least subtitling as a way to localise to the English language, although a dubbed English-language soundtrack option can work for children’s content or animated shows.

An English-speaking person who is familiar with the hub’s indigenous language may still need to benefit from having the content localised to English. This is due to different areas of the countries speaking that language using dialects and accents local to particular regions that they aren’t familiar with. Add to this the use of new words, colloquialisms and slang in film and TV that is something you wouldn’t learn from most language courses or textbooks, something that will impact people who have learnt the foreign language but are out of practice.

A lot of these shows that are shown in to English-language countries will already have been localised to that language, typically through the use of subtitles.  This can be shows that SBS, BBC4 or a premium cable-TV channel in the USA had run at some time. Or the foreign-language content producer offers International-English or American-English localisation as part of the package when they offer shows to TV channels or VoD services.

But there is a lot more content that hasn’t been localised to the English language but could appeal to the viewership. There would be the question about whether it is worth localising the rest of this content especially if it does reflect the country and its culture. Here, this may be assessed based on the kind of content that is being viewed on these language-specific content hubs.

Deep localisation

An issue that can crop up as far as localisation is concerned is whether to engage in what I call “deep localisation”. That is to use terminology and slang peculiar to a particular market in the subtitles such as referring to public services using the same names as what would be used there.

An example I had seen for myself was SBS’s effort to localise earlier episodes of Inspector Rex (Kommissar Rex) to the English language. Here, they localised the earlier episodes of the series for the Australian audience by using Australian-English subtitles. For example, an episode that involved a panel beater (car body shop) referred to the passenger-car-based pickup truck used by that workshop as a ute in the subtitles. Some other episodes referred to the Austrian public health insurance as “Medicare” to be equivalent to the same public health insurance operating in Australia.

Most likely this was because there wasn’t much activity going on in the Anglosphere with respect to English-subtitled foreign-language TV content at the time SBS acquired the broadcasting rights to that show. But the Austrian produces of this show ended up taking on the job of localising Inspector Rex to English due to this show gaining popularity in more of the Anglosphere thanks to cable TV and video-on-demand offering this kind of content.

Popular and light entertainment content

There are some content types that are not likely to be of interest to English-native viewers that look for foreign-language content. These are things like soap-operas, reality-TV, romantic-fiction or simple police-procedural dramas which may be frowned upon by viewers who have discerning tastes. It is more so where the content mirrors story-lines used in Anglophone popular content without conveying the colour of the show’s native culture.

But some people may find that viewing popular entertainment content produced in the other country, having the mix of foreign language dialogue and English subtitles may give that series an air of perceived legitimacy. This is similar to the use of an e-reader or tablet to read romance fiction and similar guilty pleasures in order avoid being scoffed at by others.

There are two good examples of this. One is “Gran Hotel”, a Spanish-language TV series ran on Netflix which has the style of a telenovela or soap opera but is set in an early time period. Another is “112 Sie Retten Dein Lieben” which is a simple fire/emergency procedural drama created by RTL and set in Dusseldorf that has some soap-opera-style melodrama in it. Here, SBS localised this German-language show with English subtitles and ran it on their relatively-new SBS 2 digital sub-channel as “112 Emergency” in 2009. Even the aforementioned Kommissar Rex (Inspector Rex) would have fallen in to this class of content due to a simple police-procedural storyline and featuring a hero dog.

It could be found that the foreign language in the dialogue uttered by original speakers with the English-language subtitles on the screen and, perhaps, an unseemly English-localised show title may work as a means to obfuscate the fact that the content has that popular-entertainment feel about it. That means that the show may earn a level of respect in some societal circles.

It is although the show may convey societal attitudes that are very endemic in its home culture and work differently to what is expected in Anglo-American cultures. This can be through interpersonal relationships or workplace dynamics that are woven through the show’s plot thanks to it being written for its home market.

This is more demonstrable with content produced in European countries where social issues are effectively woven in to the show and examined from the European country’s point of view. In this example, this concept is seen as being of value with those Anglosphere societies who align with Continental-European values.

For example, a German TV drama will underscore the strong separation of work and personal life that is part of German culture such as the importance of “Feierabend” when work ceases. Or a significant amount of German and Scandinavian police dramas have been known to give significant space to social issues rather than focusing on the “whodunnit” or “goodies vs baddies” aspect.

Conclusion

If there is a significant and continual interest within the Anglosphere for foreign-language content that has English-language subtitles, there will be an interest in offering to localise such content that way. These foreign-language content hubs that operate on the Internet to offer linear broadcast or video-on-demand could then offer to fill that niche.