Internet

Start-up models wireless video solution

Vixs is showing off a new chipset and software designed to solve many of the worst pitfalls of video delivery over a wireless network.

In an industry long on talk and short on delivery, wireless networking has its share of holy grails--but perhaps none is more hyped and sacred than the concept of sharing video on many screens at once from a single connection.

Now an 11-month-old Canadian start-up called Vixs Systems is showing off a new chipset and software designed to solve many of the worst pitfalls of video delivery over a wireless network. The company said its proprietary technology enables off-the-shelf products such as Compaq Computer's iPaq handheld to receive video from up to 100 feet away, even as separate feeds go out simultaneously to other devices such as a high-definition TV set in the living room and a PC in the study.

"Our technology can provide a boom to consumer electronics devices, turning limited devices such as handhelds, which are basically organizers, into full blown multimedia devices," said Roy Stewart, senior vice president of Vixs.

One of the biggest challenges for streaming content on any type of network is bandwidth: Trying to play multimedia content on wireless networks is similar to sucking an olive through a straw. However, Vixs has high hopes that its upcoming chipsets and software will take advantage of broadening pipes to provide audio and video content from set-top boxes to televisions and other devices.

The company refused to publicly discuss its technology in detail. In broad strokes, however, it says it has developed a bandwidth management system that optimizes network resources as new devices are brought on and off line, guaranteeing playback without frame loss. The company is demonstrating its technology on 802.11b wireless networks, but by the fourth quarter of 2002 it plans to have products compatible with networks based on 802.11a and 802.11g standards.

The company may be on to something, but it will face considerable challenges from consumers and competitors, said Aditya Kishore, an analyst with market research firm The Yankee Group.

"Over time, the picture that Vixs is painting will likely come true, but they will have to get over hurdles such as consumer adoption and partnerships," Kishore said.

To reach consumers, Vixs plans to work directly with cable companies and consumer electronics makers who have a better understanding of what people will accept. This approach will also help the company distribute its technology.

Still, Vixs likely will face competition from some of its potential allies in the consumer electronics market. During Comdex Fall 2001, Sony announced a relationship with AOL Time Warner and Nokia to further promote its broadband network initiatives. Sony also unveiled a partnership with digital video recorder company TiVo to incorporate its technology into future consumer electronic products. Details of plans with any of those companies remain unclear.

Vixs said it believes that its specialty with wireless networking technology will prove to be a significant advantage. The start-up also has the backing of one of the premier venture capital firms in Canada, Celtic House. The firm's principal investor is Terry Matthews, founder of Newbridge Networks in 1986 and Mitel in 1972.

The company said it also sees benefits to its agnostic view toward standards, since it anticipates a trend in the industry for products to be interoperable with all standards.

The 802.11a wireless networking standard enables transfer speeds of up to 54 mbps (megabits per second)--almost five times faster than the 802.11b standard. Meanwhile, 802.11g is in the process of being approved by the industry standards group the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and will allow transfer speeds on par with 802.11a as well as compatibility with 802.11b.