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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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April 2007 Archives

April 4, 2007 1:32 PM

A 5Mbps Nation

I had the opportunity to visit TANDBERG’s Reston, VA offices last week for the first session of Point Nine User Forum’s North American Event focused on telepresence.

While there, TANDBERG gave us a tour through their full range of videoconferencing products, from a room full of videocalling units to a really neat handheld wireless camera to a desktop application and finally on to Experia, their telepresence offering.

Experia was the star of the show and a very impressive piece of technology, but I actually found myself more enamored with the lower end technology, in particular the quality of video they were able to deliver at 512Kbps -- 448 lines of resolution at 30 frames per second -- which in real-life terms means a very clear image that doesn’t break down into blocks when anything moves.

The reason this stuck out to me was that earlier that day I’d read about the FTTH Council’s recent call for a 100Mbps Nation, where everyone has 100Mbps+ connectivity at home, by 2015.

Now, I’m a huge advocate of FTTH and the need for ultrabroadband connectivity across the US. I simply don’t see how having more bandwidth can be a bad thing.

At the same time, it never ceases to amaze me how those charged with developing tools for compressing video and other data can continually find new ways to push more and more data through the same pipe.

With these thoughts in mind, it suddenly dawned on me: what if, as an intermediary step on the road to 100Mbps+, we set a goal of having a 5Mbps Nation?

“But, don’t many people already have 5Mbps Internet access?” many of you are likely wondering.

Well yes if you look at it solely from the perspective of the number broadband providers advertise relative to the speeds they purportedly offer.

What I’m referring to, though, is a 5Mbps Nation where every user actually has 5Mbps of both symmetrical (or as close as possible) and guaranteed (as guaranteed as can be) access, unlike the asymmetrical and best-efforts access most broadband delivers today.

Videoconferencing exemplifies the importance of symmetrical and guaranteed access. Symmetrical because you have to be able to send a picture as good as you want to receive. Guaranteed because skips, starts, and lost frames ruin the efficacy and experience of a videocall.

That’s why many systems that employ dedicated videoconferencing hardware choose to use an dedicated ISDN line for connectivity, which can offer both symmetrical and guaranteed access.

What excites me as much if not more than a 100Mbps future is a symmetrical, guaranteed 5Mbps present, where paying for a 5Mbps connection gets me 5Mbps of connectivity.

So much energy has been put into doing more with less over the Internet that even reaching the much more modest goal of a 5Mbps nation could have a profound impact on our use of more bandwidth intensive applications like videoconferencing.

As we set course for the day of ubiquitous 100Mbps, we should seek out ways in which we can encourage broadband’s evolution incrementally, in turn equipping consumers with the type of connectivity they need to have a more robust Internet experience, which will then lead to greater use of and demand for bandwidth.

April 16, 2007 8:55 AM

Expo Musings: Face-to-Face Communication Evolves Into Manifold Forms

Don’t want to appear overly self-promotional, but I can’t help sharing my enthusiasm for the event we’ve got cooking at the Killer App Expo, April 30-May 2 in Fort Wayne, IN.

There’s so much content jam-packed into three days it’ll make your head spin. Everything from telemedicine to distance learning to egovernment to tools for business and a whole lot more.

With the Expo constantly on my mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: highlighting key sessions at the Expo while finding inspiration for AppRising.

The session often first off my tongue when introducing someone to the Expo is called “Online Video Communication: Calling, Conferencing, and Collaborating,” which will feature Cisco, Adobe, and SightSpeed showing off their latest products.

Enabling face-to-face visual communication over a network is nothing new, of course, as it dates back to the dawn of television. Initially, its use was extremely limited as it required a cable or satellite connection be established from point to point, making it prohibitively expensive in all but the most extreme situations. The introduction of ISDN lines in the 80s laid the foundation for dedicated videoconferencing hardware that opened up the possibility to a much broader range of entities, but it still remained out of reach for most.

Today, powered by the ascending availability and speed of broadband, the basic concept of enabling face-to-face visual communication has evolved explosively to produce a number of distinct videoconferencing products offering unique value propositions, both for the high end and increasingly for the masses.

Dedicated hardware solutions grow ever more capable of squeezing higher quality video through as small a pipe as possible. While the recent rise of telepresence technologies has redefined what remote small group communication can be, though at a six figure price tag. (As an aside, if you're at the Expo, be sure to check out Howard Lichtman's session on telepresence at 2:20 on May 2nd. It'll give you an in-depth introduction to what telepresence is and why it's such a transformative technology.)

Applications sitting on servers bring forth virtual workrooms that de-emphasize face-to-face interaction in favor of collaborative workspaces that combine all forms of communication and media, like Adobe Acrobat Connect. Often these also blur the lines between one to one and one to many communication by easily delivering both. And they do all this at a relatively low monthly cost without the need for an expensive upfront investment in dedicated hardware.

Applications installed on your desktop, like SightSpeed, open windows into the lives of those that are important to you, be they friend, family, associate, colleague, or stranger. Using nothing more than a webcam, a computer, and a broadband connection, many solutions offer videocalling for free, making it truly accessible to anyone.

There are two mega-trends I wanted to pull out of this.

One, arguably the most powerful aspect of broadband is on display within this range of videoconferencing solutions, showing how given sufficient bandwidth fundamental modes of communication can expand in a million different directions resulting in a diverse array of remarkable technologies. This continual innovation is one of the most exciting aspects of the digital economy, and one that is driven in large part by ubiquitous and ever-increasing broadband connectivity.

The other thought I wanted to share is to take note how the further you push dedicated hardware away from users, the more accessible and economically feasible these applications become. Of course there are some trade-offs in terms of quality and reliability to not having dedicated hardware or a dedicated connection, but those issues continue to decline as general purpose hardware like computers and webcams grow more powerful, the applications increase their ability to do more with less, and bandwidth becomes more plentiful.

Through the presentations by Cisco, Adobe, and SightSpeed at the Expo, we will introduce attendees to the new broadband-enabled definition of what videoconferencing can mean, highlighting both what these applications are capable of and the fact that videoconferencing is a technology now within reach of even the smallest of companies.

April 30, 2007 9:50 AM

Killer App Expo Musings: The Calm Before the Storm

Good morning from sunny Fort Wayne, IN! I’m writing the first of many posts on the happenings of the first-ever Killer App Expo, which starts today with preconference workshops for developers and officially kicks off with a keynote by Mayor Graham Richard tomorrow morning.

Last night I met up with Tom Spengler, CEO of Granicus, and his lovely PR director Lauren Alexander in the hotel bar for a drink. Granicus has a very unique webcasting platform targeted to the local government market for streaming live and on-demand public meetings.

While chatting, Michael Johnston stepped in, looking for a libation of his own. Michael’s the VP of Information Technology for Jackson Energy Authority, which has deployed fiber to more than 30,000 homes in Jackson, TN.

We began to have a wide-ranging discussion that touched on a lot of points, but the one that I found especially interesting was when Michael mentioned the challenges JEA faced as incumbent broadband providers have begun aggressive marketing campaigns in his area that claim DSL and cable are fast enough, essentially saying there’s no need for fiber.

The trouble with this is that now Michael’s in a position where his sales people are saying, “So what’s the sizzle of fiber?”

Of course, if you know your Mbps from your Gbps, fiber’s a pretty sexy technology, but the average customer doesn’t have an awareness of this; they need to know what fiber enables.

The challenge there is that the vast majority of innovation we’re seeing on the Internet is being done with the mindset of “How can I fit as much as possible through a 1Mbps pipe?” not “What could I do if I had 100Mbps to work with?”

Much of this is due to practical issues, like trying to justify investing a million dollars in creating an application for a market of FTTH customers that’s in the single digit millions at best, rather than for the tens of millions of people with DSL or cable.

Yet at the same time, as we discussed this, I could see the wheels turning in Tom’s head as we were raising the question of “What can we do with all this bandwidth?”

Unfortunately, the hotel bar closes at 11 on Sunday nights and our conversation was cut short so I wasn’t able to pick his brain as to what thoughts were racing through his head.

But fear not. The next few days at the Killer App Expo will provide the first ever snapshot of just a sliver of the full potential that broadband applications have to offer.

And I’ll be working diligently over the next few days to try and find my own answers to that question.

In the meantime, last night’s conversation between an application developer and a network operator was precisely what I was hoping the Expo would enable. So I’m beside myself with excitement over what the next few days have in store.