Sunday, July 29, 2007

SCN Column Preview

“Quiet Numbskulls, I’m Broadcasting”

Written by John Mayberry
For Systems Contractor News
August 2007

Moe may get his wish again in yet another format. Once tethered to Saturday theater matinees, the Three Stooges successfully made the technical transition to television in the 1950’s. Now they’re about to blaze new trails once again over Wi-Fi narrowcasting with the new 802.11n standard implementation.

The standard, due to be published this September and already sold in the stores, allows for typical data rates sufficiently high for point to point high definition video broadcasting. Imagine- wireless HD coming soon to a home very similar to your own!

802.11n allows for line of sight connectivity to 350 straight line feet from a transceiver. It operates in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrums, with a maximum data rate of 700 Mb/s, with typical data rates of 100-200 Mb/s. Due to the multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) signaling techniques of 802.11n, the equipment is easily identified by multiple router antennae sticking up.

Mind you the definition of “point to point” is not exactly what it once meant either. While a source may emanate from a single location, streaming technology allows for many users to simultaneously watch even if their timing may be asynchronous.

There is of course a catch. While 802.11n gives us the wireless capacity locally, our moribund hardwired networks continue to lag. Yes, we still have those pesky pipe issues into our offices, schools, and homes to deal with that limit transmission signal quality. The best commercially available service here is by cable modem at 15 Mb/s. A more typical connection speed is 2 Mb/s.

Yet the situation is changing. Technicolor claims to have sent the first motion picture (Transformers) via satellite to both domestic and international theaters this July using an integrator neutral digital cinema distribution network. It speaks volumes about our domestic internet infrastructure that this could not be sent via a terrain based system.

Our firm did help hook up a local school district to an OC-12 connection recently, but it required adding new fiber throughout the town and an expensive monthly commitment. Four months into the project only half the schools are finished, as a neighboring town holds up some permits.

One couldn’t help but be jealous reading that NTT Domoco plans on implementing a 300 MB/s wireless nationwide network by 2009 in Japan. I don’t think our local suppliers are even thinking such thoughts, let alone have an implementation plan. It’s a bit embarrassing how far US technology if falling behind in some areas. That’s about 500 times faster than what’s available here today.

In truth the distinction between broadcast video and Internet video has been blurred for sometime. Our kids spend hours watching the YouTubes and Facebooks of Internet rather than watching conventional cable television. For them it is often more entertaining. Certainly the television manufacturers want this era to begin.

Watching “Swinging the Alphabet” by the Three Stooges on YouTube this morning as part of my research I realized when my father watched it at the Cadet Theater in Claremore, Oklahoma in 1938 the same content was substantially better in appearance than what I saw over the Internet today in our office. Today’s comparison is more akin to a 1952 vintage television set with a fuzzy six inch screen rather than the 35 mm 60 foot wide projection he viewed.

Yet the piece parts for narrowcasting continue to fall into place, even if somewhat haphazardly. Perhaps the broadcast firms will adapt to the new marketplace with something other than inexpensive reality shows.

One would think existing networks would stress the quality of their product. Yet right now the only new Star Trek episodes being made are not on the Paramount studio lot but out of a guy’s house in South Pasadena, California. The Star Trek: Hidden Frontier series features remarkably sophisticated visual graphics and plot lines. The acting makes Shatner look like Shakespeare, but hopefully that will improve in time. Narrowcasting will need lots of low cost content.

Recently a number of highly localized ad based systems companies have begun to sprout up. One of the first advertisers to sign up was Dell, as the advertising firm claimed to be able to connect with all the techies on a single university campus for roughly a $1,000. One can speculate that this may soon become part of the norm, eventually drilling down to even a single individual the day he just cashed his paycheck. After all, there’s no sense sending them an ad if their bank account’s empty.

We’re in a strange place right now regarding digital connectivity. Lots of untested good ideas, but only a few companies have figured out how to make serious money off of displaying content. Things may start changing soon. One day we may each have our own dedicated channel.