ThinkBroadband article on European Commission plan to establish a broadband-Internet universal service obligation in the European Union.
What should be the minimum qualifications for universal provision of a broadband Internet service?
There may have to be a minimum bandwidth for the “standard service”. This would then require the universal service provider to be able to provide that level of bandwidth to the customer’s door in all areas.
In the case of technologies like ADSL or wireless where the distance from the exchange or base station and the quality of the infrastructure or the terrain between the customer and the exchange / base station determines the bandwidth, the provider would have to take steps to achieve the minimum bandwidth at the customer’s door. This would require the ISP to undertake such works as renewal of telephone wiring or installation of repeater stations.
As far as the minimum standard of service is called, there would have to be a minimu bandwidth. Some people may reckon that 512kbps would be the standard bandwidth for basic use such as browsing “Web 2.0” sites and / or sending and receiving e-mail using POP3. Others may consider 1Mbps more realistic considering the current generation of Internet transport protocols. This would allow more bandwidth for the increasingly-common Internet practices like on-line multimedia, V2oIP (voice and video telephony over the Internet) and increased file transfer such as through use of “cloud-based” computing services.
Another factor that may need to be defined would be what kind of technology should be used to provide the service. This would determine whether the service should use ADSL2, FTTx and similar wireline connections to each door as a minimum standard or whether they can use wireless in sparse areas.
Similarly, there may be the issue of bandwidth-use allowances for the universal service and what happens if the user oversteps that allowance.
Another issue that will need to be worked out is content control mechanisms so that children don’t see unsuitable content on this service. Could this be provided with a “clean-feed” service or through a standard Internet-filter program installed in the Internet-gateway device or “end-user” computer. It also includes updating of content filter lists on a regular basis.
Who should be the ISP who provides the “standard service” and is responsible for covering all areas?
It may be provided by the “universal service” telecommunications provider’s retail broadband-Internet arm, similar to Telstra’s BigPond service, British Telecom’s BT Broadband service or France Télécom’s Orange Internet service. On the other hand, it could be provided by an existing retail ISP who is awarded a “universal service provisioning” contract by the national government or a local ISP who works as part of a local “switched-on access” program. If true competitive access is required, then all retail ISPs would be required to provide the universal service.
What could be the public-access requirements?
The standard for universal-access Internet service will have to encompass “public-access” requirements which would be the equivalent of the “public payphone” in the universal-access telephony service definition. This could cover the requirement to provide Internet-access terminals in public libraries, hospitals, and similar public places; or providing “wireless hotspot” service in public areas like parks or town squares.
How should it be funded?
Because it will be more costly to provide the set minimum standard of Internet access at a specified price in some areas such as the country, there would be the issue of covering the losses associated with providing this kind of service.
Typically, this could be through the ISP charging more for its discretionary services such as high-bandwidth plans, mailbox services or Web hosting. This may be the model practised by retail broadband arms of universal-service telecommunications companies. It may also encompass the ISP selling content services such as music and movie download services to its customers and to the general public.
On the other hand, there may be a “universal service fund” that may be established by the government. The money could be raised through dedicated taxes such as a “universal service levy” on discretionary services; redirection of a portion of any sales tax or consumption tax associated with Internet-access costs or simply through line spending by the government.
Sometimes, the universal Internet service could be integrated in to the mechanisms that exist for providing the universal telephone service, such as using existing universal-service funds or taxes.
Whatever way, such universal-service obligations shouldn’t hamper the competitive Internet-access market and the advantages that it brings like low access prices or good-quality service.
One main concern would be how universal-service operators could marginalise areas of less economic importance. This could manifest in deploying infrastructure capable of providing just the basic Internet service into those areas or being slow about provisioning or maintaining Internet service in those areas. This situation can lead to long-term customer dissatisfaction with the service and therefore lead to customers deserting the universal-service ISP when competition appears in their area.
This situation has repeated itself many times with incumbent telecommunications providers who provided the universal telephone service, whether they are private companies or government-run operations.
There needs to be a minimum service-level standard established as part of the universal-service obligation for the Internet. It would have to cover such issues as response to customer issues like service faults and difficulties; and the time taken to provision new services to the customer.
To sum up
If the concept of universal Internet access is to work successfully, a lot of questions will need to be asked so as to avoid problems with provisioning this level of service.
Since my earlier article wbich I had moved from my older blog, SFR had taken over Neuf Cegetel. But this universal-acces “single-pipe triple-play” service has continued on and the trucks are now rolling a the HLM estates as this is being written.
Because of the high-throughput technology, companies like SFR are able to provide this kind of acess to the people. As I mentioned earlier, it is underpinned by the European business culture which is primarily “for the people” rather than for the executives of the big companes which is the primary business culture in the USA.
)In February 2008, Neuf Cegetel (a French telecommunications provider) along with Office HLM de Paris (the public housing authority in Paris, similar to the Ministry of Housing in Victoria, Australia) have established a universal-access “single-pipe triple-play” service for deployment in areas of Paris that have fibre-optic telecommunications.
This service, which is offered for EUR1 / month tax-exclusive has the provision of:
18 channels of regular “free-to-air” digital television programming including high-definition broadcasts provided by the “free-to-air” broadcasters
512kbps broadband which is effectively the same standard as most mid-tier ADSL plans currently available in Australia and;
a landline telephony service of similar standard to Telstra’s InContact service — can receive incoming calls but cannot make outgoing calls except to emergency and special numbers
delivered over the fibre-optic pipe.
Comments on this service in relevance to the Australian market
From what I see, the 512kbps ADSL service is being considered the bare minimum standard of Internet access in Europe where people in Australia have to call this standard of service a luxury and have to consider 256kbps “fraud-band” Internet service as the “way in” when thinking of broadband. Often this has meant that sole parents and others on very limited income are having to stick to this speed if they want to think of broadband at all; or just simply work with a dial-up Internet connection.
As well, Australian pay-TV providers don’t offer a “FTA-only” deal where you only receive the free-to-air digital TV channels. This may be because of the prevalence of cheap standard-definition DVB-T boxes flooding the market and the DTV service comprising primarily of the FTA channels receivable on regular TV and a handful of supplementary channels that are “spin-offs” of the regular broadcast output. The only areas where such a service may take hold would be customers who live in areas with marginal TV reception and / or customers who rent premises where there is an underperforming TV aerial or simply no TV aerial and may find it hard to get proper digital TV reception.
The kind of landline telephony service that is offered may appeal not just to people on a low income but to share houses where a common telephone may be required just for receiving calls and “emergency fallback”. Typically, the tenants would then maintain prepaid mobile phones for their outgoing calls and for receiving personal calls.
This kind of service provisioning may catch on in Continental Europe where most of the culture is centred around being “for the people” but won’t easily be accepted in cultures like the USA where corporate profits are more important than the needs of the people.
Affordability of Internet service and computer equipment
Nowadays, a decent-standard broadband Internet plan is at a price that is affordable for most people no matter the financial situation. Increasingly, these plans are becoming bundled with other personal telephony or pay-TV deals so they end up being a no-brainer to consider for the home.This also includes the arrival of “n-play” deals that encompass personal (landline and / or mobile) telephony, Internet access and multi-channel pay-TV services.
As well, computer equipment of a standard good enough for working on the Web and doing other basic tasks can be purchased for a reasonable sum of money. Similarly, I had talked on the blog about a) repurposing an old business laptop as a general-purpose “kitchen PC” and b) the concept of “netbook” computers like the Asus Eee PC as general-purpose computers. This covers cost-effective laptop computers being able to earn their keep in this kind of situation.
The new computing experience
I have mentioned a lot in my blog of a “new computing experience” that is becoming the norm in most households. The Internet “edge” for this setup is typically an affordable wireless router that provides a WiFi local network segment as well as an Ethernet local network segment. The computer that is typically used in this setup is typically a notebook (laptop) computer that has a built-in WiFi network interface. The printer will typically be an inkjet-based “all-in-one” that is hooked up to the computer as need for printing or scanning arises. Some setups may use a network-enabled “all-in-one” printer that connects directly to the Ethernet or WiFi network segment and uses standard network protocols for handling print jobs.
This experience has been brought about through Intel’s heavily-promoted “Centrino” concept which promotes the WiFi wireless network as part and parcel of laptop use. One main concept that was promoted in the “Centrino” concept was the idea of portability where you can go anywhere in the house in a moment’s notice yet still be within reach of the Internet.
What is this leading to?
The main activities cited in the article include general Web browsing and banking / paying bills online.It had said that the short amount of time needed to do the business online can lead to more leisure time. In the context of the housewife, this would encompass more quality time with the children.
Other articles that I have read talked about housewives with young children visiting the casual gaming sites like MSN Games and MiniClip so they can play a few rounds of a casual game while their child is having a nap.
Social-networking sites; which are often demonised as huge “time wasters”, a threat to privacy and a hangout for unsavoury types of people, can appeal to this kind of user. The same can hold true of online forums, instant messaging and similar sites.
But primarily, the housewife using the Internet as part of her life means that there is another tool for her association with th organisations that she deals with. Think of being able to view “parent-teacher” information sent by the school that the children go to or putting up online notes for the pressure-group organisation that she and her neighbours are part of.
The remarks made in the Daily Mail article and in this blog commentary certainly show that the “connected” lifestyle certainly appeals to those who spend some of their time alone in the house.
At the moment, most add-on “over-the-air” digital-TV converter boxes sold through general retail don’t come with UPnP AV / DLNA media-client functionality. But this feature could be offered as something to differentiate units in a product line or differentiate a unit from one offered by a competitor.
There will be a lot of interest in these boxes over the next few years as various countries either switch off analogue TV service and go “all dgital” or enrich their digital-TV platform. This is espeially so as people want to make sure that they can receive the digital TV service on other TVs in their house and at other locations. Integrating the DLNA functionality in these set-top boxes can allow the boxes to become two devces in one – a network media adaptor as well as a digital-TV set-top box.
It will then work with Internet TV / vodcast gateway software that provides DLNA-based directory software for Internet TV services and vodcasts, thus allowing access to this kind of content on the regular TV. The same could hold true for any multimedia content held on a PC or network-attached storage connected to the home network.
Similarly, this concept can work with DLNA-compliant PVR set-top boxes and provide access to content that is recorded on the PVR unit. It can also provide access to “multi-room PVR” functionality like the ability to pause a show in one room and pick up where you left off in another room. Such functionality has been provided for in version 2 of the UPnP AV MediaServer and MediaRenderer device specifications.
Today has been the 50th anniversary of the self-dial long-distance telephone service in the UK, where telephone subscribers culd call across the country without needing the help of an operator. The demonstration call that was made on this day in 1958 was made by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who was located at Bristol to the Lord Provost who was located in Edinburgh. A re-enactment of this call will take place between the same people at the same locations but using video-conferencing technology, not just as a celebration of accessible cost-effective long-distance telephony for all but as a proof of concept that this can be done with today’s video-conferencing methods.
The reason that this event is being celebrated is because it is one of the major milestones in telecommunications, where these calls had transcended many barriers. It was about bringing the business centres of a country together and simply bringing country areas to the city, just by lifting that telephone handset and dialing the correspondent’s number. It has then paved the way for such technologies as computers, the Internet and home networks.
I had talked about in a previou article on how to go about setting up your computer and your home network for video-conferencing with distant relatives using Skype or Windows Live Messenger. This, like VOIP (Voice Over IP) is now making long-distance telephony so much more affordable for most that we can even take this kind of service for granted.
Happy 50th Anniversary for the Self-Dial Long-Distance Telephone Call!
You have taken the plunge to buy the Tivo personal-TV service and have this unit add increased value to your free-to-air TV viewing. But this Tivo box needs to be connected to the Internet for online registration and to benefit from an updated electronic programme guide plus all the extras that are available for that platform. This is also of importance where there is the possibility of Tivo running video-based services like “catch-up TV” as part of the platform. It is similarly true of any set-top-box IPTV or video-on-demaind platform which relies on Internet connectivity.
The Tivo people mention in their advertising material and product document of only two ways to connect the Tivo unit to the home network and to the Internet. They are either an Ethernet cable or an optional USB-connected WiFi wireless network adaptor supplied by Tivo. The problem with these wireless network adaptors, and the WiFi wireless network in general is that they can be very “hit and miss” in their performance.
But there is another way to connect the Tivo to the home network without running extra wires around the house. This is in the form of HomePlug which uses the AC wiring as a data transport.
Typically you would connect a short wire from the Tivo’s Ethernet socket to the Ethernet socket on a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and plug the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in to the wall. Then you connect anther short wire from the router to another HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and plug this HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in to the wall. Out of the box, these units would simply just work.
If you had an existing HomePlug setup, you would simply just use another HomePlug-Ethernet bridge for connecting the Tivo unit to the existing HomePlug segment. You may have to use the PowerPacket utility supplied by the HomePlug equipment vendor to enrol the new HomePlug unit in to the existing segment.
Once this is going, the Tivo unit should just work as though it is using the Ethernet connection to the router. This would then lead to any download that is part of the platform taking a relatively short time, and would be important if there is the possibility of video-based services being part of that platform.
Disclaimer: This post has been written by myself based on an observation of a demonstration Tivo setup at the Digital Life exhibition that was held in November this year at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. It is not sponsored by HomePlug or any of its affiliated organizations.
There has been recent talk about the idea of providing the National Broadband Network, a super-fast broadband Internet service, either with Telstra or Terria (an Optus-led consortium) providing the infrastructure. One idea, proposed by Terria (who was OPEL) was to provide a fibre-optic service to urban locations and use a WiMAX radio link for rural and regional locations and the other idea, proposed by Telstra was to use fibre-optic in all towns and a DSL service optimised for long distance for rural areas. This issue even ended up being one of the platform issues for the Australian Labor Party during their campaign for Election 2007.
There are some “greenfield” (newly-released land) housing developments in Australia where this kind of fibre-optic broadband service is being deployed. This has been made easier due to the development not having telecommunications or other infrastructure and is used as a promotion tool by the developers in showing how “switched on” the location is.
Some other population-dense countries such as France and the USA are deploying a commercial fibre-optic broadband service into various neighbourhoods.
FTTN (Fibre To The Node) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in the neighbourhood with intentions to cover a number of streets
FTTC (Fibre To The Curb / Kerb) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in a street with intentions to cover that street and perhaps “courts” and other cul-de-sacs running off that street.
FTTB (Fibre To The Building) – fibre-optic link deployed to the wiring closets of multiple-tenancy buildings (blocks of flats, office blocks, etc). Single-occupancy buildings may be served in a manner similar to fibre to the curb or may be served using fibre to the premises.
FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) / FTTH (Fibre To The Home) – fibre optic link deployed to the customer’s premises. A strict interpretation would require that multiple-tenancy buildings have optical fibre running to each unit (flat, office, shop) in the building.
Setup at the customer’s location
Systems other than FTTP / FTTH will have a copper-wire link running from the system cabinet or wiring closet to the customer’s door. This will be deployment-dependent and may be a high-speed variant of DSL piggybacked on the telephone lines; a coaxial link similar to cable TV and cable Internet; or simply a twisted-pair Ethernet cable run similar to what is implemented for wired networks in the home or workplace.
In the case of an FTTP / FTTH service, there will be an “optical network terminal” device that is deployed at the customer’s premises. It is simply a fibre-optic – Ethernet bridge that links the fibre-optic cable to the home network. The device would either be fixed outside the house with an Ethernet cable run to a room nominated by the customer; or be a box the same size as a typical cable modem and is installed in a similar manner to cable-based broadband Internet.
Typical standard of service
The typical fibre-optic service that is being provided would be a “single-pipe triple-play” service with broadband “hot and cold running” Internet, multi-channel pay-TV and landline telephony provided over the same “pipe”. Due to the “fat pipe” provided by the fibre-optic infrastructure, the level of service would be beyond the average telephony, pay-TV and broadband Internet service.
This would usually be represented by the TV service carrying a large number of high-definition channels, the IP-based landline telephony service being capable of handling “high-band” telephony services like FM-grade or better audio and / or videophone services with smooth pictures The Internet service would be able to offer a level of service that is beyond what the typical broadband Internet service can provide, which would be a high throughput service with a very low latency.
This kind of service would typically be provisioned using an Internet gateway device equipped with an “analogue telephony adaptor” interface so the customer can continue to use existing telephony devices. If the customer subscribes to pay-TV service, they would be supplied with an IP-TV set-top box that is connected to the Internet gateway device via a high-speed network connection like HomePlug AV, Ethernet or 802.11n WPA wireless.
Some installations have used a “single-box” solution for the network-Internet “edge” with the Internet gateway, analogue telephony interface and IP-TV set-top box function built in to the one box but such installations are unpopular because of the desire by most households to keep TV viewing and computer use in appropriately-comfortable areas.
Issues that are currently being raised mainly in France are the provisioning of fibre-optic broadband on a competitive footing where competing service providers have access to the same customer base.
One of them is a competitive delivery scenario where one or mor competing service providers use their own infrastructure to provide their own service. The issues that are raised are primarily focused on multi-occupancy buildings like blocks of flats, office blocks or shopping centres which France has many of. It concerns whether multple operators should or shouldn’t share the same wiring closet and infrastructure for the cabling to the occupant’s premises and what happens when an occupant changes service providers.
Ultimately, the issue of competitive delivery in all kinds of locations will need to be worked out, especially for the good of the customers.
You might be thinking of using video conferencing as a way of talking with distant relatives or friends. Infact, there was an article on TV Channel 7 News (Melbourne, Australia) on 4 December 2008 regarding the use of this technology to allow families to communicate with elderly relatives who are in nursing homes that are a significant distance from the family.
Is your network ready?
You shoud make sure that you have a broadband service of at least 512kbps ADSL or standard cable specification. As far as your router is concerned, it needs to support UPnP IGD / NAT traversal behaviour. This may be easier with most home-use and SOHO / small-business routers bought from retailers. But you may have to be careful about routers supplied by Internet service providrs, especially if the equipment is not available for general retail sale.
Also check that you are getting good WiFi reception if the computer you intend to use is to be connected to the network via WiFi wireless. This may include making sure that the aerial(s) on the wireless router is upright and, perhaps, considering setting up a wireless network with two or more access points. This has been talked about in my feature article on multple-access-point wireless networks. If the computer is a desktop unit located far from ther router, such as a home theatre computer, and you don’t want to pull Ethernet cable out to it, it may be worth considering a HomePlug powerline network kit. This kit uses the AC wires in the home as a network segment and still provides Ethernet stability in a “plug and play” manner.
What hardware to use
Computer with properly-performing video and audio subsystem and and a decent-quality webcam like a Logitech or Microsoft unit. Most recent laptops have a webcam built in to them for this kind of activity. If you don’t have a microphone attached to your desktop computer, the microphone that is part of a decent-standard webcam can do the job for picking up the voices.
What software to use
There are three different platforms to work with for video conferencing. One is the Skype platform which has existed mainly as an international free-telephony platform. But now it has become more popular as a video-conferencing platform. This one is available for the common computing platforms such as Windows, MacOS X and UNIX / Linux as well as some devices like the Sony PSP and would be the preferred choice if you want to be sure of accessibility.
The other two are the Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. Both of these are popular instant-message platfrms but have voice and video telephony built in to them. The main problem with them is that they work only with the Windows platform and the MacOS X platform, which may preclude UNIX / Linux users from using them. Windows Live Messenger is at the moment being rolled out to the XBox 360, mainly as a text chat system but could be rolled out for full video chat.
Going about it.
You will have to complete the setup wizard for the conference program and this will typically require you to use your e-mail address as your identifier.
As well, you will need to complete an audio-video check which allows you to make sure that the microphone is going to pick up the sounds and that the speaker is loud enough without causing unnecessary echo or feedback “howl”. This test simply requires you to set the microphone gain to a proper level by you saying a test passage in to the system at your normal voice and checking a level meter on the user interface. It also requires you to set the speaker volum by you hearing an audio test signal and adjusting the volume for personal comfort. At this point, the system sets itself to avoid the echo or feedback “howl”.
There will usually be a “video” test to make sure that the webcam is working properly and can see you. This will typically be a “mirror image” showing up on your screen of what the camera can see, so you can focus the camera and determine how much lighting you may need for proper visibility.
Then you exchange your video-conference ID with your family and friends who are running the same software. Typically, when a user adds a contact to one of these programs, the program sends a message to the contact asking for permission to add them to the list. This is to protect the contact’s privacy and make sure they are dealing with the right people.
Other issues to consider
If you are planning to engage in “group” video conferencing such as when your family is talking to a distant relative, it may be worth using the large-screen TV set for this purpose. Such a TV set should have a VGA connector or HDMI connector and can be connected to the computer via the VGA socket or a DVI or HDMI socket. If you are not using HDMI as the connector or your computer doesn’t pass audio through the HDMI connector, the sound should just be connected to the TV set or home-theatre receiver via a standard audio lead. Most older CRT-based sets can only be connected to a computer via a composite or S-video cable and the video driver set up for work with the composite / S-video output.
As well, you will have to make sure the webcan stays on top of the TV set. This may involve the use of a USB extension lead to connect the camera to the computer and the use of Blu-Tack or double-sided tape to keep the camera from falling off the set. This issue is more real with flat-screen sets which don’t have much space on top of them
If you are concerned about your privacy and security, you may need to keep the webcam disconnected while you are not involved in video conferencing so that rogue software doesn’t “open” the camera up.
Before long, it will be that nearly every consumer-electronics manufacturer will be providig a DLNA-compliant Internet radio in the form of a table radio. What will need to eventually happen is that the manufacturers design units that offer something special beyond their competitors.
From this review that I read, I had noticed that Nokia had moved away from the same old monochrome LCD display and headed towards a colour display like on their phones. Other steps of improvement in this class included a digital output which can allow the set to be amplified via a home theatre receiver like some of the Philips and Yamaha “soundbars”. But the way Nokia could improve on this design would be to have a variable output connection for a matching right-channel speaker that can be sold as an option; similar to the Tivoli NetWorks Internet radio.
But with more of these sets coming on the market at prices affordable for most, it may be worth reading my article about establishing a PC-less media network in your home network i.e. to set up a dedicated media server like a NAS box and move your media to that server.
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