Category: Commentary

Use of DVB-I and similar technologies to provide radio and TV over Internet-based infrastructure

ABC News 24 coronavirus coverage

Traditional TV will soon be able to be delivered via the Internet

A direction that we are expecting to see for broadcast radio and TV technology is to stream it via Internet-based technologies but assure users of a similar experience to how they have received content delivered this way.

It is about being able to use the agile wired and wireless Internet technologies like 5G mobile broadband, fibre-to-the-premises, fixed-wireless broadband; and Ethernet and Wi-Fi wireless local area networks to deliver this kind of content.

What is the goal here

TV remote control

… with the same kind of familiar user experience like channel surfing with a remote control

The goal here is to provide traditional broadcast radio and TV service through wired or wireless broadband-service-delivery infrastructure in addition to or in lieu of dedicated radio-frequency-based infrastructure.

The traditional radio-frequency approach uses specific RF technologies like FM, DAB+, DVB and ATSC to deliver audio or video content to radio and TV receivers. This can be terrestrial to a rooftop, indoor or set-attached antenna referred to in the UK and most Commonwealth countries as an aerial; via a cable system through a building, campus or community; or via a satellite where it is received using special antennas like satellite dishes.

The typical Internet-Protocol network used for Internet service uses different transport media, whether that be wired or wireless. It can be mobile broadband receivable using a mobile phone; a fixed setup like fibre-to-the-premises, fixed wireless or fibre-copper setups. As well, such networks typically include a local-area network covering a premises or building that is based on Ethernet, Wi-Fi wireless, HomePlug or G.Hn powerline, or similar technologies.

The desireable user experience

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

… as will radio be delivered that way, including to have a very rich user experience

It also is about providing a basic setup and use experience equivalent to what is expected for receiving broadcast radio and TV service using digital RF technologies. This includes “scanning” the wavebands for stations to build up a station directory of what’s available locally as part of setting up the equipment; using up/down buttons to change between stations or channels; keying in “channel numbers” in to a keypad to select TV channels according to a traditional and easy-to-remember channel numbering approach; using a “last-channel” button to flip between two different programmes you are interested in; and allocating regularly-listened-to stations to preset buttons so you have them available at a moment’s notice.

This has been extended to a richer user experience for broadcast content in many ways. For TV, it has extended to a grid-like electronic programme guide which lists what is showing now or will be shown in the coming week on all of the channels so you can switch to a show that you like to watch or have that show recorded. For radio, it has been about showing more details about what you are listening to like the name of that song you are listening to for example. Even ideas like prioritising or recording the news or traffic announcements that matter or selecting content by type has also become another desireable part of the broadcast user experience.

Relevance of traditional linear broadcasting today

There are people who cast doubt on the relevance of traditional linear broadcast media and its associated experiences in this day and age.

This is brought about through the use of podcasts, Spotify-like audio streaming services, video-on-demand services and the like who can offer a wider choice of content than traditional broadcast media.

But some user classes and situations place value upon the traditional broadcast media experience. Firstly, Generation X and prior generations have grown up with broadcast media as part of their life thanks to affordable sets with a common user experience and an increasing number of stations or channels being available. Here, these users are often resorting to broadcast media for casual viewing and listening with a significant number of these users recording broadcast material to enjoy again on their own terms.

Then there is the reliance on traditional broadcast media for news and sport. This is due to the ability to receive up-to-date facts without needing to do much. Let’s not forget that some users rely on this media experience for discovery of content curated by someone else like staff at a TV channel or a radio station rather than an online service’s content-recommendation engine. Even the on-air talent is valued by a significant number of listeners or viewers as personalities in their own right because of how they present themselves on radio or TV.

Access without traditional radio-frequency infrastructure

One of these goals here is to allow access to traditional broadcast radio and TV without being dependent on particular radio-frequency infrastructure types and reception conditions. This can encompass someone to offer a linear broadcast service with all the trappings of that service but not needing to have access to RF-based broadcast technologies like a transmitter.

To some extent, it could be a method to use the likes of SpaceX Starlink or 5G mobile broadband to deliver radio and TV service to rural and remote areas. This could come in to its own where the goal is to provide the full complement of broadcasting services to these areas.

It also is encompassing a situation happening with cable-TV networks in some countries where these networks are being repurposed purely for cable-modem Internet service. As well, some neighbourhoods don’t take kindly to satellite dishes popping up on the roofs or walls of houses, seeing them as a blight. Here, multi-channel pay-TV operators have had to consider using Internet-based delivery methods to bring their services to potential customers without facing these risks.

Lenovo Yoga Tab 13" Android tablet product image courtesy of Lenovo

It can also be about using smartphones, tablets and laptops to watch TV with the full experience

Let’s not forget that IP-based data networks are being seen as a way to extend the reach of traditional broadcast services in to parts of a building that don’t have ready access to a reliable RF signal or traditional RF infrastructure. This may be due to it being seen as costly or otherwise prohibitive to extend a master-antenna TV setup to a particular area or to install a satellite dish, TV aerial or cable-TV connection to a particular house.

In the portable realm, it extends especially to smartphones or mobile-platform tablets even where these devices may have a broadcast-radio or TV tuner. But broadcast reception using these tuners only becomes useful if you plug a wired headset in to the mobile device’s headset jack, because of a long-standing design practice with Walkman-type personal radio devices where the headset cable is the device’s FM or DAB+ antenna. Here, the smartphone could use mobile broadband or Wi-Fi for broadcast-radio reception if you use its speaker or a Bluetooth headset to listen to the radio.

Complementing traditional radio infrastructure

Repackaging broadcast content for delivery via Internet concept diagram

Broadcast content is repackaged in a manner to be delivered via Internet Protocol rather than broadcast means

In the same context, it is also being considered as a different approach to providing “broadcast-to-LAN” services where broadcast signals are received from radio infrastructure via a tuner-server device and streamed in to a local-area network. This could allow the client device to choose the best source available for a particular channel or station.

But even the “broadcast-to-LAN” approach can be improved upon by providing an equivalent user experience to a traditional RF-based broadcast setup. It would benefit buildings or campuses with a traditional aerial or satellite dish installed at the most optimum location but use Ethernet cabling, Wi-Fi wireless or similar technologies including a mixture of such technologies to distribute the broadcast signal around the development.

As well, some of these setups may be about mixing the traditional broadcast channels and IP-delivered content in to a form that can be received with that traditional broadcast user experience. Or it can be about seamlessly switching between a fully-Internet-delivered source and the broadcast stream provided by a broadcast-LAN server to the local network that is providing Internet service. This can cater towards broadcast-LAN setups based around devices that don’t have enough capacity to serve many broadcast streams.

Even a radio or TV device could maintain a traditional user-experience while content is delivered over both traditional RF infrastructure and Internet-based infrastructure. This could range from managing a situation where an alternative content stream is offered via the Internet while the main content is offered via the station’s traditional RF means. Or it could be about independent broadcast content being broadcast without the need to have access to RF infrastructure or spectrum.

Similarly, some digital-broadcast operators are wanting to implement networks typically used for Internet service delivery as a backhaul between a broadcaster’s studios and the transmitter. Here, it is seen as a cost-effective approach due to a reduced need to create an expensive pure-play wired or wireless link to the transmitter. Rather they can rely on a business-grade Internet service with guaranteed service quality standards for this purpose.

Even a master-antenna system that is set up to provide a building’s or development’s occupants access to broadcast content via RF coaxial-cable infrastructure could benefit this way. This could be about repackaging broadcasters’ content from Internet-based links offered by the broadcasters in to a form deliverable over the system’s RF cable infrastructure rather than an antenna or satellite dish to bring radio and TV to that system. It could be also seen as a way to insert extra content for that development through this system such as a health TV channel for hospitals or a tourist-information TV channel for hotels.

How is this approach being taken

Here, a broadcast-ready linear content stream or a collection of such streams that would be normally packaged for a radio-frequency transport is repackaged for a data network working to IP-compliant standards. This can be done in addition to packaging that content stream for one or more radio-frequency transports.

This approach is built on the idea of the ISO OSI model of network architecture where top-level classes of protocols can work on many different bottom-level transports, with this concept being applied to broadcast radio and TV.

The IP-based network / Internet transport approach can allow for a minimal effort approach to repackaging the broadcast stream or stream collection to an RF transport. A use case that this would apply to is using a business-standard Internet service as a backhaul for delivering radio or TV service to multiple transmitters.

It is different from the Internet-radio or “TV via app” approach where there is a collection of broadcasters streamed via Internet means. But these setups rely primarily on online content directories operated by the broadcasters themselves or third parties like TuneIn Radio or Airable.net. These setups don’t typically offer broadcast-like user experiences like channel-surfing or traditional channel-number entry.

At the moment, the DVB Group who have effectively defined the standards for digital TV in Europe, Asia, most of Africa, and Oceania have worked on this approach through the use of DVB-I (previous coverage on this site) and allied standards for television. This is in addition to the DVB Home Broadcast (DVB-HB) standard released in February this year to build upon SAT-IP towards a standardised broadcast-to-LAN setup no matter the RF bearer.

Similarly, the EBU have worked on the HRADIO project to apply this concept to DAB+ digital radio used for radio services in Europe and Oceania at least.

Another advantage that is also being seen is the ability for someone to get “on the air” without needing to have access to radio-frequency spectrum or be accepted by a cable-TV or satellite-TV network. This may appeal to international broadcasters or to those offering niche content that isn’t accepted by the broadcast establishment of a country.

What is it also leading to

This is leading towards hybrid broadcast and broadband content-delivery approaches. That is where content from the same broadcaster is delivered by RF and Internet means with the end user using the same user experience to select the online or RF-broadcast content.

One use case is to gain access to supplementary content from that broadcast via the Internet no matter whether the viewer or listener enjoys the broadcaster through an RF-based means or through the Internet. This could be prior episodes of the same show or further information about a concept put forward in an editorial program or a product advertised on a commercial.

For radio, this would be about showing up-to-date station branding alongside show names and presenter images. If the show is informational, there would be rich visual information like maps, charts, bullet lists and the like to augment the spoken information.

If it is about music, you would see reference to the title and artist of what’s playing perhaps with album cover art and artist images. For classical music where people think primarily of a work composed by a particular composer, this may be about the composer and the work, perhaps with a reference to the currently-playing movement. Operas and other musical theatre may have the libretti being shown in real time to the performance.

In all music-related cases, there may be the ability to “find out more” on the music and who is behind it or even to buy a recording of that music, whether as physical media like an LP record or CD, or as a download-to-own file.

For TV content, this would be about a rich experience for sports, news, reality and similar shows. For example, the Seven Network created an improved interactive experience for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics by using 7Plus to provide direct access to particular sports types during the Games.  A true hybrid setup on equipment with a broadcast tuner would allow a user to select Channel 7 or 7Mate for standard broadcast feeds using the 7Plus user experience with the broadcast feeds supplied by the broadcast tuner or the Internet stream depending on the signal quality.

Issues to consider

There are issues that will be raised where broadcast radio and TV are delivered over Internet infrastructure with the goal of a broadcast-like user experience.

One of these is to assure users don’t pay extra costs for this kind of reception compared to delivery by RF-based means. Here, these Internet-based broadcast setups would have to be “zero-rated” so that users don’t incur data costs on metered Internet services like mobile broadband.

As well, broadband infrastructure providers would need to assure transparent access to Internet-based broadcast setups so that users have access to standard broadcasters without being dependent on service from particular retail ISPs or mobile carriers. It may also be about making sure that one can receive broadcast content with the broadcast user experience anywhere in a typical local network.

Another factor to be considered as far as DVB-I or similar technologies are concerned is whether this impacts on content providers’ liabilities regarding broadcast rights for music and sports content. Here, some sports leagues or music copyright collection bodies consider Internet-based distribution as different from traditional broadcast media and add extra requirements on this distribution approach.

It can be about availability of content beyond the broadcaster’s home country, in a manner to contravene a blackout requirement or to provide a competing source of availability to the one who has exclusive rights for that territory. It is also similar to “grey-importing” of music rather than acquiring it through official distribution channels, that also leads to bringing in content not normally available in a particular country.

These issues may be answered through a framework of various legal protections and universal-service obligations associated with providing free-to-air broadcast content. It would be driven more so by countries who have a strong public-service and/or commercial free-to-air broadcast lobby.

Conclusion

Internet-based technologies are effectively being seen as a way to extend the reach of or improve upon the broadcast-media experience without detracting from its familiar interaction approaches. This is thanks to research in to technologies that are about repackaging broadcast signals for an RF transport in a manner for Internet use.

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Why should I prefer a charger or power supply to use IEC-standard AC connections?

IEC C113/14 power connector, IEC C7/C8 "figure-8" power connector, IECC5/C6 "cloverleaf" power connector

IEC C13/C14 AC power connector commonly used with desktop computers or guitar amplifiers, IEC C17/C8 “figure 8” power connector used commonly in portable radios, IEC C5/C6 “cloverleaf” connector commonly used with laptop power supplies

In the 1970s, the IEC defined a number of standard equipment-side connections as part of connecting appliances and equipment to the general AC power supply used at home and in the office using a detachable AC cord. The common types are the C5/C6 “cloverleaf” three-pin connection used primarily on laptop chargers, the C7/C8  “figure-8” two-pin type commonly used with portable radios, the larger C13/C14 three-pin connector used on most desktop computers, office equipment or guitar amplifiers and the C15/C16 notched three-pin connector used on a significant number of electric kettles and similar appliances.

These standards have benefited appliance designers, manufacturers and users through the life-cycle of the equipment concerned. It has mad it easier to design something that will work worldwide and simply package the appropriate cord that has a nation’s particular AC plug on one end and the appliance’s IEC-standard equipment-side plug on the other with that appliance.

This idea has been helped along by equipment designs that use multi-voltage power-supply approaches like switch-mode power supplies or user-switchable input voltages. Here, the equipment manufacturer would be encouraged to make devices that they can sell or the end-user can take anywhere in the world.

For example, a portable radio that receives the standard 540-1600 kHz medium-wave AM band and the 88-108 MHz FM band and equipped with a switchable AC input voltage and IEC-compliant AC power inlet would have world-wide utility value. That is because nearly all countries have their broadcast stations on these bands and the set could be used from AC power anywhere around the world.

Then if the user loses the AC cord for that appliance or that cord is damaged, they can cost-effectively replace that cord with a similar one. People who travel or migrate to to other countries also benefit because they replace the appliance’s AC cord with one that has the same IEC-standard equipment-side connection on one end and their destination’s AC plug on the other. There is also that likelihood of one coming across a spare AC cord with an IEC-standard equipment-side connection in their home or workplace and it continues to earn its keep.

IEC figure-8 power socket on camera battery charger

IEC figure-8 power socket on camera battery charger

It has opened up ideas for AC cords that suit a particular user’s needs. There even have been the C15/C16 notched three-pin AC cords that are coiled like a traditional telephone cord and are offered as a safe approach to keeping kettles and their cords away from the edge of the bench to avoid the risk of accidental hot-water scalding.

Or some AC cords that are sold through computer retailers have two C13/C14 plugs on one end and the national AC plug on the other, typically in order to power a desktop computer and a monitor from the one power outlet. This came in to play as computer hardware designers did away with IEC C13/C14 power outlet sockets on their desktop computers that were typically used to connect display monitors to power.

But the problem I do see is that a lot of USB chargers and similar power supplies are being offered as “wall-wart” devices that plug in to the wall rather than a small power brick with an IEC-compliant equipment-side AC connector. To the same extent, some multiport USB “charging bars” use a captive AC cable with the nation’s AC plug on them for their AC connection rather than an equipment-side IEC-compliant AC socket.

This can be an annoyance in some ways for some people. For example, these “wall-wart” devices, once plugged in to a power outlet including a power board, can take up too much space on the power outlet. Then if a user decides to go overseas, they have to purchase a travel adaptor which can become too large and the setup can become very unwieldy.

Having USB chargers and similar power supplies use IEC-compliant equipment-side AC connections like what is commonly done with laptop chargers can be a real boon.

Overseas travel

IEC cloverleaf power socket on laptop power supply

IEC cloverleaf-style power socket on laptop power supply

One could purchase an AC cord from a local electronics or computer store, or in some cases, a local supermarket for their device that has the appropriate equipment-side plug on one end and the national AC plug on other end. These cables are often sold for pennies’ worth so it is not a case of worrying about how much these will cost.

For example the C7/C8 “figure 8” cable is sold as a replacement AC cable for portable radios, the C5/C6 “cloverleaf” cable sold as a replacement cable for laptops or the larger C13/C14 three-pin cable sold as a computer, office-equipment or musical-equipment power cable.

It doesn’t hurt to ask the place you are staying at whether they have a spare AC cord with the right equipment-side connection type for your device. This may be due to someone leaving behind the AC cord for their equipment or an appliance associated with that cord had failed but the cord is still serviceable.

Rydges Melbourne

The hotel you are staying at could easily have one of these cables as a spare if you have lost your laptop’s AC power cable.

Here, you are not worrying about if you have the travel adaptor with you or whether you are “tying it up” with a particular appliance. Rather you can use any power outlet within where you are staying to power your equipment using that cord.

This is infact more of value for those of us who are staying in holiday-rental houses or apartments including serviced apartments; or who are staying at relatives’ or friends’ homes on our travels. Here, you are able to take your laptop or charger in to the kitchen, living room or other common spaces more easily without worry about where the travel adaptor is.

It also comes in to its own where your travels are primarily within geographic areas that use the same AC plug type. Here, you can rationalise down the number of AC plug types you need to cater towards when you pack accessory cables for your electronics.

Migration and long-term travel

Migrants and long-term travellers will also benefit very well because it is easier to move equipment between countries. Here, they reduce the number of travel adaptors they need to buy for all of their equipment. But they buy the AC cords compatible with their destination country’s mains sockets for their equipment when they arrive and settle down.

Migrants may even be able to leave behind their appliance’s AC cord that they used in their country of origin and pick up an AC cord in their destination country if their journey is primarily a one-way affair. That may help with cutting down on accessories that they need to worry about when they pack.

Choice of cables

You may find that the AC cable that came with your equipment may not be right for your needs.

This is more so with a charger you are using for your laptop, tablet or smartphone and it may be found that having a longer mains-voltage AC cable run like this means you aren’t losing low-voltage DC current at your device. In this case, an electronics store or online retailer may offer a longer AC cable, like this 1.8m C5 “cloverleaf” laptop power cable or the 3m C7 “figure-8” portable-radio power cable from CableChick, with the appropriate equipment side connection.

Similarly, you may find that you can purchase an AC cord of a particular colour or is designed in a particular way. For example, you may find that you want to have the cable blend in with or stand out against the interior design of the room you are using your equipment in. Or, as I have mentioned before, you may find a particular IEC-compliant AC cable that suits your situation like the aforementioned C13/C14 Y-cable that can power a desktop computer and a monitor from the same outlet.

Also be aware that some online sources do offer adaptors that have a C13/C14 power socket on one end and a C5/C6 plug or C7/C8 plug on the other end. This is typically used with a power cord that has a C13/C14 equipment-side connection to power equipment that uses the “cloverleaf” or “figure-8” AC connections, something commonly done with advanced computer setups where some low-profile equipment is being used.

Conclusion

A charger or power supply that uses IEC-standard AC-input connections does allow for increased device and AC-cable utility along with adaptability to different usage scenarios.

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Why do I prefer a smart lock to be able to work with traditional keys?

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

The Kwikset Kevo is an example of a smart lock which also supports the traditional key

Some smart locks maintain the metal key as an outside-access option, while others don’t have this ability, often being marketed as “keyless or key-free”. The keyless smart-lock setups use external power as a fail-over means of allowing user access if the smart lock’s batteries fail. This is facilitated through 9V battery terminals or a USB power-only socket on the outside of the lock.

The limitation here is that you need to have or acquire the correct external-power means to operate the smart lock if it has dead batteries. This also doesn’t work around logic failures or configuration errors that can affect a smart lock or problems associated with balky smartphones that frustrate user access.

Why traditional keys

There are two obvious cases where the traditional key is valued for a smart lock. One is for rental or other managed-building setups where a landlord, estate agent or property manager need access to your premises at all times. This is typically part of your conditions of occupancy set out in documents like leases. Some of these situations require that the lock be part of a traditional master-key setup that encompasses the building, often with the keying system being a restricted-key setup.

The other is where there are people who reside at or visit your premises who are more comfortable handling traditional keys rather than cards, fobs, codes or smartphones as a means of access. This can be something associated with older generations who are still familiar with this access technique and don’t want to learn a new approach.

August Smart Lock press picture courtesy of August

Even retrofit kits for your existing lock like this August Smart Lock kit for “bore through” cylindrical deadbolts allow use of the traditional key

A smart lock equipped with a traditional-key cylinder is designed so that there is mechanical linking between the cylinder and the bolt independent of the electronic and electromechanical aspects that it has. This allows for sure-fire secure fail-over access with the traditional key that is something most users would be familiar with.

It works around both the dead-battery situation and other situations that can occur with computer-based devices like general hardware and software failure.  As well, if you use your smartphone as the access means for your smart lock and your phone’s battery dies or a software failure occurs within your phone, your keys can be used as a failover measure.

Some manufacturers even establish a “privacy” or “security” operation mode with these locks that disable electronic access and only allow access with the traditional key. The use case outlined with this operating mode is to give a copy of the metal key to those who really need access to your premises at all times such as a close relative or friend. Then you disable the smart-lock functionality with the codes or cards given to other people who don’t always need access to your premises when you want surefire privacy.

How is this being delivered?

The retrofit kits that convert existing bore-through deadbolts or Euro-profile mortice locks to smart locks are designed to maintain use of the traditional key that is associated with the lockset that is being converted.

The Le Poste solution available in France that adds smart lock functionality to a Euro-profile lock

But there are some new-install smart locks on the market that are designed to be able to work with a traditional key from the outside. This is in addition to the electronic access means that the typical smart lock will offer. Most of these come as a deadbolt or key-in-lever entrance set designed for “bore-through” installation. Let’s not forget the Gainsbourough FreeStyle TriLock smart lock that is intended to be able to replace an existing Gainsborough TriLock “bore-through” entrance set or be installed anew.

What this may entail

If you need to maintain the existing key that you were using or have to have the traditional-key-capable smart lock part of your building’s master-key or restricted-key environment, you would need to have a locksmith perform the necessary modifications. This job may be about “transferring” the keying setup from your existing lock to the mew smart lock.

But also be aware if your traditional-key-capable smart lock has a standard interchangeable cylinder part, something that is common with the Euro-profile retrofit kits. Here, you can supply the key or outside cylinder from your existing lockset as a reference for this transfer operation.

How could it be improved on

A major way that traditional-key support in a smart lock can be augmented is for activity relating to the metal-key cylinder being treated in the same way as use of codes, cards or smartphones. That is in the same context as having the internal thumbturn that you use to manually operate the smart lock from inside treated in the same way.

Here, using the traditional key to open the door or locking the door from the inside using the thumbturn could be logged as an access instance or seen as an event in the context of your smart home technology. This could be about letting you know if someone who normally uses the traditional key has arrived. Or it could be about enabling your home in to “occupied” mode thus having the lighting come on or the heating / air-conditioning come on to a comfortable temperature.

Conclusion

The traditional metal key is still important when it comes to the newer smart locks. Here, it is more so as a secure surefire failover access solution or to maintain as a means of access for people who are comfortable with these keys.

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A call for a public-service Internet

Article

ABC News 24 coronavirus coverage

Services like the BBC and the ABC are calling for public-service Internet platforms to complement their services

Media experts demand public service Internet | (advanced-television.com)

My Comments

The BBC and similar public-service broadcasters are calling for the existence of a “public service Internet” arrangement around the world.

Here, most of these broadcasters are considered by most people as being of high respect for both factual content and entertainment. For example, in countries with a strong public-service-broadcasting culture, childrens’ TV content from these broadcasters like  “Bluey” on the ABC or “The Wombles” on the BBC was seen to he safe and pleasing to watch by both adults and children.

Or there is a significant preference to tune in to public-service broadcasters for news on issues that matter. For example I have been using the ABC as a “go-to” news-media source during the COVID-19 coronavirus plague due to its accuracy and impartiality on these topics.

It is about maintaining and safeguarding the existence and funding of these public-service broadcasters in an environment where younger people are moving away from traditional broadcast media. For that matter, Generation X people born between 1965 and 1981 are considered to be the last generation to value traditional broadcast media thanks to watching or listening to that kind of media through affordable equipment through their teen years.

But the issue that has become of concern is the dominance of Big Tech in the media space. Here, it’s about using services offered by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and co for social-media, search-engine or news portal functionality with younger people simply using TV sets as display devices for online media services.

This has led to issues being raised about monopoly and cartel power exercised by these companies. It also has been about data surveillance and creation of algorithm-driven politics facilitating online populism and filter bubbles. There is also the issue of these companies creating or facilitating an Internet experience equivalent to that of shopping in a large suburban shopping mall full of mainstream store chains.

The call had been strengthened by the COVID-19 coronavirus plague along with the light shone on climate change and social inequality issues. I also see it underscored by the rampant disinformation and fake news campaigns targeting the various COVID-19 public-health and climate-change mitigation measures. This is especially where a lot of the disinformation was targeting minority groups and disadvantaged, and their allies.

The idea of a public-service Internet is to create a space that is free from information-polarisation while supporting affordable access to accurate and reliable news. It could be about assuring access to proper educational resources, provide safe relevant children’s content or properly and sensitively reflect a nation’s culture.

Here, the public-service broadcasters’ representatives will push this concept as a manifesto that will be put in the public eye and in front of policyholders in the coming months.

But how could this be achieved?

I would see the online presence offered by public-service media to have an effective “right of way” on the Internet. This is similar to public-service broadcasters gaining effective right-of-way with broadcast-spectrum allocation or cable-TV services being required to carry public-service broadcasters’ signals.

For example the public service media would have their online services provided through a high-quality always-accessible content-delivery-network that is established and maintained according to public-service terms. This could include support for “edge-based” content distribution like Netflix’s approach of content servers at ISP headends along with a high quality-of-service mandate for content distribution,

It could include a public-service-focused social-network and blogging platform used by the public-service broadcasters or government departments’ public-relations efforts.

On the other hand, this could be about creating a retail ISP service that is operated on public-service terms. This may be supported by an entity like the national post-office and providing Internet presence for public-service broadcasters, hospitals and similar essential-service entities. It would also be about offering affordable fixed and mobile Internet service to needy people like students or people on welfare.

What about the community broadcasting sector?

A question that can also crop up is whether the non-profit community-broadcasting sector should be seen in the same light as public-service broadcasters in the concept of a “public-service Internet”, In some countries like the USA, these services are highly valued thanks to most affiliating with public-service-broadcast networks like PBS or NPR.

But areas like Europe or Australasia see these broadcasters as complementary to the main public-service and commercial broadcasters. In that situation, could these community broadcasters be seen as needing access to a public-service Internet setup. This is more so where such broadcasters can reach particular communities such as Indigenous groups or minority-language speakers on a grassroots level.

Conclusion

At least the idea of creating a public-service Internet platform is being put forward by the public-service broadcasters in order to extend their remit in to the online space. It would also appeal to adults and children who value accurate and unbiased information or content reflecting their nation’s culture without pandering to commercialism.

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How could CD-quality lossless audio be marketed when it comes to streaming

Sony MAP-S1 network CD receiver

A strong direction for music streaming services is to offer CD-quality sound for all of their library at least

Apple, Amazon and Spotify are lining up or have lined up hi-fi-grade service tiers as part of their audio-streaming services. It is in response to Tidal and Deezer already offering this kind of sound quality for a long time along with the fear of other boutique audio-streaming services setting up shop and focusing on high-quality audio.

Now there is something interesting happening here regarding hi-fi-grade streaming. Here, Apple is having a CD-grade lossless-audio service as part of their standard premium subscription while making sure all music available to their Apple Music streaming service is CD-quality.

So how could these streaming music services compete effectively yet serve those of us who value high quality sound from those online music jukebox services that we use?

What are these hi-fi-grade digital audio services about?

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

This will be something that is expected of Spotify at least

The hi-fi-grade service tiers typically offer a sound quality similar to that of a standard audio CD that you are playing on your CD player, with the same digital-audio specifications i.e. 44.1 kHz sampling rate and 16-bit samples representing stereo sound. Some of these services may offer some content at 48 kHz sampling rate that was specified for the original DAT audio tapes and may be used as a workflow standard for digital radio and TV.

In the same way that a regular audio CD stores the audio content in the original uncompressed PCM form, these hi-fi-grade streaming services use a lossless data-compression form similar to the FLAC audio filetype to transmit the sound while preserving the sound quality. That is equivalent to how a ZIP “file-of-files” works in compressing and binding together data from multiple files.

CD-grade digital audio was adopted during the late 1980s as the benchmark for high-quality sound reproduction in the consumer space. As well, the DAT tapes that recorded 16-bit PCM audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rates were considered the two-channel recording standard for project studios and similar professional audio content-creation workflows. It is although MiniDisc which used a lossy audio codec caught on in the UK and Japan for personal audio applications.

Some of these services offer extras like surround-sound or object-based audio soundmixes or supply the audio at “master-grade” specifications like 96 or 192 kHz sampling rates or 24 or more bits per sample. But these are best enjoyed on equipment that would properly reproduce the sound held therein to expectations. This is while most good audio equipment engineered since the 1970s was engineered to work capably with the audio CD as its pinnacle.

The provision of these hi-fi-grade services is having appeal thanks to telcos and ISPs offering increased bandwidth and data allowances for fixed and mobile broadband Internet services. This is more so in markets where there is increased competition for the customer’s fixed or mobile Internet service dollar.

As well, there is a highly-competitive market war going on between Bose, Apple and Sony at least for high-quality active-noise-cancelling Bluetooth headsets with the possibility of other headset manufacturers joining in this market war. This is something very close to the late-1970s Receiver Wars where hi-fi companies were vying with each other for the best hi-fi stereo receivers for one’s hi-fi system and increasing value for money in that product class.

Here, a streaming music service that befits these high-quality in-ear or over-the-head headsets could show what they are capable of when it comes to sound reproduction while on the road.

Let’s not forget that Apple and others are working on power-efficient hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-converter circuitry for laptops, tablets, smartphones and other portable audio endpoint devices. Then hi-fi-grade digital-analogue-conversion circuitry that connects to USB or Apple devices is being offered by nearly every hi-fi name under the sun whether as a separate box or as part of the functionality set that a hi-fi component or stereo system would offer.

Current limitations with enjoying hi-fi-grade audio on the move

There are limitations with this kind of service offering, especially with the use of Bluetooth Classic streaming to headphones or automotive infotainment setups from mobile devices. At the moment, it is being preferred that a wired connection, whether via a traditional analogue headphone cable or via an external digital-analogue converter box, is used to run the sound to a pair of good-quality headphones while “on the road”.

Similarly, Apple’s and Google’s smartphone-automotive-integration platforms need to be able to support use of these hi-fi-grade audio services properly so you can benefit from this class of sound when you are at the wheel of your car.

What could be done?

One step that can be taken by many music-streaming services is to create a service-level distinction between CD-quality stereo lossless audio service and create a higher-grade extra-cost audio services that focus on “master-grade” or multichannel soundmixes.  Here, most of us like our music in stereo sound and see CD quality sound as the pinnacle with equipment engineered to that calibre. This is while the esoteric audiophiles would invest in equipment and services that can handle master-grade audio or multichannel soundmixes.

The music services could them move towards offering the CD-quality stereo lossless sound as the audio quality for the standard paid service subscription. That includes moving the service’s music library towards that kind of quality. The user would need to have the ability to enable and disable the CD-quality lossless stereo sound on a device-by-device basis perhaps to cater for smartphone use or limited bandwidth.

Where a music service offers transactional “download-to-own” music, the recordings could be offered at CD quality stereo as lossless files. There could be the ability to provide a complementary download of previously-purchased material as the CD-quality stereo lossless files.

At the moment, there are a number of open-frame and proprietary paths that are able to use a home network to transmit CD-quality or master-quality lossless digital audio from a computing device or streaming audio service to audio endpoint devices within the home. But there needs to be more done to support mobile and portable setups where one is likely to hear audio files while out and about.

The Bluetooth SIG could investigate how CD-quality lossless audio can be sent wirelessly between devices using the various audio profiles that they oversee. This is more so as Bluetooth is used primarily to send multimedia audio from a smartphone or tablet to speakers, headphones or home and car audio equipment. Here, it could be based on their Bluetooth LE Audio specification which is being used to revise the Bluetooth multimedia audio use case effectively.

Similarly, the use of USB-C as a “digital audio path” from a computing device to an audio-output device needs to be encouraged. This would come in to its own with connecting to audio devices or systems that have highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry which can come in to its own with high-quality audio streaming services.

In the automotive context, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which are used to provide integrated smartphone-dashboard functionality could be improved to provide lossless audio transfer between the smartphone and the car’s infotainment system. This may be valued as a differentiator that can be applied to premium car-audio setups.

Once there are a list of standard protocols adopted for streaming lossless hi-fi grade stereo sound to headsets and automotive setups and that support wired and wireless connectivity, this could make proper CD-quality stereo sound more relevant on the road.

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Jerusalema–now seen online as a song of hope

Articles

Jerusalema – could the South African dance craze be a symbol of hope? | Latest Ghanaian Music News & New Songs – Pulse Ghana

Jerusalema: The South African Song The World Needed (insider54.com)

How South Africa’s ‘Jerusalema’ Became a World Hit Without Translation – Rolling Stone

Where to get this song online

Songwhip link – availability on streaming or download-to-own services (7”single equivalent)

Beatport (download-to-own music service pitched at DJs) – 7” single equivalent

Qobuz Store (hi-fi-grade download-to-own music service – Now in Australia and New Zealand) – 7″ single equivalent

There is an album of the same name and recorded by the same artist featuring this song as an “album-length” track. It is available as an LP record or as a CD. You can get this at Amazon or your favourite record store may have a copy of it on hand or can order it for you if you want it playing on your turntable or CD player.

Jerusalema Dance Challenge video examples

Jerusalema Challenge – Aussies in Iso (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

My Comments

Over this past year, a South-African song with Zulu lyrics ended up becoming a musical symbol of hope through this COVID season.

This song, “Jerusalema”, was recorded in 2019 by Master KG but when it appeared online in 2020 along with a set of associated dance moves, it became very popular. There were a series of dance challenges where individuals or groups of people performed the dance associated with this song and uploaded music videos of their performances.

It was all concurrent at the time when the COVID-19 coronavirus plague was an unknown quantity and governments implemented measures to limit the spread of this virus. Such measures manifested in the form of border and travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and lockdowns; mask-wearing and social-distancing mandates; amongst other things.

At the same time, there was Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro who were treating this pandemic with contempt and creating disdain against these necessary public health restrictions and the medical-research races for treatments and vaccines. Even the act of honouring one or more of these public-health measures became politically-charged within the USA.

It was also aggravated by the death of George Floyd at the hands of American police offices which brought on the Black Lives Matter protest movement. This movement also highlighted how divisive things were within the USA when it came to civil rights and the treatment of marginalised minorities in that country and was aggravated by Donald Trump’s behaviour during the protests.

The song, its music and the associated dances conveyed a comfortable “feel-good” vibe along with a thread that unites the various communities of people whether “over-the-wire” using the Internet or face-to-face where the various restrictions allowed it. This helped with boosting public moral through this season. There was also a celebration of the survivors and of survival.

Let’s not forget the Zulu-language lyrics and the associated melody were conveying a message of escapism from the continuing barrage of bad news we were facing. This is very much like how other catchy popular music songs played by oneself during hard times can be seen as a form of escapism.

As well, “Jerusalema” has caused us to show interest in Afrobeat and placed Africa on the popular-music map. This follows on from the way African-heritage diasporas have contributed to popular music over the past century and a bit through the form of jazz, funk, soul, disco and similar musical styles along with musical techniques like rapping and breakdancing.

YouTube and similar services are replete with videos of these dance challenges done by various groups of people. There are even some European airlines who have had aircrew groups perform this dance and make a video in the name of the airline as a way of saying that we will be back in the air again. The Irish Gardai national police and the Swiss federal police each had some officer teams within their forces create similar videos as an effort to boost public morale within their nations.

There are also some videos existing on YouTube about how to perform the dance routine associated with this song. These resources can be worth referring to if you want to know how to perform the dance.

“Jerusalema” and its associated dance routine will be seen in the same light as some of those songs which had or acquired their own dance routines that market out particular years or eras. Think of songs like “YMCA” by the Village People; “Forever” by Chris Brown with its wedding-dance video; “Macarena” by Los Del Rio; or “Vogue” by Madonna.

But it will also continue to be seen as a song of hope for the COVID-19 season just like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” became a song of hope through the 1970s or John Lennon’s “Imagine” being a song of hope through the Vietnam War era.

Update (23 June 2021) – added link to where you can purchase “Jerusalema” from Qobuz

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The Internet fridge–still considered very mythical

Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge lifestyle image courtesy of Samsung USASince the “dot-com” era of the late 1990s, there has been a very mythical home appliance often cited by Internet visionaries. This is the Internet fridge or “smart fridge” which is a regular household refrigerator equipped with Internet connectivity and a large built-in display.

It is expected to provide access to a wide range of online services like online shopping, online photo albums, email and messaging, and online music services. It is also expected to keep track of the food and drink that is held therein using a simple inventory-management program.

In the context of the smart home, the Internet fridge is expected to be a “dashboard” or “control surface” for lighting. heating and other equipment associated with the home. Often the vision for the smart home is to have as many control surfaces around the home to manage what happens therein like setting up HVAC operating temperatures or turning lighting on and off according to particular usage scenarios.

The Internet-fridge idea is based on the concept of the typical household refrigerator’s door ending up as the noticeboard for that household thanks to its role as the main food-storage location for the people and pets therein. There is the thriving trade in “fridge magnets” that people use to decorate their fridge’s door. Let’s not forget that some households have even put a radio or TV on top of the fridge that they can flick on for information or entertainment in the kitchen.

Who is making these appliances?

At the moment, Samsung and LG are making Internet-fridges in production quantities available to the market. These are typically positioned as American-style wide-format fridges that also have the integrated ice makers. Samsung offers theirs in a few different compartment configurations with the cheapest being a two-door fridge-freezer arrangement.

But most of the other white-goods manufacturers exhibit examples of these Internet fridges at trade fairs primarily as proof-of-concept or prototype designs. These are typically based on common fridge-freezer designs already on the market but are modified with Internet functionality.

But the Internet-fridge idea has not become popular with most people. Why is that so?

One issue is to do with the computer hardware associated with the Internet-fridge concept. These setups typically have a separate computer from the microcontroller circuitry associated with keeping the appliance’s compartments to the appropriate temperature or managing ice-maker or chilled-water functionality. But this computer hardware is effectively integrated in the appliance in a manner that makes it hard for users to upgrade to newer expectations.

This means that if this computer fails or gets to a point where it is “end-of-life”, the user loses the full functionality associated with the Internet fridge. The same thing can happen if, for example, the touchscreen that the user uses to interact with the Internet fridge’s online abilities fails to work.

It is underscored by the fact that a household refrigerator is in that class of appliance that is expected to serve a household for many years. As I have seen, many households will buy a new fridge when an old fridge fails to operate properly or when they are making a new house and want to upgrade their fridge. This is even though a lot of consumer IT equipment isn’t expected to provide that length of service thanks to rapidly-advancing technology.

Another factor is the software and online services associated with the Internet fridge. Typically this is engineered by the appliance manufacturer to provide the “branded experience” that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer.

The questions associated with the software focus around the appliance manufacturer’s continual attention to software security and quality over the lifetime of the Internet fridge. It includes protecting the end-users’ privacy as they use this appliance along with allowing the appliance to do its job properly and in a food-safe manner.

I would also add to this the competitive-trade issues associated with online services. Here, appliance manufacturers could easily create exclusive agreements with various online-service providers and not allow competing service providers access to the Internet-fridge platform. It can extend to online-shopping platforms that tie in with the inventory-management software associated with the Internet fridge platform.

Such exclusive partnerships with online service providers or online-shopping platforms will make it difficult for customers to use their preferred online-service or online-shopping platform with an Internet fridge. In the case of online-shopping platforms, it will become difficult for smaller, specialist or independent food suppliers to participate in these platforms especially if the platform has “tied up” a significant customer base. That can be achieved with excessive fees and charges or onerous terms and conditions for the merchants.

Let’s not forget that the Internet fridge ended up, like the Aeron-style office chair, being seen as a status symbol associated with the dot-com bubble.

For that matter, householders are using alternative approaches to the same goal touted by the Internet-fridge suppliers. Here, they are using smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home or, if they are after a display-driven solution, they will use a smart display like Amazon Echo Show or a Google-Assistant-based smart display. Let’s not forget that the iPad or Android-based tablets are offering the idea of a ubiquitous control / display surface for the smart home.

What can be done to legitimise the Internet fridge as far as consumers are concerned?

As for the hardware, I would recommend a long-tailed approach which is focused on modularity. Here, newer computer, connection or display modules can be installed in the same fridge by the user or a professional as part of an upgrade approach. It could allow the appliance manufacturer to offer a cheaper range of standard-height household fridges that can be converted to Internet fridges at a later time when the user purchases and installs an “Internet display kit” on their appliance.

Furthermore, if the hardware or connectivity is of a standard form, it could allow a third-party vendor to offer this functionality on a white-label basis to appliance manufacturers who don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel. It can also apply to those appliance manufacturers who offer products in a “white-label” form under a distributor’s or retailer’s brand.

One approach I would recommend for software is access to ubiquitous third-party software platforms with a lively developer ecosystem like Android. The platforms should have an app store that maintains software quality. This means that users can install the software associated with what they need for their Internet fridge.

The problem that manufacturers may see with this approach is providing a user interface for controlling how the fridge operates such as setting the fridge, freezer or other compartment temperatures. Here, this could be facilitated by an app that runs as part of the Internet fridge’s display ecosystem. It may also be preferred to provide basic and essential control for the Internet fridge’s refrigeration and allied functionality independent of the Internet display functionality and create a secure firewall between those functions to assure food safety and energy efficiency.

Using open-frame approaches for building Internet-display functionality in to fridges may help with reducing the cost of this kind of functionality in these products. It could also encourage ubiquity in a low-risk form as well as encouraging innovation in this product class.

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How about having an up-to-date recovery image on your computer

Dell XPS 13 press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

You need to have access to the latest data representing your computer’s operating system, device drivers and allied software from its manufacturer as a recovery image to simplify any repair / restore efforts or to get your “new toy” up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Recent computers that run MacOS or Windows now come with a partition on their hard disk or SSD that has a copy of the operating system and other software they come with the computer “out of the box”. Or there is the ability to download a recovery image for your computer from the manufacturer’s Website using a manufacturer-supplied app.

It is in lieu of the previous method of delivering an optical disc with the computer that has the operating system and other manufacturer0-supplied software thanks to newer computers not being equipped with optical drives.

Here, this recovery data comes in to play if the operating system fails and you have to reinstate it from a known good copy. An example of this could be the computer being taken over by malware or you need to get it back to “ground zero” before relinquishing it. Or the system disk (hard disk or SSD) fails and you have to put the operating system on a new system disk as part of reconstructing your computing environment.

But Microsoft, Apple and the hardware manufacturers associated with your computer’s internal peripherals update their software regularly as part of their software quality control. There are often the feature updates that add functionality or implement newer device-class drivers that are part of an operating system’s lifecycle.

What typically happens is this recovery image represents the software that came with your computer when it left the factory. It doesn’t include all the newer updates and revisions that took place. Here, if you have had to restore the operating system from that recovery image, you will then have to download the updates from your computer’s manufacturer, the operating system vendor or other software developers to have your computer up-to-date.

The firmware / BIOS updates may not matter due to them being delivered as a “download-to-install” package. This means that when these packages are run, they verify and shift the necessary firmware code to the BIOS / UEFI subsystem for the computer or the firmware subsystems for peripherals supported by the computer’s manufacturer, then subsequently commence and install the installation process.

Questions that can be raised include whether the factory-supplied data should be maintained as the definitive “reference data” for your system. Or whether the computer manufacturer is to provide a means to keep the software up-to-date with the latest versions for your computer.

This will be an issue with manufacturers who prefer to customise the software drivers that run hardware associated with their computer products while end-users prefer to run the latest software drivers offered by the hardware’s manufacturer. This is typically due to the hardware manufacturer’s code being updated more frequently and is of concern with display chipsets like Intel’s integrated-graphics chipsets.

Similarly there is the issue that people are likely to change the software edition that comes with their computer like upgrading to a “Pro” edition of the Windows operating system when the computer came with the Home edition.

An approach that a manufacturer can take over a computer system’s lifetime is to revise the definitive “reference data” set for that system. This could be undertaken when the operating system undergoes a major revision like a feature update. This can be about taking stock of the device drivers and updating them to newer stable code as part of offering the latest “reference data” set.

That allows a user who is doing an operating-system recovery doesn’t need to hunt for and download updates as part of this process if they want the computer running the latest code.

This kind of approach can also come in to its own during the time that the computer system is on the market. It means that during subsequent years, newer computer units receive the latest software updates before they leave the factory. This is so that the computer’s end-user or corporate IT department don’t have to download the latest versions of the operating system, device drivers and other software as part of commissioning their new computer system.

The idea of computer manufacturers keeping their products’ software-recovery data current will benefit all of us whether we are buying that new computer and want to get that “new toy” running or need to reinstate the operating software in our computers due to hardware or software failures.

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Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

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How regional next-generation infrastructure providers enable competitive Internet service

Previous Coverage

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Gigaclear – laying their own fibre-to-the-premises within a rural area in the UK

What is happening with rural broadband in the UK

Further Comments

In some countries like the UK, Australia and Germany, regional broadband infrastructure providers set up shop to provide next-generation broadband to a particular geographic area within a country.

This is used to bring next-generation broadband technology like fibre-to-the-premises to homes and businesses within that geographic area. But let me remind you that fibre-to-the-premises isn’t the only medium they use — some of them use fixed wireless or a fibre-copper setup like HFC cable-modem technology or fibre + Ethernet-cable technology. But they aren’t using the established telephone network at all thus they stay independent of the incumbent infrastructure provider and, in some areas like rural areas, that provider’s decrepit “good enough to talk, not good enough for data” telephone wiring.

In the UK especially, most of these operators will target a particular kind of population centre like a rural village cluster (Gigaclear, B4RN, etc), a large town or suburb (Zzoom), city centres (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, etc) or even just greenfield developments. Some operators set themselves up in multiple population centres in order to get them wired up for the newer technology but all of the operators will work on covering the whole of that population centre, including its outskirts.

This infrastructure may be laid ahead of the incumbent traditional telco or infrastructure operator like Openreach, NBN or Deutsche Telekom or it may be set up to provide a better Internet service than what is being offered by the incumbent operator. But it is established and maintained independently of the incumbent operator.

Internet service offerings

Typically the independent regional broadband infrastructure providers run a retail Internet-service component available to households and small businesses in that area and using that infrastructure. The packages are often pitched to offer more value for money than what is typically offered in that area thanks to the infrastructure that the provider controls.

But some nations place a competitive-market requirement on these operators to offer wholesale Internet service to competing retail ISPs, with this requirement coming in to force when they have significant market penetration.That is usually assessed by the number of actual subscribers who are connected to the provider’s Internet service or the number of premises that are passed by the operator’s street-level infrastructure. In addition, some independent regional infrastructure providers offer wholesale service earlier as a way to draw in more money to increase their footprint.

This kind of wholesale internet service tends to be facilitated by special wholesale Internet-service markets that these operators are part of. Initially this will attract boutique home and small-business Internet providers who focus on particular customer niches. But some larger Internet providers may prefer to take an infrastructure-agnostic approach, offering mainstream retail Internet service across multiple regional service providers.

Support by local and regional government

Local and regional governments are more likely to provide material and other support to these regional next-generation infrastructure operators. This is to raise their municipality’s or region’s profile as an up-to-date community to live or do business within. It is also part of the “bottom-up” approach that these operators take in putting themselves on the map.

In a lot of cases, the regional next-generation infrastructure providers respond to tenders put forward by local and regional governments. This is either to provide network and Internet service for the government’s needs or to “wire up” the government’s are of jurisdiction or a part thereof for next-generation broadband.

Legislative requirements

There will have to be legislative enablers put forward by national and regional governments to permit the creation and operation of regional next-generation broadband network infrastructure. This could include the creation and management of wholesale-broadband markets to permit retail-Internet competition.

There is also the need to determine how much protection a small regional infrastructure operator needs against the incumbent or other infrastructure operators building over their infrastructure with like offerings. This may be about assuring the small operator sufficient market penetration in their area before others come along and compete, along with providing an incentive to expand in to newer areas.

It will also include issues like land use and urban planning along with creation and maintenance of rights-of-way through private, regulated or otherwise encumbered land for such use including competitors’ access to these rights-of-way.

That also extends to access to physical infrastructure like pits, pipes and poles by multiple broadband service providers, especially where an incumbent operator has control over that infrastructure. It can also extend to use of conduits or dark fibre installed along rail or similar infrastructure expressly for the purpose of creating data-communications paths.

That issue can also extend to how multiple-premises buildings and developments like shopping centres, apartment blocks and the like are “wired up” for this infrastructure. Here, it can be about allowing or guaranteeing right of access to these developments by competing service providers and how in-building infrastructure is provided and managed.

The need for independent regional next-generation broadband infrastructure

But if an Internet-service market is operating in a healthy manner offering value-for-money Internet service like with New Zealand there may not be a perceived need to allow competing regional next-generation infrastructure to exist.

Such infrastructure can be used to accelerate the provision of broadband within rural areas, provide different services like simultanaeous-bandwidth broadband service for residential users or increase the value for money when it comes to Internet service. Here, the existence of this independent infrastructure with retail Internet services offered through it can also be a way to keep the incumbent service operator in check.

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