BitDepth 517 - March 28

The line that brings you cable TV is capable of doing much more...
Data on the tube

Who knew? Lurking inside your television was the potential for digital reception.
Photo and imaging by Mark Lyndersay.

Over the years, the humble telephone line has conveyed voice, then e-mails, digital publications and now, tentatively, short movies.
With steadily increasing bandwidth enabled by the spread of fibre-based connections, telecommunications companies around the world are eyeing up the last territory that's been denied to them, the cash flow that fed the growth of the cable industry.
In the US, Verizon and AT&T have been pushing against long established legislation and licensing arrangements won by cable companies to move more aggressively into providing television on the same line that they use to provide voice and data communications to their customers.

But cable providers have also benefited from fast moving technologies and are pushing back to become triple-threat providers along their own connections.
Making the switch from traditional transmissions, which are based on older analog radio frequency technologies and Internet protocol (IP) technologies is the difference between strings and waves.
Traditional analog technologies are continuous streams of information that go black once they are interrupted. IP based data consists of a flood of packets of information that are reassembled at the receiver and become e-mail, Skype connections and, if telecommunications providers have their way, video feeds.
There's a lot of redundancy in packet based transmissions and modern buffering technologies hold a backlog of data like a dam before streaming the information to your screen.

You've actually seen what happens when the dam runs dry on reruns of programming from current events driven networks like E! and MTV, when the digital signal runs low on the broadcast end before it's converted to analog and breaks up into blotchy pixels.
Manoeuverings are slowly pooling behind the scenes that suggest that the same jockeying to own the customer's wired connection seems likely to play out in Trinidad and Tobago.
In Cedric Cole's interview with this column (
BitDepth#514, March 07), Mr Cole raised the curtain on the Network Interface Device (NID), a smarter box that will replace the connection port on your wall and allow multiple vendors to connect services to your home and free you to use any legal telecommunications receiver or decoder in your home.

An even clearer indicator of the pending convergence of communications is TSTT's licence to broadcast on a cable channel and Columbus Communications' intent to provide voice communications on its cable service, alongside its entertainment and Internet services.
In a recent letter to subscribers, John Reid, Columbus' new President and Chief Operating Officer boasted of changes to the company's service in coming months and hinted at pending voice technologies on cable.

The way your PC currently receives video and voice communications from services like Skype offers some clues about the way all this will work.
Unlike existing analog services, which send a signal continuously, Internet Protocols activate on demand; responding to a request by streaming only the information a user is interested in.
High definition television broadcast using IP packets can require gigabytes of bandwidth, but until a viewer requests the programming, nothing at all is sent.

A request, like pressing your channel changer, triggers verification that the viewer is authorised to see the signal and the data begins to flow.
From the provider perspective, managing the data flow to a customer's house on three fronts, voice, data and video, means balancing the information that flows along the line and working to get paid three times for a single connection.

That kind of synergy can be attractive to customers and may lead to aggressive competition between providers capable of providing all three services and should spur price breaks for consumers.
Will we see a replay of the Digicel-TSTT war of advertisements over this? If it does happen, a crucial gap in consumer knowledge and confidence will have to be bridged first.
Everyone understands the convenience of a wireless phone call in your pocket, but the convergence of telecommunications and entertainment to a single line won't be a sexy sell in a market already conditioned to accept overhead lines swaying everywhere. That war is going to be fought on the battleground of price and features.
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