Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Transportable Data Centre for Broadcaster and Bulldozer Company

Broadcaster Seven Network Limited has proposed merging with the WesTrac machinery company to form Seven Group Holdings Limited. A TV broadcaster might not seem to have much in common with a company which sells and repairs Caterpillar brand bulldozers, but late last year IBM have announced it was building a "Portable Modular Data Center"for WesTrac. This is in two modified shipping containers, with its own generators and could be very useful for a broadcaster.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Freeview and barbers

Saw a familiar face on TV just now. The latest Freeview advertising "more for me" features Enrico the barber of Annandale. He is something of a I was sitting in there when summoned to Samoa). and others mention him in their travelogues. Freeview seem to have difficulty comming to grips with mdia in the 21st century. Their media release for this new advertising campaign includes a web address, user id (moreforme) and password (launch09) of where to get a copy. It seems to have escaped their attention that they could simply put a copy on a service such as YouTibe, but then, if they did that why would we need digital broadcast TV?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

National Broadband Network: What is it for?

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu have released a useful report: "National Broadband Network - A user's perspective" (16/09/2009). This asks the timely question as to what the NBN will do for consumers, so that they will be willing to pay for it. The report is 32 pages of PDF, but because of the use of large unnecessary images, it is more than 1 Mbyte: you may need broadband just to download it. ;-)

The report is asking the question "What will consumers want to use the NBN for?" which has a very simple answer: "Its the Internet, stupid". The real question is not what consumers will use the NBN for, but how will those industries it will challenge, particularly fixed line telephony, broadcast and pay TV, cope with the competition.

The report considers applications such as smart metering, which are not relevant to the NBN. Smart metering only requires a very low bandwidth connection and can be done with low capacity wireless, data over power lines or old fashioned telephone lines; it does not need fibre to the premises. Similarly discussion of automation of lighting, air conditioning and home security networks are not relevant to the NBN, as these applications do not need broadband and have little value for consumers in any case.

The report suffers from the assumption that the NBN will be built in the way the Government described in its initial announcement, that is as a new completely standalone, pure fibre optic network. This is unlikely to actually occur. The NBN will be assembled from existing networks, using existing fibre backbones, ADSL2+ and wireless Internet, where appropriate. This is partly a matter of engineering, as there is no point in duplicating existing working infrastructure and in some cases there will be no feasible alternative.

Also where the new NBN infrastructure is built will be a matter of economics and consumer demand. There is no point in building an expensive fibre network where there not enough customers to use, and pay for, it. In practice fibre to the home will be first installed in new suburbs and new cluster housing. It will not be feasible to retrofit most existing homes with fibre in the short term. ADSL2+ will remain the most common common for most homes of the next decade. This will be supplemented with wireless Internet.

There are some very obvious uses for the new network, where have not been highlighted by the government in their advocacy for the new system: to replace copper cable telephony and pay TV. These are far from the applications in education and medicine mentioned by the NBN advocates, but telephony and TV will provide the bulk of the revenue from the system and the bulk of the use.

These old applications create new regulatory and industry challenges. The provision of digital TV in Australia was, and still is, crippled by a regulatory regime designed to favour a few TV broadcasters. The NBN would provide the opportunity to open up digital TV to a world of content. However this will make the delivery systems of the existing Pay TV, and well as the free to air TV broadcasters, obsolete and challenge their revenue. The government will be under pressure to put in place restrictions on the use of the NBN for TV, which will then cripple its widespread use.

Similarly there are difficult issues with the provision of telephony over the NBN. Engineering and economics would suggest the NBN should replaced copper based telephone lines. However, this then will remove the need for telephone companies. Apart from threatening the business of the current Australian companies, this creates difficult issues about the provision of reliable telephone services.

Here is the text of the Executive summary of the report, minus the images:
The Federal Government’s 7 April 2009 decision to build a $43 billion national broadband network (NBN) signals the advent of a new digital era in Australia.

The NBN, created and run as a wholesale only, open-access network by the government-owned NBN Company, will operate independently of existing copper-based broadband such as ADSL2+ or legacy cable broadband networks, but may draw on some existing infrastructure in this space.

The single largest investment by any Australian government, the NBN will play a critical role in advancing key national indicators including GDP, employment and productivity.

Deloitte believes the NBN has the potential to rival the impact of other technology milestones such as the widespread adoption of personal computers in the 1980s and the mass market adoption of mobile phones during the 1990s and 2000s.

While the results of the proposed NBN implementation study will not be known until early 2010, the NBN’s future impact can already be anticipated. The proposed implementation study will need to identify what impact the NBN will have on specific industries and businesses to properly consider the likely drivers of end-user demand such as design, pricing, return on investment and funding issues.

It will need to consider uptake in the consumer market and the drivers for this.

Until now, not enough attention has been given to these likely end-user demands and key NBN stakeholders must incorporate these elements into the network design in order to achieve operational success.

Now is the time to shift from the technical discussion to the applications and innovations that are really going to transform Australia and the way we live and operate.

This report, by Deloitte’s Technology, Media & telecommunications industry team, highlights many of the likely end-user demands that should be factored into the design of the NBN.

For consumers and small-to-medium businesses (SMEs), a 100 megabit per second fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network will usher in a new era of digital products and services. Businesses and governments will deliver more services through this network.

It forecasts the arrival of a world where high-speed broadband delivers new video content, security and utility applications directly to the home. Smart metering devices will record most household’s energy consumption in small units of time and facilitate new green-energy delivery options by national utilities.

At an even more transformational level, the NBN will unify the ability of households to deploy automation technologies such as lighting controls, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and home security networks. Widespread adoption of home automation technologies will give utility providers or telecommunications carriers the opportunity to consolidate billing services through a single provider
connected directly to the home via the new network.

Above all, it provides the opportunity to create a digitally-based country better connected both inside and outside Australia.

The NBN must also meet the demands of national objectives relating to emergency response and homeland security.

Environmental and social policy objectives will also influence the network solution, including ensuring the network extends to remote areas, fringe areas and offshore islands. In addition, the NBN must overachieve on environmental targets for energy efficiency, provide an effective basis for indigenous and SME empowerment, achieve world competitive cost levels and fuel the
export of electronic business services.

Deloitte has identified seven primary challenges that threaten the success of the NBN and the future applications and services expected to be delivered using this infrastructure:

• End-user retail packaging and migration
• Competition and regulation
• NBN Company funding and structuring
• Design and construction
• Support for innovation and delivery
of new applications
• Disruption due to the Federal Government election cycle
• Vertical and horizontal integration of private sector industries, and government departments and utilities.

These challenges are outlined in further
detail in this report. ...

National Broadband Network - A user's perspective, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, 16 September 2009

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Learning to stream fine music from Canberra

Greetings from the School of Music at the Australian National University in Canberra. The ANU just had its fist concert "streamed" live to the Internet from Llewellyn Hall "CLARINET.BALLISTIX Concert". This featured Alan Vivian (clarinet), David Pereira (cello, Alan Hicks and Katherine Day ( piano) with works by Verdi, Gershwin, Kats-Chernin and Bukovsky. The technology is being incorporated into the teaching of musicians, both to help teaching (with master classes by video) and as a subject the students learn about (how to set up an online event).

In addition to the live performance, the ANU web site has program notes, background, interviews, rehearsal out-takes, places for adding questions and reviews.

The ANU is essentially adapting the format of a live TV broadcast for the streaming concert. Experienced ABC Radio Classic FM presenter Colin Fox of acted as MC at the side of the stage. He briefed the live audience before the streaming started. They then introduced the Vice chancellor and other speakers. Then there was a briefing about the music and the performers.

There were two cameras apparent in the hall: one in the middle of the front of the stage and one on a crane at the side, over the audience. The ANU has obviously put a considerable effort into arrangements for the streaming. This is intended to promote new courses at the university, which go beyond just being able to play a musical instrument, but be able to cope with the complexity of providing online content and being a being in the online entertainment business.

The ANU is also installing a video conference suite for distance education in music (a challenging application which business orientated equipment can't handle). The new Bachelor of Professional Music Practice will place a heavy emphasis on the use of such technology.

At the School of Computer Science I help teach fine arts students in web technology. An interesting aspect of this is how technology, business and art combine to produce online content which is of cultural and business value. Currently I am working up a proposal for a new e-learning unit on how to interact online, to expand and teach the techniques used in the ANU course COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies. This was intended for scientists and business people, but now I see it may also be of use to the performing arts. I will be talking about some aspects of this in a series of talks in the next few months: "Social Networking for Business: The Year It All Changes - 2010",

To the audience there is little indication of the online aspects of the concert. There are no screens showing what is online. Some incorporation of the online into the live event would be of value. The ANU could adopt aspects of Senator Lundy's Public Sphere event format, with web, blogs, wikis and instant messaging, before, during and after the event. It might be interesting for some of the materials the online audience saw in advance of the work and for some of the blog comments to be shown on screen between works.

One of the works performed incorporated recorded sounds of fax modems. It might be interesting to incorporate some vision into some works possibly be interactive.

The crane camera was intrusive in the performance,at times appearing to be performing its own modern ballet, swooping in over the performers and at time apparently at times caressing them. For later performances it may be worth equipping the hall with permanent cameras. Most of the motions of the camera crane could be duplicated by multiple cameras. These could be mounted in tinted hemispherical covers, as used for security cameras, so as not to distract the performers or audience when they pan.

A permanent camera system could also be used for degree award ceremonies, so that relatives and friends could watch the ceremony. This would be particularly useful for the many overseas students, so their relatives and friends could watch.

It was an honour to sit next to the composer of one of the pieces performed (I am the one sitting next to him with the netbook). In amongst all the technology it is worth pointing out that these were works and performances of the highest standard, at least to my non-expert ears.

This first concert was an experiment which seemed to be successful. If used routinely, the cost and complexity of the initial exercise would need to be reduced. This could be done partly by building the cameras into the room and partly by using the same computer infrastructure the ANU uses for teaching. The ANU's new Wattle system is capable of being used for providing the information about the performances and the Digital Lecture Delivery system handling the audio visual files.

A concert or ceremony could then be recorded and simulcast live, much in the same way as when I routinely record a lecture: I walk up to the lectern, enter my university user-id and password. The system automatically identifies the scheduled event from the ANU calendar and starts recording. At the end of the lecture, I press "stop" and the event is podcast.

This system would need some upgrades to handle a concert performance or awards ceremony. The quality of sound would need to be improved for music. There would need to be provision for use of multiple cameras. There would need to be provision for events to be streamed live as well as recorded. But the system could be designed so that, by default, it would use the same interface as other teaching spaces.

The key to the long term use of the technology is to incorporate it into the normal research and teaching work of the university. In addition to the ANU's Wattle teaching system, there are several initiatives for indexing, publishing and archiving publications and research data. These same systems can be sued for music and visual arts. Dr David Prosser, Director of SPARC Europe, discussed this when he visited ANU last week and later talked at the NLA.

ps: The video of me at the keyboard during the performance are fake: I found that the WiFi signal did not penetrate through the concrete floor of the concert hall from the library below. I had to wait until after the performance to blog. Normally I would be expected to turn my computer off during a concert, but in this case I was asked to leave it on, as it added a hi-tech ambiance, with the camera panned the audience.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Calculating the Ditigal Dividend

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has issued a Request for Tender for a consultant to estimate the value of spectrum being freed up by the conversion of Australian TV to digital. However, you would be hard pressed to work that out from the language of the tender, which refers to the commercial value of the potential ‘digital dividend spectrum’.

The analysis being asked for is very limited, in that it only looks at the financial return the government would receive. The consultant is not asked to look at the contribution the spectrum could make to the Australian economy or its value to the community in terms of culture, education or improved health. Radio spectrum is one of those public goods, where it can be very difficult for a commercial entity to capture all of the financial benefits of its use. As a result the government will likely no allocate the spectrum to its best use if it uses financial return as the sole criterion for selecting the use for the spectrum. The value of services to the community which might be created should also be considered.

The Department requires a Consultant to undertake a desktop analysis to estimate the commercial value of the potential ‘digital dividend spectrum’ for a specified range of scenarios.

The analysis should use relevant international and Australian comparisons of value and circumstances, particularly the relevant policy environments relating to the major services that are likely to use the spectrum. Commercial value means the amount of money buyers may pay to purchase the spectrum when it becomes available.

The successful tenderer is to also undertake a desktop analysis of the financial return to the Australian Government of maintaining existing spectrum arrangements for the broadcasting services bands assuming a continuation of the present policy settings that govern the key uses of this spectrum. The analysis should use relevant data on current and projected broadcasting industry revenue to identify trends over time and any potential financial impact on Government revenue...

From: Digital Dividend Technical Consultancy - Stage 2, Section 59.1 "The Services", Statement of Requirement, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Request for Tender DCON/08/64, 2-Jul-2008

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