Technology’s Future?
Convergence, Bandwidth, and the Internet
By Alfred Giovetti, 11/15/96

Out waiting in the future are all sorts of fantastic technology for the internet. Right now the internet is far to slow for anything but a novelty an entertainment medium. But the future holds radical changes to the way we view and use computers, telephones, television, stereos and other home and buisness devices.

For one thing the internet is far too disjointed and disorganized in its present state to provide good and fast information. Simply use one of the major search services, such as Infoseek, Excite,The Electric Library, IBM infoMarket, Four11, GTE SuperPages, Lycos, Yahoo!, SHAREWARE.COM, HotBot, DisInformation, WhoWhere?, Bigfoot, Magellan, OpenText Index, AccuFind, 100hot Web Sites, BigBook, and ON'VILLAGE; and see the plethora of hits and misses on a variety of topics (

It is not unusual for a search to reveal over 500,000 entries which are ranked as to their relevance, but searching all of them is virtually impossible. And even after you find the site that you are looking for, there is no guarantee that what you want to find will be there.

Sites are as different as night and day. What goes on a site and where it goes is not standardized. The information you are seeking could require that you spend hours searching your favorite site before you realize that the site does not have the information that you wanted.

Most of the information is there, but you need the time to seek it out. Time that often can be saved by a simple email or phone call question.

Another problem that costs us precious time on the internet is "bandwidth." Loosely defined, bandwidth is the amount of signal that you can force down the telephone lines. Like the diameter of a pipe, which determines the amount of water you can move through it, the bandwidth limits the amount of information that can be transmitted in a certain period of time.

This is why messages take time to go from point A to point B and why internet pages take time before they load. The internet may be a news medium, but unlike pages in a magazine or newspaper, it takes time for them to come up on the screen, and if you want to get the sexy feel of paper, which most people like to take into the porcelain library to read, you need to print out the page once its loaded, which takes more time.

Currently, the bandwidth of modems over regular telephone lines, called POTS (plain old telephone service) by the experts is at 56 Kbps (killo of bits per second). Just a few months ago people were complaining that the limit of the POTS line and the regular modem was theoretically limited to 28.8 Kbps, an intolerably slow speed. The many 33.6 Kbps modems that were coming out achieved this additional speed by signal compression. It is now thought that the current limit of speed is 112 Kbps about 4 times faster than most of us communicate now.

An earlier technology which many felt was going to replace POTS lines was ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) which has a limited speed of 64 Kbps on a single line and 128 Kbps on a double ISDN line. Another technology which may bring amazingly fast speeds to rival the speed of turning a page in a book is Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (or ADSL), which is reported to have speeds up to 4 Mbps (mega of bits per second) up to 120 times faster than a single POTS line.

The phone lines for computer communication need to be bi-directional which means that signal must be carried back to the computer in order for communication to happen. Television and radio waves that we use for entertainment currently are uni-directional broadcast signals which anyone can pick up. But the pipes needed for communication must have up pipe and down pipe conduits at all times. Computers need the feedback of bi-directional communication, and this requires even more bandwidth.

Currently there are several companies working on alternative solutions like dual modems that use two POTS telephone lines to hook up giving instantly double the bandwidth of the single POTS line at simply double the cost of a regular telephone line, which is infinitely cheaper that ISDN which charges a per minute or per second charge to each ISDN phone call. Obviously solutions with more than one ordinary telephone line (POTS) are attractive and are as simple as adding another telephone line.

Regardless of the technology, one of the biggest problems is having the ISP (internet service provider) or telephone company equipped to receive your signal on this hardware. Many have found that ISDN is not workable in their area simply because the local telephone company switching equipment is not advanced enough or in other ways incompatible. These new advanced devices require that those we phone or use to phone have sufficient equipment to support the increased speed.

Other companies have been looking into disguising digital signal information at telephone conversation to avoid any of the new data surcharges that legislators and baby bells are considering levying against the increasingly heavy digital traffic. If the phone company and regulators cannot identify the signal as digital, they cannot levy a tax or extra charge. Most computer communicators want the transfer of electronic information to remain cheap and readily available, which precluded taxation and surcharges which will only deter us from using these methods of communication. Where is George Washington, with the 1 cent postage stamp when you need him?

Once the problem of bandwidth is solved what can we look forward to?

Phones, televisions, and computers are already coming packaged in the same boxes, the phenomenon is called convergence in the trades. Making or receiving a phone call, fax or data transmission over phone lines logically is easier to do if all three items are contained on the computer. Computers sport sound cards speakers, microphones, and other multimedia tools that easily convert the computer to a telephone.

Some new models of computers are coming out from Gateway and others that incorporate television in the computer. Perhaps game makers will come up with games and devices like Microsoft’s game pad that will allow the whole family to play together in the living room on these new computer televisions. So that computers will actually unite families instead of insulating each member of the family in their own computer cubicle.

Television programming is likely to develop an interactive element in the future. Sitting in front of the computer we can vote for a particular outcome of the show, or even better move and look around the three dimensional show environment, watching what we want to. Even the dream of being surrounded by a true three dimensional environment is not too far off where members of the family can take part in the interactive movie as individual players. This is not too far from interactive movies like The Pandora Directive ( or Wing Commander IV (

Already devices like video conferencing computers where a simple digital video camera is attached to the computer and video signal is fed down the pipe to another computer. Video conferencing, such as that developed and marketed by Intel ( as the ProShare, should become more in vogue in the future as soon as the bandwidth opens up. Video conferencing allows you to see the persons you are talking with and hear their voices, something like the Jetson’s video phone.

Early attempts at the video phone were failures, because the expense and trouble was just not worth the benefit of seeing who was calling you. But the newer video conferencing units have the added dimension of application sharing and file transfer protocol (FTP). Both parties can actually work on the same document together, without the need for both to own the application program, with interactive editing and problem solving. At the end of the discussion, the documents can be shared with copies distributed to each participant.

Video conferencing, when used with a multipoint device that allows many people to be hooked up to the same conference, may be the distance learning tool of the future. The video conferencing allows many people to share the same interactive lecture and learning materials with a single instructor who may be in a classroom half a world away. Questions and learning materials can be sent back and forth by satellite, internet, or phone lines making courses that would often not have the enrollment to run now be accessible to anyone with a computer and a phone line or internet connection.

Currently these multimedia distance learning facilities cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The technology is really not this expensive. Most video conferencing units, which form the hardware of distance learning facilities, cost less than $5,000 to install and operate. They are composed of a simple pentium computer, a small inexpensive digital camera, a simple modem, and a phone line.

Windows 95 now provides a platform for ease of use through its multi-threading. Many applications can be run simultaneously, limited only by the amount of RAM memory. The task bar at the bottom of the Windows 95 screen is a convenient means of switching back and forth among the applications. While writing this article I was on the internet on one box, in the word processor on another, and I could send email and other functions at the same time without appreciably slowing down my computer.

Thanks goes out to those who asked about this topic. I was more than happy to respond by explaining it in writing. Call or write if you have questions or need explanations, or addresses. --

Al Giovetti, The Computer Show, 1615 Frederick Road, Catonsville, MD, 21228-5022, 410-747-0396