When the dot-com era emerged in the mid-1990s, Internet change agents were quick to predict a new world of merging media—the phenomenon known as convergence. They envisioned a time when telecom companies would offer video services and cable companies would offer voice services. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, the promise of convergence has been slow as the tech pundits were just too far ahead of their time. Despite the collapse of the technology bubble, the age of true convergence is alive and well and being ushered in by an explosive growth in broadband connectivity. The proliferation of broadband technology, which uses bandwidth signals large enough to carry all forms of media, is showing no signs of slowing. Video and music on demand, multiplayer online games, and rich data products are being delivered over high-speed Internet connections into millions of U.S. households.
The United States has more broadband households than any other country, with 34.3 million at the end of last year, a 29.9% increase over 2003, according to online research provider eMarketer. By 2008, eMarketer predicts broadband will be in 69.4 million U.S. homes, or 56.3% of households.
Now that convergence is finally living up to its promise, here are five broadband technology trends that are sure to influence the way we receive entertainment and information at home and in the office:
11 Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) This technology is designed to make the Web a lot more like TV. It takes advantage of improved bandwidth to deliver customized video by compressing it to a manageable size without hurting quality. The on-demand approach allows viewers with high-speed connections to interact directly with the media to choose exactly what audio, video, and channels they want to view, as well as how they want to have it displayed. Scripps Networks, whose lifestyle brands include HGTV, the Food Network, and DIY Network, is aggressively developing its Internet video-on-demand and broadband programming. In July 2004, Scripps Networks named Phillip S. Williams, an African American, as the director of DIYNetwork.com, an online network that includes do-it-yourself programs on home improvement.
Williams says having high-speed Internet access in our homes will change the way we watch television and movies the same way it has impacted the way we listen to music. “Broadband programming will be the evolution of television,” says Williams. “People have come to expect more from their computers, as well as more from their televisions. But with the limitations of television, the world of Internet and broadband programming is a new frontier that many networks are exploring.”
12 Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) Currently, VoIP networks allow you to make voice phone calls—local, long distance, and international—over the Internet. Ground-breaking VoIP applications are already having a disruptive impact on the telecommunications industry. One such popular service is Skype (www.skype.com), which allows people everywhere to make free, unlimited voice calls from one PC to another over the Internet. Skype’s acceptance by both early adopters and established customers makes it a trend worth watching.
13 Grid Computing This form of computer networking harnesses unused processing cycles from