The Broadcast Web
While it is generally accepted that the Holy Grail in internet
terms is the provision of Broadband access the available
technology appears to be limited in its ability to deliver.
ADSL provision through copper telephone wires doesn't work
more than 3km from an Exchange: cable is fine for major
population centres, but the sheer cost of the infrastructure
is bound to limit take-up of the service.
As for mobiles; the outcome of the vast enabling infrastructure
spending on spectrum and technology has effectively been
a windfall tax on those Banks who have funded it. And why
do you need broadband on a mobile anyway?
The eventual solution, however, as is often the case, may
be staring us in the face: the Broadcast Web.
Broadcast data, whether broadcast terrestrially or via
satellite, is transmitted at a rate in excess of 2 Megabytes
per second (ie some 40 times the capacity of an ordinary
modem). And an infinite number of individuals can receive
it, whereas even the most powerful network rapidly clogs
up when a multiple of users use bandwidth-hungry applications
at the same time.
A classic recent example was the collapse of a major French
Bank's network when their traders logged on en masse to
the "Big Brother" website to view a particularly
Any regular user of the Internet will have observed the
massive asymmetry in the flow of data. A few bytes travel
out to find the websites we wish to view, and we then laboriously
download the website frame by frame and access the data
we require within it. And how many of us have cursed the
flashy graphics and animations which slow the process to
Let us therefore do something radical: turbocharge Teletext.
Even the most technologically challenged of us has come
to terms with Teletext during its 25 year history. The transmission
of Teletext pages is accomplished through use of those 30
out of 625 "scan lines" on a TV screen which cannot
be used because time must be allowed for the TV scanning
beam to return to the top of the screen once it has reached
A few users have also used the "Viewdata" system,
originally developed by the Post Office in the days when
they ran telephony as well, of accessing public information
via standard telephone lines, and displaying it on the TV
If digital TV broadcast instead of a TV channel the data
encapsulated in a website the effect would be a stupendous
increase in data dissemination. But what would be required
at the receiving end? Here, the requirement is for a "Web
Browser in a Box".
Recent developments in the humble "Set Top Box"
or "STB" are relevant. Enfocast (www.enfocast.com)
has developed a router effectively a corporate STB
which allows data to be received via satellite and
"multicast" throughout corporate networks
permitting TV "Direct to the Desktop".
Nokia are building an STB which will effectively provide
a Home Media Gateway to an internal home network of digital
TV's; PC's and other devices. Pace Technologies are also
active in the retail field with their own variant STB.
The "BrowserBox" STB would incorporate:
an Internet Browser programme NOT bundled to a proprietary
PC operating system, but rather a stripped down Linux-based
OS (as with the Nokia STB);
reasonable graphics capability and processing power;
adequate data storeage on a suitable medium.
The current Teletext conventions could then effectively
be adopted so that the channels and categories so familiar
to millions of UK users were retained. The outcome would
be that the former "ViewData" becomes an Internet
"BackChannel". And Teletext becomes the "Broadcast
Web" where rather than scroll though a few TeleText
pages we actually download Websites, frames and all.
We could watch TV on half the screen and access the Web
at half the speed the permutations and combinations
are endless: major websites and TV channels converge.
There could be some interesting outcomes: for instance
it is perhaps appropriate that the former BBC chairman now
chairs BT since such technology, if made available
to every BBC licence holder and telephone user would effectively
mean that the two companies could converge into a utility
UK Channel Service Provider.
Furthermore the US Courts have found that Microsoft have
a monopoly in PC operating systems and one eminent commentator
Dave Winer - has proposed that Microsoft should be
obliged to unbundle its dominant Internet Explorer Browser
into a separate "BrowserCo".
"BrowserBoxes" from competing manufacturers would
then be connected within Home Networks to competing applications
rather than to whatever Microsoft saw fit to bundle with
the PC operating system.
Bring on the Broadcast Web.
Chris Jens Cook
First published in "New Economy" Magazine