by Carla Lane, Ed.D and Patrick Portway

A flood of new communications devices and services are on the way; legislation and rulings has opened up the way for telephone and cable companies to compete. The introduction of legislation for the National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the Communications Act of 1994 had been introduced but not passed as this edition went to press. Most of the squabbles involve splitting the limited number of available radio frequencies among new and existing communication services. Advances include videos on demand, delivered electronically to the home over phone and cable lines; interactive newspapers and TV shows, which allow users to custom-tailor the information and entertainment they receive.

The Merger of Computers and Video

The most significant trend is still the merger of the computer and video into multimedia desktop terminals. The technologies that are converging are computing, television, printing and telecommunications. Bringing them together results in the whole having greater impact than each individual part and is one of the industryí most significant developments. The convergence of digital technologies and their use will impact the future of teleconferencing, distance learning, business, and entertainment. By joining television and computers, the best aspects of each technology are combined. The result is a powerful communications and information system that joins TVís ability to introduce and highlight a subject with the computerís ability to provide in-depth information tailored to immediate needs. The computer changes existing media by helping one find, store, search, and re-use many kinds of information. The movement is still toward digital high definition television.

Age of Communications

Based on our review of the industry, we believe that yet another shift has occurred. It was largely accepted that the Information Age began in 1985 and has probably ended in 1994. We have now moved into the Age of Communication. This age is strongly defined by telecommunications used for gathering and disseminating information. The publicís discovery of the Internet was prompted by discussions of the National Information Infrastructure and flamed by mergers. The Communications Age is characterized by the general acceptance of the public that want to be able to use telecommunications interactively as a personal tool. In the Information Age, the public was content to receive one-way communication. This represents another paradigm shift. Now employees are empowered with access to two-way communications, access to information and by companies that have downsized and are enlightened about employee empowerment. In education, the paradigm shift has been enabled through instructional methods that empower the student such as facilitation, two-way communication networks, and access to information through electronic networks. Because of funding schools are slightly behind business, but Goals 2000 funding will decrease the gap. The Communications Act of 1994 should include a universal access clause for education that was left out of the 1934 Act.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode - ATM

Current packet switched LAN technology is not friendly to video transmissions. The ATM protocol would handle video data and voice in the LAN/WAN environment as well as internationally. ATM is widely supported as the direction of the future.

Interactive Television - Entertainment

This is a system that connects with the cable television system. Computer programmers set up programming to work with game shows, etc. People with the system can play along with the game. One version of the system works on a small radio transmitter for which the FCC has allocated spectrum. Other versions operate over the cable or telephone lines.

Video on Demand

Digital video stored on servers can play out movies or other programming whenever the consumer demands and is accessed over cable or phone lines. This service in competition with videotape rental stores is expected to be a $30 billion business in the late 90s.

Internet/Interactive Television - Education

CU-See Me is a software program that provides two-way interactive video and audio over the Internet. School children are already using it to share data. Viewpoint, BBN and others have introduced software that works over the Internet.

Cellular Computer Networks

Major computer marketers, regional Bell operating companies and other technology vendors have targeted wireless, mobile data communications as the next hot growth area. The market potential for cellular-based data services is huge; the field is expected to attract 2.6 million customers nationwide by 1997. The wireless data market will hit $175 million in 1995, up from $18 million in 1992. Five factors will drive the growth; increased use of laptop computers; availability of small notebook and palm-top machines; the perfection of personal digital assistants for the mass market; reduced costs of transmission.


In 1980 a Cray supercomputer had eight MB of random access memory (RAM) and operated at a speed of 80 Mhz. Personal computers operate faster than that and with more RAM. Chips have enabled this.

Chip Development

Chip development will provide faster and lower cost videoconferencing on the computer screen. Intel plans to offer two-way videoconferencing on computers free - except for the cost of a small camera ($100) by the year 2000. The capability will become a standard feature of all computers.

The raw power of silicon technology has been doubling every 18 months. Gordon Moore, who co-founded Intel, introduced this "law." Based on Moore's Law, by 2004, silicon chips will be produced that contain over a billion transistors - the capacity to switch 42 central office telephone switches.

Computer Movies

Short movies that play in a screen on your computer have become another way for users to create their own media. Using digitized video footage, morphing programs, animation, or video stills, movies can be easily made. They can be the new family scrapbook or the way to deliver product information without mailing a video tape. The digital fusion in the movie industry is at a peak. When John Candy died in the middle of shooting a movie, his film image was digitized and inserted into the remaining scenes.

Copyright and Multimedia

Intellectual property rights in the multimedia environment are going to be a major problem. To create the perception of choice in multimedia requires much more material than linear media. Some industry professionals feel that acquiring intellectual property is so costly and problematic that multimedia developers should produce everything themselves. This is an infant industry with an enormous hunger for content but no easy way to pay the bills. Multimedia developers hope that licensing will give them the ability to obtain existing intellectual property and spare themselves the cost, time and effort of creating the content. They hope to acquire only the rights they need at minimum cost, but are not sure what rights they need to acquire ó and content owners are not sure what rights they are willing to license.

Technologies are changing, market practices are still evolving, the size of the market is unknown and the relationship of multimedia markets to traditional markets is undefined or ambiguous. Today multimedia developers primarily use stand alone storage-based publishing devices. As wideband transmission becomes easily available, publishing via networks will be commonplace. This is the emerging model in higher education. It discourages new users and the experimentation and exploration that is needed to stimulate and build demand. Nobody likes to hear a meter ticking. There is resistance to metered information as it is hard to budget; fixed costs are preferable.

Desktop Video

Desktop video will transform the video post production industry and computers are already having a huge impact on producers of video programming. The recession forced people to take a look at alternatives for producing video. The traditional video production studio with several rooms and $2 million in equipment may be history soon. Breakthroughs in digital storage technology and better video compression techniques will continually advance desktop video. Dial-up digital networks are becoming the rule. The need for total solutions has had an effect on the technology being developed. Document and information sharing solutions like document cameras, user cameras, annotation tablets and computer interfaces are demanded by customers. The customers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their use of video and are demanding that vendors develop complete solutions that encompass more than just audio and video. It must be high quality and make working across distances easier. The desktop is destined to become the major video battleground of the late 1990s? The race will be won by those who can provide the same high level of functionality and quality on workstations and videophones as exists on group conferencing systems. The systems must add value to the installed base and not create incompatible islands of technology. The winners will focus on building value throughout a family of products while teaming with partners that can focus appropriate video solutions into the right market channels. If thereís a lesson to be learned from the past seven years in the industry, it is that networks will follow the desktop applications. Increased use of multimedia information and desktop videoconferencing will drive the demand.

Direct Broadcast Video by Satellite

Direct broadcast satellite companies now offer entertainment directly to the home. Low subscription and equipment fees define the success of this delivery method. They have the jump on the cable companies and telcos which are just coming out of test phases for video on demand. Using DBS for education delivery may be the next option if DBS is required to provide public access.

DBS satellites can broadcast to small areas of 200 square miles. Proramming can be made to be addressable so that specified homes in the US can receive programming based on the signal coder's address

Distance Education

The use of telecommunications technologies for distance education will continue to increase as educators deal with increasing numbers of students. It will become even more apparent that the ability to share resources through technology is a viable alternative to building more buildings. The need to retrain 50 million American workers and military personnel who have been mustered out will be a driving factor in the continued adoption of distance education. Distance education will be used to bring credit and continuing education programming into the school, workplace, and home. The impact of the new technologies will be felt in all areas of education and will take distance education to a different kind of level with the new desktop video conferencing systems lead students into more involvement with one another. It will help students develop a better sense of the world. As the new technologies stabilize, the expense will drop and make access to others as well as learning resources very cost effective. Computer and audioconferencing for all educational organizations will become an important part of distance education. Instructional designers will need to learn how to weave the use of the technologies into their methods.

Electronic Mail - (E-Mail)

If youíve viewed e-mail as a convenient way to communicate, get ready for an explosion of e-mail into a strategic business resource the way voice mail did a few years ago. Mail-enabled applications, which promise to revolutionize a range of business procedures, will help organizations drastically reduce paperwork and errors and increase efficiency, on top of the savings in reduced phone and mail charges. E-mail has already evolved into a store-and-forward technology that handles large data files and documents, and can be extended beyond the enterprise to suppliers, customers, and trading partners worldwide. Just as you wouldnít consider installing a phone system without connecting everyone, you should apply the same thinking to e-mail. Commercial providers of access to the Internet will continue to flourish. As more people become connected to the Internet, faxing will fade away as we increase our use of computer faxing or attach formatted documents to e-mail messages over commercial services. More private services will arrive to handle private electronic meetings through proprietary software. As large organizations such as associations or trade groups find that they need ways to connect their members. The medical profession may find these services appropriate to coordinate patient treatment. Small companies which do not want to invest in servers to connect widely dispersed employees may also find the solution appropriate. These are just a few of the ways that private computer conferencing networks will provide services. FCC In July, 1992, the FCC took sweeping steps toward changing the ways Americans use their televisions and telephones. The regulation changes also took an important step to bring competition to the cable industry. Video dial tone will provide significant competition to cable television companies which operate as monopolies in most communities. The rulings allow local phone companies to pursue some combination of two options: The phone company could act as a carrier for cable companies and information service providers, bringing their signals into the home on its high-capacity fiber optic cable. Or it could offer movies and television programs on its own, competing directly with cable companies. The FCC is moving closer to giving broadcast television stations two channels; one for regular transmissions; one for high-definition broadcasts. It has also sold bandwidth for pocket telephones and hand-held, wireless computers.

Fiber and Broadband to the Curb

Fiber optic cable is being installed by many phone companies because it has the ability to carry voice, data and video. The installation has been lagging, but with the FCC regulation change the telcos now have a major incentive to speed up the process and begin delivering programming. Fiber from the curb into the home will be the last obstacle for this transition. Fiber will pass by the home. It will be up to the homeowner to decide whether to pay for the final few feet of installation.

High Definition Television (HDTV)

The U.S. HDTV standard will be digital. Zenithís digital approach has been chosen by the FCC as the model for development of a U.S. standard.

Information Overload

Yes - information overload continues to increase - doubling every two years according to some estimates. The time lag between the discovery and the application of the information is shrinking. It used to take hundreds of years to move from a product that was merely a curiosity, to the acceptance of it as a becoming a commercial product.

Everyone has to learn how to be a reference librarian, how to assimilate the found information, how to combine it so that it makes something new and innovative.

Internet and the World Wide Web

The browser that enabled the creation of the World Wide Web is the killer application of the century. It has enabled small children and grandparents to connect, allowed teachers to find new resources that put out-of-date textbooks to shame, and has enabled a whole new meaning for distance education. The Web has moved the distance education classroom to cyberspace. Business, schools, universities, homes, libraries and museums are connected to the Net. With each new addition, Bob Metcalfe's Law is proved - the power of a network increases by the square of the number of users. Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law are the foundations of the communications revolution that has swept over the planet.

The Internet doubles in size every year, but the Web is doubling in size every ninety days. Electronic mail is moving into the trillions.

Interactive Networks

New interactive devices will allow viewers to play along with their favorite game show, sporting event, or murder mystery. Interactive Network of Mountain View, CA, has been testing a product in Northern California. The heart of the system is a $200 portable control unit.

While TV shows are being broadcast, Interactive Network employees sit at computers and program the information that is sent to the control unit. For example, during ìJeopardy,î when an answer is shown on the TV screen, the Interactive Network technicians send four possible questions over an FM radio signal that is picked up by the handset. The questions are shown on a small liquid crystal display screen and one answer is chosen by pressing a button on the control unit. When the correct answer is given on the show, the Interactive Network technicians immediately send the information over the radio waves to the handset. If you are correct the handset adds points to your score. When the games are finished, the control unit adds up the points. By connecting the telephone cord that comes with the unit to the phone outlet and calling the score to Interactive Network, a player can compete with other interactive players for prizes.

The company has been loaning out the units at Giants and Athletics games in an effort to get people familiar with the technology. To play, you first predict the outcome of the batterís trip to the plate. If you guess an out, you then predict how that will happen. If you guess a fly out but the batter grounds, youíll receive points for being half-right. Throughout the game the control unit displays the latest scores from other baseball games, much like the scoreboard at the ballpark. You can also get information on a particular playerís batting statistics ó number of hits, strikeouts, etc. ó and team statistics at any time during the game.

Here's how it works. Interactive Network producers watch the telecast and enter game calls and statistical information. From the central computer of the network, game control data is shipped to FM stations and Interactive Network game data is simulcast along with the television broadcast. The control unit uses a telescoping antenna to receive the FM radio signal that carries the information (it may be necessary to use an FM booster). At the conclusion of an event, subscribers connect the handset to their phone cord for a 20-second call which is transmitted over a telephone digital switching network. All participantsí scores are collected, results and standings tabulated, and then broadcast back to each subscriber in four minutes. The control unit has a long-lasting rechargeable battery.

Global Marketplace

A desktop computer gives us access to a global markeplace, international information, and 24-hour a day service. Anything, anywhere, anyplace is a reality. Doing business on the Web gives an individual, a small firm, or a corporate giant the same world-wide presence.

Are we disenfranchising the middleman. If we are, in the case of education, what does that mean? Will we truly see a statewide or national delivery of education such as they provided by the existing federal projects? Stay tuned.

Knowbots (Short for knowledge robots)

As more information becomes available knowbots will search for new information according to guidelines set by the user. The knowbot will automatically and regularly search. This software program will be the equivalent of having a reference librarian at your fingertips which can quickly sort through the vast amounts of electronic data. Knowbots will be able to assemble the equivalent of a personal daily newspapers, magazines, or information on any topic. Searches will be done on public databases as well as private or premium pay services to which the user subscribes. At its extreme, the knowbot or intelligent agent, becomes an intelligent partner in mediating human communication.

LANs and WANs

The LAN industry will continue to shape and mature in the late 90s as users continue to grapple with interoperability, service and support. One LAN expert says that the LAN industry is experiencing massive market upheaval. The new corporate networks will feature heterogeneous multivendor, multiprotocol environments. They will be mainly PC LAN based as users continue to downsize or rightsize their computer operations from host terminals connections to LANs. Client/server applications will become a reality as users demand more comprehensive, robust applications. Instead of mainframes, networks will be the center of focus. Users will have a choice of an expanding array of less costly products (because of stiffer competition), and continue to grapple with interoperability of new and old products. At the same time, theyíve lost the security of knowing where they will be in five years.

Low Earth Orbiting Satellite (LEO)

Satellites orbiting a few hundred miles up will form a moving set of communications cells passing overhead. There is negligible delay and a small surface can be used as an antenna (i.e. the lid of a laptop computer). Some systems, called limited LEOs, will cover only populated areas. Others, like Motorolaís, Iridium, will cover the entire earth with phone and data services. This is called a full LEO.


The promise of multimedia is to move more information more easily by doing it electronically and to provide more resources to everyone. It is no longer a technology in search of an application. The enabling technologies are not all in place, but it is becoming clear that the true multimedia platform is more likely to be something different. It will house a microprocessor, but we probably wonít think of it so much as a computer as we will think of it as a telecommunications instrument. To date, it has been suggested that multimedia will become a market only when the communications providers have a national fiber optic infrastructure capable of handling the massive bandwidth that each of us will need. On the other hand, we may not have to wait years for multimedia to become a telecommunications reality. Multimedia will become a preferred communications vehicle for entertainment, advertising, and education. Animation, video, and sound will proliferate throughout new interactive applications.

Internet and the National Information Infrastructure (NII)

The Internet is an existing worldwide system for linking smaller computer networks together including governmental institutions, military branches, educational institutions, and commercial companies. There is no surcharge to send or receive messages through Internet. Only ASCII messages up to 50,000 characters can be sent through this system. Thousands of users are being added to the Internet on a weekly basis as the commercial services such as CompuServe, America Online, e-World, and Delphi open connections to Internet. Using the Internet can be daunting for new users. However new White and Yellow Pages for the Internet will make finding groups and information easier. Still, many users prefer seeing the Internet through an easy to use graphic interface. More direct graphic interfaces are being developed such as Mosaic and GINA which telnet and ftp at the click of a button. Audio interfaces are also coming.

MBONE, the Multicast Backbone of the Internet, can carry live audio and video to sites around the world. The idea is to construct a semi-permanent IP multicast testbed to carry the IETF transmissions and support continued experimentation between meetings. The MBONE is a virtual network. It is layered on top of portions of the physical Internet to support routing of IP multicast packets since that function has not yet been integrated into many production routers. The network is composed of islands that can directly support IP multicast, such as multicast LANs like Ethernet, linked by virtual point-to-point links called ìtunnelsî. The tunnel endpoints are typically workstation-class machines having operating system support for IP multicast and running the ìmroutedî multicast routing daemon. The NII will be a direct descendent of the MBONE.

Little Technologies

PDAs - Personal Digital Assistant The first round of personal digital assistants (PDAs) was not successful because the technology was not ready; but the idea is still appealing. Apple Computer's Newton was the most notable of the releases that weigh about a pound and use a special unattached pen for data entry. While Newton seemed to be a handy gadget, it could not get the hang of recognizing its owneros handwriting and failed primarily because of that flaw. New and improved software was released, but the market was too disappointed to notice.

The winner for the second round is US Robotics Palm Pilot. Instead of learning your writing,you learn how to write so that it recognizes the characters. It synchronizes with your computer, and even has a modem which you can purchase separately.

The importance of small portable technologies is that they facilitate anywhere/anytime communication and learning. For example, the Buddy System in Indiana gives students computers with modems to use at home. Researchers found that about 30 days of instruction were added to the school year because of student access to information. The cost of the project is about as expensive as it would be to keep the schools open an extra day. The 30:1 payoff is a result of student enthusiasm for learning with the use of a powerful tool in their home.

The same enthusiasm is in place in classrooms where technology is used. The technology of tomorrow will be seen in the plug and play classroom.

For example - the net computer (NC) which will have enough brains to log onto the Web, search and save the results until they can be transferred to a more powerful computer or hard drive. The net computer won't replace the personal computer as they both have a function to serve and thus a place in the world.


Photonics may be the final answer to fiber optic. If youíre installing fiber, make sure your planned installation can include photonics. Photonics are enabled by gallium arsenide integrated circuits for optical interconnections within and between computer and communication equipment.

Fiber Optics

Present fiber optic computer and communication links are limited by discrete component electronics. In development is a projected 32-channel parallel monolithic IC connector which could vastly increase performance and drive down costs to open up long-sought new fiber optic markets which can replace current copper-wired connections. The cost of fiber optic cable is not drastically more expensive than copper or coaxial cable. The cost of fiber is driven up by the cost of the connectors.


There will be a continued enhancement of industry standards as technology progress, applications evolve and customerís grow more sophisticated. Standards are due soon for high resolution graphics, as well as encryption and multipoint video. Storing the video signal is a problem as it takes a 300 megabyte hard disk to store just 10 seconds of digital video. Compression is the answer to storage problems. Future digital-video products will offer compression ratios of 50: 1 to 500:1. JPEG (Joint Photographic Expert Group) is an industry standard for still-image compression that is moving into full-motion video. MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group) has a three-part compression standard for professional and consumer application ó digital video, digital audio and systems compression. MPEG compression compresses similar frames of video, track elements which change between frames and discards the redundancies. This allows full-motion video to be sent at CD-ROM data rates ó around 160K per second.


A multimedia personal computer standard describes a PC that can run Microsoftís Windows efficiently because the system software beneath multimedia would be ìWindows with Multimedia Extension. (The specification calls for added audio and CD-ROM hardware).

Teamware or Groupware

The most successful organizations use employee teams to solve problems with minimal management intervention. The groups are organized on an as-needed basis and will draw on the expertise of many employees. The critical factor in the success of the teamís competitive solution may be the speed with which they are able to communicate and make themselves understood. Electronic mail and desktop videoconferencing promises is part of the team solution, as it gives a company a competitive edge. Teamware is works on decentralized LANs, and ties together loosely organized groups of people to allow them to work together more effectively. With it the group can easily share information, track their work and collaborate on team projects by sharing documents, audio and video. Everyone has to use it, so teamware must be intuitive and easy to use. Teamware is an educational solution for distance learning through computer conferencing but it hasnít reached the adoption stage yet. Few companies are using the team-approach effectively. Those who seize this opportunity early will have the competitive edge.


The move toward telecommuting will continue to increase as large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles realize the benefits of telecommuting for the environment and businesses realize the benefits of productivity from telecommuters. People can telecommute in three ways: by working from their homes, by driving to a satellite officer operated by their employer or by driving to a neighborhood telecommuting work center that provides facilities for a variety of employers. Telecommuting offices, centers where employees can go that are close to their homes will continue to increase. Employees with the ability to telecommute will spend more time conducting business this way. The use of cellular and portable equipment such as telephones and computers will continue to drive this trend.

In California, telecommuting has made major strides in the state's government and education centers in the past several years. It has been spurred largely by air quality regulations requiring employers to cut down on traffic congestion and lengthy commutes or face fines of as high as $25,000 per day. The energy saved by six or seven telecommuters in one year is equivalent to the average U.S. annual household energy consumption. If only five percent of commuters in Los Angeles County telecommuted only one day each week, they would save 9.5 million gallons of gasoline in a year.

Telecommuting in the San Francisco Bay Area could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the major cause of global warming, by 100 million pounds per year. It would take about 10 million new trees to absorb that much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The neighborhood Telecommuting WorkCenter of Riverside County, CA, reports that the average commute for its telecommuters is 10 minutes, compared with two or three hours. Each company provides equipment for its employees and pays for their long distance, modem, Fax and photocopy charges. Riverside provides private offices, cubicles, a conference room, Pacific Bell Centrex telephone and voice mail, secure data transmission service, free parking, a lunch room, and even an exercise room. The Riverside WorkCenter, November 1991, is a three-way partnership among the State of California, the Riverside County Transportation Commissions and private businesses. TRW, Southern California Edison, Pacific Bell and CalComp supply the 40 telecommuters. The center is the largest of its kind in the country. The California Community Colleges, the largest educational system in the world with over 150 sites, has a pilot Telework Project funded by CalTrans.

Telecommuting brings a host of quantifiable benefits to employer and employee alike. For the employer, it can reduce the cost of office space (30 percent for the State of California), increase productivity (from 3 to 60 percent or more when clear objectives are set), decrease turnover and absenteeism and boost hiring and retention. By removing geographic boundaries, employers can improve recruiting efforts and retain employees with scarce expertise or talents. They can also better utilize specialized labor pools such as people with disabilities who find it easier to navigate their own homes several days a week than to go into the office. Women on maternity leave report being able to return to work faster when they can work from their homes. It's also a boon for single parents where telecommuting can complement day care or provide a means to continue working when children are ill. Freed from commuting schedules, telecommuters can work in synch with their own body clocks, which produces higher energy levels. Fewer distractions is often the principal reason for higher productivity, but the emotional benefits of reduced stress, increased family interaction and decreased commuting time and cost are also major benefits to telecommuting.

It has been estimated that telecommuting two days per week from home saves employers $8,000 per employee per year. (This assumes an annual salary of $20,000, a productivity increase of 20 percent, reduced personnel costs of 10 percent, parking at $500 per year reduced by 40 percent, and use of central office facilities of 150 square feet at $30 per square foot rent per year reduced by 40 percent.) Telecommuters who do come to the main office will find that their office space is now assigned in much the same way that a hotel assigns a room to a guest. With all their materials available by computer, the desk site doesnít matter. Managers also become better at managing and supervising because they start thinking in terms of deliverables. With telecommuting, the manager emphasizes the work product rather than the work process. Telecommuting has the best chance of working if managers and telecommuting employees identify measurable work objectives to be achieved. This also promotes strong communications and planning skills. The best choices for telecommuters are self directed employees who work well alone.


In general, the latest technologies make it more efficient to shift voice communications from wires to radio signals, cellular phones and more complex television images to wires from the broadcast spectrum.


Televisions will be much smarter and will be built with microchips able to store a billion bytes of data -- 250 times the capacity of most personal computers --so that they can hold and sort entire two-hour movies delivered in a few seconds over high-capacity fiber-optic wires.


The trend will continue toward the miniaturization of videoconferencing to computers. There will be a continued move towards integrating multi-media with video conferencing. The second generation of desktop videoconferencing products is making its way into the market. There will be a continued drop in video conferencing system prices due to lowered equipment costs and stabilized network rates.

from "A Technical Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning," 3rd edition