|Global multimedia communication
|Dr Roar Hagen & Dr Jan Linden
|Dr Roar Hagen, CTO and Co-Founder, and Dr Jan Linden, Vice President Engineering
|Global IP Solutions
Dr Roar Hagen is the CTO and a Co-Founder of Global IP Solutions. Dr Roar has nearly 20 years of research and development in speech processing and coding. He built his career at AT&T Bell Labs and Ericsson Research. Dr Roar has filed more than ten patents. Dr Hagen holds a doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Chalmers University of Technology and a MSc in Physics.
Dr Jan Linden is the Vice President of Engineering at Global IP Solutions responsible for all research and development activity within the company. Dr Linden has been conducting research and development in speech processing and communications for more than 15 years. Prior to joining Global IP Solutions he was with the University of California, Santa Barbara and SignalCom, Inc. Dr Linden has published more than 30 articles in various publications and has filed and been awarded several patents. Dr Linden holds a PhD and a MSc in Electrical Engineering from Chalmers University of Technology.
For many decades there were few true innovations in the telecommunications industry, but the arrival of Internet-based (IP) communications changed the sector dramatically. IP has made inexpensive, when not free, voice, data and video a common service throughout the world. Wireless, both fixed and mobile, and the quick and inexpensive rollout it makes possible, is bringing IP-based, multimedia communications to the remotest regions of the world and making available life-changing, life-saving applications such as medicine at a distance and distance learning.
For many decades very few developments in the telecommunications industry – outside of lower prices and more deployments – can be categorised as groundbreaking from the end user’s perspective. Clearly, in the past few years we have entered a new phase in how humans communicate. The broad deployment of mobile telephony and Internet-based communications have changed the way we look at communications. The old telecommunication world The old telecommunication world is intimately associated with voice and physical phone devices. Since its inception with the invention of the phone by Alexander Graham Bell, very little has changed for the end user in terms of functionality. The quality and ease of calling improved with automatic switches. Phone calls, especially long distance, were very expensive until the past decade. Still, in many areas of the world, particularly in developing countries, deployment and infrastructure has been lacking and the cost has been prohibitively high. The quality is at best good, never excellent, and often quite poor. The traditional telecommunication systems lack integration between different types of media. Video telephony was tried, but never took-off. Video calls were restricted to expensive enterprise video conference systems with leased lines between locations. The introduction of the digital mobile telephony systems in the 1990s was the first major step towards a new communication era. Not only did mobile offer untethered voice communications, but the networks were built from the start to carry data in addition to voice. Nevertheless, since these networks are voice-centric, useful data speeds have only recently been made available. The 3G networks currently being rolled out worldwide offer higher data speeds and better voice and data integration. SMS (Short Message Service) was the first major step toward multimedia communications. Suddenly, the same device could be used both for talking and for sending text messages. This was almost accidental; SMS was originally developed so service providers could send maintenance messages. The fact that mobile network operators were surprised by the enormous popularity of SMS messaging illustrates the lack of innovation by traditional telecommunication providers. Most telecom companies were monopolies for most of their history without much need for innovation. Most markets are now de-regulated, but the old incumbents still dominate many markets. In essence, the old telecommunication world is characterised by lack of innovation and new services, because of both network infrastructure and the history of the players. The new Internet world The enormous success of the Internet created a totally new landscape for communications. The Internet, created as a data-centric network, was initially all about the web and email. Today, the same Internet Protocol (IP) networks carry, without distinction, both traditional telephony and data – such as the Web – as services. The de-centralised architecture of the Internet makes it much easier and cheaper to build out than old-style telecommunication systems. Basically, cheap, relatively simple, inexpensive-to-operate routers connect different networks to inter-network and provide global reach. Developing countries lacking telecommunication infrastructure build IP networks directly, to give their people inexpensive Internet-driven communications with the entire world. This helps to equalise opportunities throughout the world. The Internet enables innovation by large companies and individuals alike. The Internet is an open communications network that is not, as with networks in the past, controlled by a few large, monopolistic players. Today, anybody can create a new Internet-based service and launch it through a Website. Customers access the service through the Website, download software to their PC, if necessary, and off they go. Many such services are free, but one can pay for services using Internet-based payment systems. Many times, innovative new applications and services spread quickly throughout the world by viral marketing as friends tell friends. The Internet is, however, not without its problems, such as fraud and illegal services. In essence, the new Internet-based communication world, characterized by innovation, new services and applications, provides opportunities for everybody. Multimedia Voice over IP (VoIP) is telephony over IP networks – a testament to how old world basic services have moved to the Internet. The convergence of data and telephony networks facilitated by VoIP technology opens up a wide range of possible new communications applications. It allows for interactive, real-time voice and video communication to be added to any application. The idea of carrying multimedia over data networks such as the Internet is simple, but severe practical challenges long kept such applications a promise of the future. The first successful step in integrating multimedia technology was the introduction of streaming technology. This has made it possible not only to distribute stored clippings, e.g. YouTube.com, but also real-time broadcasting of radio and TV over the Internet. However, real-time interactive services such as telephony are technically more challenging given the need to reduce delays and guarantee voice quality. The Internet, designed to carry data, has no such requirements so VoIP quality suffered, but recent innovations have made possible Internet telephony with higher quality that traditional telephony. VoIP started out as a way to make free voice calls over the Internet. Quality and connectivity were very limited; although this was acceptable for some home users it was not good enough for most business applications. Today, VoIP technology and standards have evolved significantly; they now enable reliable call setup and high-quality Internet telephony. Several companies, e.g. Skype, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, and Google, offer free voice and video communication over the public Internet using a PC as the communication device. This has made inexpensive communication available to hundreds of millions of people. In addition to offering free services, they also offer chat/instant-messaging services and will certainly provide even more integrated solutions to add as much value as possible to their service. This has helped students, among others, often from developing countries, studying abroad to keep in contact with their friends and families in their home countries. This sort of connectivity has been difficult to achieve using traditional telephony, not only because of cost but also due to the limited deployment of traditional telephony in many areas of the world. Voice and text are sufficient for most communications. However, there are numerous instances where real-time video can add tremendous value. The efficiency of communicating is much higher when you can see the person you are speaking with, and it can be helpful in overcoming cultural barriers. Until now, video has mostly been used in conferencing. However, many more exciting scenarios are in the works. To highlight one problem in developing countries, providing high-quality healthcare in poor and rural areas is tremendously challenging, as it is almost impossible to provide highly educated doctors and nurses wherever needed. Computer connected to the Internet, preferably through mobile technology, can give the doctor, nurse or paramedic stationed in a remote location access to a variety of resources and improves the quality of the care provided. Each computer has a sound interface, a simple video camera, can connect with medical instruments and sensors, and can connect with many other such field computers. Local healthcare workers can connect to highly trained medical specialists at remote medical facilities, speak with them, and transfer medical data and imaging. The remote doctor can see the patients through the video feed and speak with them. Conversely, the patient and the local healthcare worker can see the remote doctor and interact in a much more satisfying manner than would be possible over the phone. This, and similar interactive set-ups for remote education, another significant challenge in many areas of the world, have huge potential to benefit the health and prosperity of many in the developing world. What we described here can be seen as the first steps in realising the potential of multimedia technology for global communications. With further technological advances, Web 2.0 applications and the deployment of high speed wireless technology the reach and potential gains of deploying such solutions will be even higher, giving more people access to the global community and economy.