Tag Archives: tia

When they say shovel ready, they mean real shovels

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Notes from the Silicon Valley Telecom Council’s Policy Luncheon

The prevailing view amongst the private sector people who have been talking to contacts with the Obama team is that the lion’s share of the broadband money will go to incumbent carriers. “Jobs are created through the existing structures,” was how Mike Masnick put it, quoting a highly placed source in the administration.

Yesterday’s Silicon Valley Telecom Council policy luncheon in Santa Clara was sponsored by AT&T, but big carriers by no means dominated the panel. Speakers represented a wide variety of sectors and areas of expertise, from both inside and outside the Beltway:

With $7.2 billion specifically earmarked for broadband projects, the stimulus package is the largest U.S. government disbursement for telecom purposes ever. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the panelists were 100% in agreement: the priority is job creation, not broadband build out, and incumbent carriers can create — or protect — more jobs more quickly than start up companies or community-based projects.

The audacious hope is that once the dust settles from the stimulus extravaganza, a genuine broadband and telecommunications policy, with money attached, will make its way through the administration and congress. That program, should it ever come to pass, would address how to upgrade the U.S. national broadband infrastructure and extend it to unserved areas. The stimulus package, though, is about something else.

There’s a lot of detail that is still uncertain, not least who will be running the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service, the two agencies that will be ladling out the grants. But the consensus yesterday was clear: whoever is appointed will be answering directly to John Maynard Keynes.

It’s not doing the great man justice to focus on a couple of his quips, but he put the awful truth very succinctly. If you hire hire a bunch of people to dig a ditch, you’ve stimulated the economy. If you hire more people to fill it back in, you’ve doubled the stimulus. It doesn’t matter that nothing of value was created in the process. What is most important is that people are receiving pay packets and spending the money.

The bottom line is that the Obama administration would rather fund a project that puts a thousand people to work installing ten miles of fiber, than pay ten people to lay a thousand miles.

Of course, a thousand miles of fiber will support many thousands of jobs in the long run. But, according to yesterday’s private sector expert view, the administration will be thinking about the here and now when it hands out the cash. The first, and maybe only, question for applicants will be “how many people will you hire today with this money?”

Short term thinking perhaps, but as Professor Keynes put it, “this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.”

Eye contact is next teeping opportunity

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Telepresence is to teleconferencing as dining is to eating. One is a mechanical process, the other transforms the simple act into a complete social experience. Or so the hope goes.

Also known as teeping, the idea is to create a completely immersive environment where you forget that the person you’re talking with is not physically present. Cisco is pushing this technology hard, but hasn’t crossed the line from teleconference to telepresence.


Teeping opportunity

I spent some time in a Cisco telepresence demo room this week, during a small business symposium co-hosted by the TIA and Cisco. It’s a cool system that will eventually lead to a true teeping solution.

On the plus side, Cisco has optimized the mechanics. Camera and screen placement, conference table set up, lighting and audio are all dialed in. You can sit down and look across your table at people sitting on what looks like the other side of the room.

Part of the trick is the way the physical layout adds the illusion of depth to the flat images on the large high def screens. In a few years, 3D video technology will make it seem spooky real, but the current system gives your brain sufficient cues to start filling in the missing dimension.

The final, great hurdle is enabling two-way eye contact. Until that’s possible, it’ll be teleconferencing, not telepresence. Right now, you have a choice: look into the camera, or look into the other person’s eyes.

Cisco’s would-be telepresence facility

The current iteration lets you see body language, which is a huge step forward. But our brains are hardwired for eye contact, and you can’t connect person to person with a stranger without it.

Case in point: when I’m riding my bicycle in traffic and I want to make sure a driver sees me, I look right into his eyes. We can both be wearing sunglasses — it doesn’t matter. Our primitive, hunter-gatherer brains instantly grasp the presence of a fellow human and go into “friend or foe” mode. It’s the same whether you’re running across the savannah or sitting in a corporate meeting. A split second of two-way eye contact determines whether you’re going to share lunch or be lunch.

A solution to this problem starts with some kind of eyeball tracking system, which determines where each participants’ eyes are focused on the screen. Software would then manipulate each individual’s image so that people on the other side of the conversation accurately perceive that individual’s gaze.

This solution requires huge computational capacity and magic software, rather than raw bandwidth, so Cisco won’t solve it. But Cisco and any other aspiring teeping vendor will snap it up in an eye-blink. So who has the chops to do it?

At this month’s Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, two of the presenters discussed exactly this kind of image manipulation. Pixim does real-time enhancement of video feeds, mostly for security applications at this point, and Pelican Imaging is developing computational cameras that can manipulate static, 2D images through three dimensions. The event’s sponsor, Santa Cruz Imaging, is also actively developing technology in this space.

In five, maybe ten years, brute force corporate R&D will solve this problem. Until then, it’s a genuine geek opportunity.