A blueprint for broadband

The Forum hopes to shape the architecture of high-speed delivery and content
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Since its launch two months ago, the Broadband Content Delivery Forum-a nonprofit consortium of communications industry leaders-has been hard at work building its own internal infrastructure.

In three months, the 80 member corporations have formed a board of directors, built a Web site and divvied up the forum's agenda, which amounts to deciding how best to deliver high-speed data, voice and video to individual subscribers around the world. Currently, systems experts are looking for a blueprint that will help visualize the future of light-speed communications.

Forum members-which include infrastructure vendors, content creators and networking specialists-say their goal is to accelerate the use of broadband services and tap a market with an estimated $2.8 billion in music and videogame downloads alone.

Nortel Networks' David Ginsburg, elected chairman of the forum board, promised at the group's first conference in May that it would do more than explore new industry standards.

"The board of directors represents major players in the broadband value chain," Ginsburg says. "Their leadership will be critical in driving the ambitious agenda we have to create an architecture that delivers a true broadband user experience and, more important, enables the broadband business case."

The forum plans eventually to develop potential business plans and business modules based on an examination of where technology has gone and where it is likely to go in the near future.

Ginsburg was at the forefront in bringing the industry experts together, attracting other service providers drawn to a set of initiatives on content-delivery architecture that Nortel developed.

Others on the forum board include Lucent Technologies' Laurie Shook, the BBC's Judy Nunn, NetActive's Norman Ritchie, Akamai's Will Biedrom, BT's Nick Rose and Williams Communications' Greg Onyszchuk. According to Shook, the forum proposal drew Lucent's attention even though its executives "already participate in some 100 standards-setting organizations.

"The forum attracted us," she says, "because there appeared to be a good smattering of content-delivery companies involved, like NBCi. And our perspective is that we need to get closer to content companies to understand what kind of architecture they need."

Shook was named secretary of the board at the group's inaugural meeting last month in Las Vegas. "We felt that the best way to have an influence on the board and to make sure it remained an active body was to get directly involved," she says.

Although administrative setup has occupied most of the forum's first few weeks, members will take their first steps toward strategic recommendations on broadband development at their second conference in Boston, where they will meet July 9-11.

Forum Project Manager Cynthia Krekel says four 20-member subcommittees, now being assembled, will each address one area of mutual concern: legal and regulatory matters; content and applications; infrastructure; and business and marketing. Their recommendations will eventually take shape as a proposed industrywide business plan. The plan will analyze how to integrate existing technologies to allow subscribers on-demand entertainment and information options.

All this cheerful industry cooperation is predicated on the belief that subscribers in large numbers will abandon already ponderous dial-up modems and purchase broadband access instead. Broadband promises light-speed delivery of "packets" of information, which carry headers or encryptions that allow the sorting and delivery of multimedia at millions of bits per second.

New technology allows broadband subscribers to select from a panoply of communications options, all of which provide high-speed, high-quality access to news, movies, music, videogames, and data and voice communications.

One potential application, says Krekel, would let subscribers visually scan their homes from halfway around the world, using their laptop computer. Such technology, she predicts, will open the door to changes in the way people use information, which in turn will affect how consumers access goods and services, conduct business, and select entertainment.

Broadband has gained momentum and a host of new advocates over the past year. Earlier-than-predicted technology advances in two-way data transmission using a combination of fiber-optic cable, wireless and telephone lines, have produced a sense of urgency within the industry to find and develop markets for big-pipe delivery systems.

Although many broadband advocates predict an avalanche of interest from Internet users in new high-speed data transmission, the rush hasn't started yet.

"The need [for broadband] is clearly real to me," says Shook, adding that she often works from home using a T-1 line. "But I meet people on airplanes who say they are not even on the Internet. They don't understand the need."

According to the forum, surveys indicate that consumers are frustrated with the snail's pace of dial-up access and favor development of high-speed data systems.

"But," acknowledges Shook, "they also say 70% of those surveyed have no plans to buy broadband. And the 30% who do want it don't want to pay any more for it."

That is one of the challenges the forum will tackle.

No deadlines have been set for taking the group's recommendations to the public, Shook says, though, the industry realizes it will be better served by coming up with proposals sooner rather than later.

"We need to show that people can make money from the new media, or else they are going to fight [broadband]," Shook says. "We need to be able to show where the potential revenues are, where the profits are located, and demonstrate that you can make money in this industry."