CONSIDER: REALNEO, Universal Access, VoIP, Video and the transformation of our region

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 11/29/2004 - 14:55.

Consider what it means to have a community that communicates and collaborates effectively together. REALNEO allows everyone in Northeast Ohio or beyond, as interested, to participate in a free, standardized, open source virtual network, and so share solutions beyond how to invigorate our regional economy. When connected together in such a smart way, we may leverage a wide range of world-class technologies as never before done or even conceived in a physical community. Take VoIP and videoconferencing, as examples.

By pursuing universal internet access for people in NEO, all residents my set up Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) accounts with one chosen service, like Skype, and REALNEO will provide a directory of VoIP access information and the interface. That means everyone here will be able to freely talk with everyone else, and the millions of other VoIP users around the world. Yes, for free - saving everyone the cost of redundant phone service... say $250+ per year (that would add up to $100s millions in area household savings per year). Further, we will all be able to leverage free enhanced communications through peer to peer and group voice and videoconferencing - we're exploring arranging this using Open University (UK) capabilities. To think about the value videoconferencing offers everyone, read the NY Times article posted and linked below. Think about all this happening everywhere in NEO - think out of the box - think about NEO being the most innovative communications environment in the world - think about NEO shifting paradigms to leadership in the new economy. REALNEO makes that certain, practically overnight.

Waving Hello, From a
Distance

By MICHEL MARRIOTT – NYTimes
- Published: November 25, 2004

WHEN Melody Wilt, a new
grandmother, made the 10-hour drive from her home near Reading, Pa., to her
daughter's house in Chapin, S.C., for Thanksgiving, she took along more than a
20-pound smoked turkey.

She went bearing a U.S.B.
Web camera, sophisticated teleconferencing software and an Internet-inspired
vision that will allow her to continue visiting even after she returns home.
"I want him to be able to see me, to hear my voice," she said of her
3-week-old grandson, Joseph Sinclair Lewis. "I want to be able to read
stories to him and share some of his firsts."

Mrs. Wilt, a manager at a
regional educational services agency, said videoconferencing technology had
gotten so good, so affordable and so easy to install and use that she is
comfortable using it to open a two-way video window between her and her
grandson when she is unable to visit in person.

"It's great timing that
this technology has gotten to this point," Mrs. Wilt, 52, said shortly
before making the drive south with her husband, Arthur. "It seems like the
perfect way for me to see all the many changes he is going to go through."

There are no definitive
numbers on how many people use Web-based videoconferencing. But there is
anecdotal evidence that face-to-face electronic communication is gaining a
foothold beyond the executive suite, and that the typical home users are no
longer the stereotypical geeks straining to see each other over crude Webcams
connected by sluggish modems.

"It was in a novelty
phase," John Carey, a professor of communications and media management at
the Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration, said of the
first wave of Webcam use. "It was mostly techies and exhibitionists,
people who show themselves, and pornography and all of that."

Today's consumers have more
options. A high-end system can cost as much as a flat-screen plasma television.
Some modestly priced units, including the Packet8 VideoPhone, plug into an
electrical outlet and use the Internet.

Long a mainstay of science
fiction, the concept of being able to see and speak with someone over a vast
distance, or even a short one, languished for decades in laboratories and
tangles of technological choke points. Chief among them was adequate bandwidth,
said Robert C. Hagerty, chief executive of Polycom, the market leader in
videoconferencing, which makes the $149 PVX system that Mrs. Wilt has in
Pennsylvania and is installing for her grandson in South Carolina.

"You need a good
connection," he said, acknowledging that broadband adoption in North
America is rapidly increasing. He noted that today's typical high-speed
connection is capable of carrying, in both directions, at least the 128
kilobits of data per second that "rich media" requires. In other
words, that is the baseline for television-quality color images that sync
reasonably well with equally clear audio.

Additionally, Mr. Hagerty
said, significant improvements in videoconferencing software, like the new
H.264 video compression standard, are helping to make the technology more
efficient and accessible.

"We talk with our
hands; we show our body language," he said. "We lose all those things
in a phone call."

With improved
videoconferencing, he added, "we get them all back."

Professor Carey said
consumers' desire for videoconferencing had been partly stoked by the
popularity of instant text messaging, which has been adding video capabilities.
Even blogs, he said, are including video.

"What didn't work three
years ago now works reasonably well," he said.

Professor Carey also noted
that early tests of videophones found that many people, particularly women,
were put off by the prospect of being seen by callers before they were prepared
to be seen. "A lot of people were concerned that they'd get a videophone
call and they'd be in a bathrobe or their underwear."

Those concerns have been
eased by technology, he said. Most modern systems give users the option of
transmitting their images.

In Eagan, Minn., a suburb of St. Paul, Greg
Scott, the unofficial information technician for the Eagan Hills Alliance
Church, is setting up high-speed videoconferencing to help local families
electronically visit loved ones stationed in Iraq.

Mr. Scott, a member of the church and
operator of an information technology company in the area, said he conducted a
fairly successful test of the system a month ago using limited bandwidth. But
his expectations rose recently when a local telecommunications company donated
a T1 connection for the project.

"This is going to let lots of soldiers
in Iraq with families here talk face-to-face," Mr. Scott said.

Bryan Martin, the chief executive of 8x8 in
Santa Clara, Calif., the maker of the Packet8 videophones, said it was not
surprising that face-voice communication had a powerful hold on people. The box
in which its phones are sold is covered with almost a dozen words that mean
hello in various languages. More telling, perhaps, is the invitation printed on
the box to "speak in color."

The Packet8 phone has a five-inch
liquid-crystal display so callers can look at each other as they chat. Mr.
Martin said he did not have to look any farther than his own home to observe
the warmth that screen-to-screen communication can create. He also said he had
ample in-house proof that the system was extremely easy to use.

"We're finding that my 4-year-old son
knows how to use the videophone," he said. "Even his grandmother
knows how to use the videophone, which is impressive. This is not just for
early adopters, geeks and techno folks like myself."

Convinced that almost anyone who can use a
telephone can use his videophones, Mr. Martin said he planned to set up call
centers in the coming weeks, including at hospitals where children can talk to
(and see) hired "Santas at the North Pole."

Christopher Swann, 34, an investment analyst
from Atlanta, said his 1-year-old son got a kick out of the phones. Mr. Swann's
biggest complaint about the Packet8 phones is that they are not compatible with
other Web-based videoconferencing systems. "It would be great if everyone
in the family had one," he said.

He also noted that costs were not limited to
the hardware. He said he spends about $60 a month for his broadband service, a
requirement to use the Packet8 phones, and less than $40 a month for the
phone's service, which includes unlimited videoconferencing and Voice Over
Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

"It's little more than a gadget right
now," Mr. Swann said of his pair of videophones. Because of the firewall
protecting his company's computer system, he cannot use one in his main office
as he had intended, he said, "but it is a very cool gadget."

Packet8 phones also do not use the new H.264
video encoding and decoding scheme, which provides high-quality,
30-frames-a-second images with half the bandwidth requirements. In some ways,
Mr. Hagerty of Polycom said, the new codec may mean to video what the MP3
compression format has meant to audio.

The Packet8 videophones use the older H.263
compression, Mr. Martin said, but they are likely to be upgraded to the new
standard next year. Images using the older compression are more prone to
breaking up. Nonetheless, Mr. Swann said, his videophones' images are
"better than I expected."

Once equipped, the next step - as in the
early days of the telephone - is to find those similarly equipped. Jason Katz,
founder and chief executive of PalTalk, a site that fosters online video
messaging, said innovation and falling telecommunications costs allowed him to
offer his basic service free. This lets users who install his software to speak
to up to six people at a time (they appear as still images). For $40 a year,
users can broadcast video images as well as see them, for two-way video
conversations.

In the last six years, Mr. Katz said, there
have been 30 million downloads of the free PalTalk software. Today, he said,
there are some three million users on his system speaking to and seeing friends
and family members. Some are even meeting new friends, as is the case with
Dennis Ludwig, a "40-something" communications technician in Dayton,
Ohio, who has been using the service for four years.

"It's almost like being in a room with
someone," said Mr. Ludwig, who routinely juggles six video windows at a
time on his computer screen. Friendships he has made on PalTalk are so genuine,
he said, that he thinks of many of the people he knows only over the Internet
as his extended family.

"My mom had open heart surgery three
weeks ago," Mr. Ludwig said. "People in my room from nine different
countries are praying for her."