Cambridge Corners the Future in Networking Volume 05, No.10, Nov 95
Tony Krzyzewski, Managing Director of Kaon Technologies, has recently returned from a trip to Britain where he examined the Cambridge Cable project, an undertaking he describes as the most “staggering” advance in networking yet. He talks to TUANZ TOPICS about the project and his involvement with it.
What is your connection with Online Media and the Cambridge Cable Project?
I’m consulting to Online Media here in New Zealand. I provide them with advice on how to implement systems in New Zealand and as a direct result of that we have just been appointed distributors for ATM Limited, who are the people providing the backbone cabling for the Cambridge Cable project.
The catalyst for the trip to the United Kingdom to look at the Cambridge project was some speaking engagements in Asia: October’s interactive video conference in Singapore and December’s LAN/WAN conference in Hong Kong.
What is Cambridge Cable?
It’s probably the most staggering development in networking I’ve ever seen.
They are taking networking into the home and delivering video on demand services (such as watching the news when you come in and want to watch it), home shopping, education on line, software on line, very soon the World Wide Web on line but doing all that over a very large ATM based network to the home. There is a massive ICL video server sitting in the test centre in Cambridge, a set of switches and from there it distributes out to the home currently at 2Mb/s but then going to 25Mb/s shortly.
WE DON’T HAVE THOSE VISIONARIES IN THE TELEVISION BROADCAST ENVIRONMENT YET, BUT WE’LL GET THERE.
The project is being run by various organisations. Online Media is part of the Olivetti Group and is very closely associated with Acorn Computers. ATM Limited is supplying the hardware, ICL’s in there, Anglia Television provided the broadcast facility and Cambridge Cable is the cable provider. After that initial kernel and trying it out on about 10 stations run over six months they’ve taken it out to 100 stations in the homes and 150 sitting in test labs. A number of other organisations have joined in - Westminster Bank, the BBC and the local education authority. It’s being used as a ‘nursery’ and companies are putting in tens of thousands of pounds to learn how this sort of technology is going to impact on the home.
Cambridge is a breeding ground for networking developments. While I was over there I visited the ATM development labs at Cambridge University. It is a technology
breeding centre just like Stanford
and Palo Alto in the United States - I treat them as equivalent environments.
You describe it as the most interesting development in ATM networking and yet it happened in Britain, when may we expect this kind of evolution from the United States where all the talk comes from?
It doesn’t surprise me at all. This is a very common factor and I’ve seen this in technology development for years; the Americans tend to talk about developments and marketing the developments whereas UK organisations go ahead and say ‘right we’ve got an idea, let’s build the hardware to do it and see if it really works.’ It’s just that peculiarly English way of taking the gamble and doing it. There’s not another trial like it in the world. The Americans are talking about interactive services and are still stumbling along with six or seven station pilots. This is full scale ATM to the home development.
The Cambridge Cable Project is a co-operative venture?
Very much so; it’s a learning experience. Everyone realises this technology is going to have an impact. How soon it’s going to impact nobody really knows. Companies have to ensure what effect it will have on business. Consider an advertising agency - how is a consumer’s ability to switch and choose the programmes they watch at what time they want to watch it going to effect how advertising works?.
This is trialing human interaction and how people will relate to the technology as much as anything. You don’t want to produce a computer like menu to work in the lounge; people will reject it straight away. So the feedback is very interesting.
How will the pilot be turned into a commercial operation?
I think it will be very easy and that’s what the pilot is all about; finding out how much it will cost to run such a system, closely monitoring what people watch and how they use the system. I think it will be very easy to extrapolate the true commercial viability of such a project out to a nationwide venture.
So why is this project so exciting for you?
I’ve been doing nothing but data networking now for eight years and to actually see someone taking faster networking technology than the average New Zealand commercial organisation and applying that to something as simple as an ordinary television type environment...and the ability to drive that out.
Some of the things they were doing at the ATM research labs was just mind boggling. They had to drag me kicking and screaming out of the place. The total simplification of this sort of technology is just staggering.
ATM has had its critics. Some people say it’s not the technology we want but the technology we deserve to get. What’s your opinion?
ATM is going to be the most important development in data networking we’ve seen to date because it is the convergence of video, voice, data, monitoring, telephony on a single network. They have been separate environments and nobody ever designed anything that was going to inter-relate. Now we’ve got all these people working on the same technology (ATM) for the first time. That has to be important.
It’s very interesting studying the development of networking. I was one of those responsible for introducing ethernet to New Zealand and seeing what happened there, we’ve become very complacent about data networking. Right now our networks are fairly simple and we’re not really using them to the greatest advantage, and people say things can’t get any better. It’s like PCs - we think we’ve reached a pinnacle of technology. Well we haven’t - we’re still scratching round in the dirt.
ATM will bring such dramatic changes to the way we data network. Quite often people think that ATM is just a high speed data network and imagine 55Mb/s big bandwidth scenarios. We’re introducing 25Mb/s ATM at $14,000 hub costs this month. But ATM will also be introduced at very low speeds such as 2Mb/s which is home distribution speeds and we’ll start seeing ATM being used as home deployment networks. It’s an enabling technology.
IT’S LIKE PCS - WE THINK WE’VE REACHED A PINNACLE OF TECHNOLOGY. WELL WE HAVEN’T - WE’RE STILL SCRATCHING ROUND IN THE DIRT.
The biggest restriction in networking today is bandwidth out of the building. We still think of ‘local area network’ and ‘wide area network’ - big bandwidth inside our buildings and very low bandwidth outside our buildings. Eventually what will happen is that there will be no differentiation - you will be on the network.
And if The Internet goes to ATM, all of these very primitive services such as the World Wide Web will become on demand video services at cost effective prices. What we pay today for a 2Mb/s link eventually that’s what we’ll pay for 155Mb/s link.
How will what is happening with the Cambridge Cable Project effect New Zealand?
New Zealand is in a very good situation to develop this sort of thing ourselves because we’ve never had the big cable television infrastructure in place for years as in the United States and Britain. Unfortunately most of the cable companies seem to be thinking along the same lines as the conventional American system - how many hundred channels can be offered rather than installing digital interactive systems. We don’t have those visionaries in the television broadcast environment yet, but we’ll get there.
What else interested you in Cambridge?
The Olivetti ATM research laboratory at Cambridge University. They developed the underlying technology that is running the Cambridge Cable project and they’re already on the next generation of networking. They’ve got a massive ATM network deployed with 200 plus stations and have been running it for a year and a half. They have little tracker badges and when they walk into a room their video telephony follows them, sound follows them, the computer network follows them and brings their workstations to them...when they go to a new office all they do is hit the badge and teleport. Their whole work environment follows them.
There are video cameras located all around the room which are directly linked to the data network - there is no intervening computer; there are microphones all around the room again connected into the network and there are video screens which are simply wall screens - and then there is the computer. The user in the office just says ‘I want this camera to give my output to the screen three offices away or I want my sound to come from the office next door’ and away you go in a video conference.
The head of the development lab has an ATM network in his home with an ATM link back to his office and an ATM doorbell. You hit the doorbell, it triggers an ATM signal to put the video camera on the visitor and he can see who’s at the front door from his office. It was jaw dropping stuff.
Author: Anna Wallis Feature Writer TUANZ TOPICS