The Soviet Cable

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
28 February, 2017
Editorial: 75
Fecha de publicación original: 10 junio, 1997

Date of publication 10/06/1997. Editorial 75.

A person’s home is his castle

An exclusive pilot test of the Internet by cable promoted by Cable y Television de Catalunya (CTC) starts in Barcelona this week. It is exclusive for many reasons: it is one of the few (there are just five) of its kind in the world and it affects only a few privileged users who will receive a bi-directional flow of 10Mb of information through a cable modem (350 times quicker than a 28.800 kb modem) in their respective homes. By simply connecting their computers to a new plug in the wall — the one for the cable network — they will be able to see the Internet in a way that every internaut of good lineage has only ever dreamed of: instantly and with all the Javas dancing on the screen at their natural rhythm like cartoon characters, with top quality telephone service and video-conferences which don’t make you look like Frankenstein’s grandchild, incapable of moving an arm and winking at the same time. This experience is the first of its kind in Spain. The button which I had the opportunity of enjoying at a private showing of this new technology, left no doubt in my mind that I was witnessing the first–faint–tremors of what is going to be an earthquake which will shake Catalan cyberspace to its roots.

The test bears a close resemblance to the possibilities for cable network that I mentioned in a previous editorial. Users will connect to the Internet by turning on their computers at home and without having to use the telephone. If they wish, they can leave their computers on all day so that their e-mail arrives in real time, at absolutely no added cost. Above all, they will be able to make use of applications which they might have heard of but which they had never dared to use before for fear of getting more strung out than a spider in its web.

The operator will keep the most expensive applications, from the Net traffic point of view, in a caché memory: video and audio on demand, video-conferences, virtual reality (VRML), games in Java, etc., as well as telephone servers for Internet. In the test which we did of the latter, the voice quality was amazingly good, to the surprise of a gentleman in Oviedo with whom we connected via Internet Phone. When we told him that we were doing an Internet test via cable he said: Yes, I’ve heard that they are doing things like that with the TV. Old rock and rollers never die. When we connected to the video-conference server it seemed to still be cold. However, no sooner had the bits begun to warm up a little than it started to look like a film. Of all the video-conference tests (and formal connections) that I have attended, I have never seen a closer resemblance to real movement on screen than I did at CTC.

The same can be said of video on demand. Users access a limited data base of documentaries and films from TV3. The downloading of each file of a few megabytes is practically instantaneous. And the quality of reproduction is excellent. Nevertheless, the most spectacular advance is that which pertains to the Web. It was just like a movie and it was immediately obvious to us how few pages there are ready to compete in the world of high speed and wide band. But the possibilities are extraordinary. Virtual reality and Java worked almost simultaneously at the pressing of the return key or its corresponding click. I had never personally seen the MTV page before because, even with RDSI, it was worse than waiting for a bus in the Gobi desert. Now I can tell those patient internauts who treat telephone companies nicely that these pages are not to be missed. They are worth visiting if only for their baroque style of programming – their content is another matter.

The interesting thing about CTC s cable network is that it s got everything, including cable. The company has not hesitated in bringing together all known technologies and adapting them to the necessities of the Net. Thus, it includes fibre optics with ATM, microwave, FR, Ethernet, (due to time problems there isn’t any satellite, but they are bound to find some way of sneaking it in later), in other words light, air and electricity. The connection with the Internet is through the telephone company BT. To this end, CTC has thrown out a high-speed cable which has been converted into an SDH ring (synchronous digital hierarchy) of 155Mb connecting BT, the Barcelona City Council, the Generalitat (the autonomous government), the Polytechnic and Open universities, the Caixa de Catalunya savings bank, La Vanguardia newspaper, Syllicon Graphics (which supplied some of the equipment), and other companies, Vilaweb among them. Within this powerful Intranet, the Internet is just the blink of an eye. When one has to leave the ring to look for addresses in the rest of the world, speed decreases to the maximum which those portions of the Net visited offer, but, in any case, it is like changing from a Rolls Royce to a Mercedes: the quality is still there.

In the test that starts on the 11th and which will go on for a month and a half in a small area of Barcelona, CTC will be able to try out, amongst other things, resetting cable modems from the head of the network, thereby giving users the opportunity to receive the Internet at 10Mb, 1.1/2Mb or 128kb, depending on individual needs.

Although for the moment they do not envisage going beyond little flirtations with the Internet, the test is, nevertheless, of great significance. In two or three years time, practically the whole of Barcelona will be receiving all the Net services at a speed unimaginable today (and almost certainly then as well). An intranet of such proportions in which Internet service providers will have to participate and compete (CTC will become one of them) will signify a phenomenal stimulus for content creation of all kinds because, in this case, the virtual community connects up with what is local. If services appear which help users design their own web pages (the fact is that with that bandwidth they will already have their own servers at home) and if these include editors who stimulate co-operation amongst internauts, there is no doubt that Catalonia will become a phenomenal test tube for demonstrating the true potential of a social environment interwoven with the telecommunications networks. In order to make use of this opportunity, it would be wise to start thinking now of how we can take advantage of this resource – this privilege of swimming around in digital opulence in a defined territory which, at the same time, is open to the world.

Translation: Bridget King.