Meandering though the Maze of Media Access

Meandering though the Maze of Media Access


Used to be every house had an antenna on their roof.  That was okay and we were all content with the three network channels that we had, and our kiddies would provide the “remote” channel changers and volume adjusters.  This, of course, was fraught with interference from electrical appliances, powerlines, weather, et cetera.  Frequently one would have to “tune” the station in to get a “clear” picture.

Next, we were told to get rid of those unsightly antennas on the roof and get cable TV. Not only would it “always” be clear, but we would get tons and tons of stations, even some foreign.  This was accomplished by running coaxial cables and signal amplifiers up and down the streets.  For a monthly subscription charge, they would run one of those cables to a “tuning” box on your TV set top. Soon, people determined that they could do the same thing by connecting to the cable themselves and purchasing a Radio Shack tuning box.  The cable companies got justifiably mad and accused those people of stealing their signals, so they encoded the signals and gave everyone that paid for a subscription a new decoder box.

Some people lived in neighborhoods without cables, so the big guys put a satellite up in the sky to bounce the signals to a dish antenna on your roof (back to roof antennas).  This provided many, many channels, and they were already encoded, so only paying customers could get the decoder box.

Soon the internet came along and was initially accessed via dialup-modem utilizing phone lines (Digital Subscriber Lines or DSL).  Unfortunately, even at its best, transmission was too slow. Broadband was just starting to get marketed, but by the cable companies.  They had already got you hooked on cable TV, and now they wanted to get you hooked on broadband.

All was good again.  We were ignorant and unaware of what we were missing and could have.  Cable TV came with a lot of restrictions.  You had to watch shows when they were scheduled, and miss shows that were broadcast at the same time on a different channel. Soon, someone invented a programmable Digital Video Recorder (DVR), and magically we could watch what we wanted, when we wanted. All was well again, except for the people that couldn’t get cable.

Sometime around now, the idea that internet could be accessed via a satellite and dish antenna became possible. Soon the sky was littered with satellites to provide (expensive) internet access.

What was really missing from my story to this point, is that the fat cats of cable were still not happy. After many, many years of price creep to the point that it was not only unaffordable, but certainly not worth it.  In their incomparable wisdom, as they tried in vain to suck the last drop of rent for services from their customers, the “Cord-Cutting” movement was born. There was a better and cheaper way that was just beginning.

Movie rentals of VHS tapes and DVDs was in its heyday. Blockbuster stores and Redbox kiosks were well distributed through the cities.  A small company (at this time) named Netflix was renting DVDs to customers by sending them through the mail.  The system, for the most part, worked great. Once again, a major improvement was about to occur by eliminating the physical media AND the postal service. With the internet, a similar service could be provided electronically, better, faster and cheaper.

If the Music Man was out and about today, he’d be singing “streaming on fiber is the way to go, cut that cable in two”! So basically, the cable fat cats shot themselves in the proverbial foot (again) and are losing their customers faster than a thirsty horse approaches a trough.  The process worked so good, even the DishTV people are sending their signals to the internet to be streamed without a dish antenna on your roof!

Streaming allows you to pick and choose what you watch, rather than the various bloated packages that the cable companies offer which resemble a Chinese restaurant menu (i.e. “with six you get eggroll”). It also allows you to watch them when you want, pause, skip ahead, backup, et cetera. The internet also provides unlimited cloud access to storage (as in DVR) for future viewing.

The only prerequisite for streaming is relatively fast internet.  To avoid the cable and dish restrictions in speed, using fiber provides the fastest transmission rates available.  It is true, however, that not everyone has access to fiber, so the other solutions will have to suffice, as each has their place.

So, because of the cord-cutting movement, the fat cats at the cable companies are screaming that it is unfair that streaming is not governed by the same laws and restrictions as the cable companies.  Those laws were enacted in the 70’s, and are not to be changed as technologies evolve and cable become even more passe than it is today.

From the service provider’s perspective, cable and dish services are provided in pseudo real-time in a broad-stroke methodology which depends on the individual decoding box at the destination (customer) to filter what is watchable and what is not (unpaid for).

The streaming solution is different because the product (i.e. shows) stay on the server until requested.  They each may be requested thousands of times, simultaneously or sequentially.  Meanwhile there is some major switching happening in the computer servers of the provider.  When you are utilizing the light-speed of the fiber application, converting back and forth to copper for switching slows the signal. Light travels faster through fiber than electrons through copper.  To maintain the speed of each transaction, and therefor keep the transfer-rate as high as possible, new methods were invented to perform the switching.  Most of these solutions only accommodated a small batch of fibers to switch between.  Other solutions that remain unimplemented would be able to take on the whole service at once, being able to switch between many thousands of fibers at light speed.  One such solution is the Parallel Optical Connection that is described at WorldView4D. As speeds of transmission over fiber grows faster and faster, the solution provided by WorldView4d handles the additional “light” traffic with ease and no additional modifications.

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