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i&p offers free-of-charge observation and commentary on the state-of-the-art in communication, technology, commerce, the state and the arts.

i&p means information and perspective, the yin and yang of communications.

While other i&p web pages present information on the practice of i&p, this area looks at the flip side, perspective.
Perspective helps shape the potential value I&p can contribute to any communications initiative, and is reflected in all aspects of the work.

January, 2005: Perspective on multimedia

For years now a favorite gambit of mine discussing topics from downloading to digital rights and encryption to e-commerce is to ask who remembers what the “mp” stands for in mp3. The answer, of course, is motion pictures, part of the name of an experts group (MPEG) that sets digital video standards. It’s a useful way to remind us that in this digital world, it’s all just bytes and it doesn’t really matter what the content is. (Get over it, Lars.)

Now this is a huge discussion. A lot of fuss has been made about the music industry, although the recent success of online song retailing has changed the tone of that debate somewhat. Movie trading is becoming as common as cable modems yet Hollywood does seem to be responding in a more positive way than their brethren in the recording companies did a few years ago.

Both movies and music represent digits created in the past, packaged and distributed to consumers. The changeover from analog to digital has significantly changed each phase of the process. What hasn’t changed is the enduring popular demand for these entertainment products, backed up by enormous revenue streams

So today we see the music industry responding to the market by incorporating new technology to make the creative, packaging and distribution phases each more efficient in ways that make the product more appealing to customers. It’s taking a lot longer to occur than many have predicted over the past decade or so, but it is happening right now and it will progress as broadband access continues to increase in speed, capacity and universal reach.

Music and movie companies may understand the future better than they did five years ago, but the next wave of digital evolution is far less defined.

Technology never pauses. So while the entertainment companies may understand their futures somewhat more clearly than they did five years ago when all the Napster fury was raging, the next wave of digital evolution is far less defined. But it is surely coming (just as sure as God makes little green apples and ipods) and people are starting to talk about it.

This has allowed me to develop a much more obscure reference to pull out in some of these conversations – when I remind people what the “m” stands for in “IMS”.

IMS, of course, refers to the IP Multimedia Subsystem – an emerging standard for networks that will open the door to widespread seamless use of 3G mobile networks with wired high-speed internet access.

IMS architecture enables multimedia services that interoperate transparently with internet applications, services and protocols such as SIP, the session manager for Voice-over-IP telephone connections and other packet-based IP multimedia sessions. IMS is a key feature of Release 5 UMTS and fundamental to many of today's popular "push-to-talk” services.

The vision one can discern in potentially wide deployment of IMS-friendly infrastructure is of a world of individual multimedia connectivity. Full access to sound, pictures, text and data -everywhere, all the time, in every situation- easily accessed and instantaneously exchanged with others.

On today’s horizon is the merger of mobile and landline networks with single services that will use either or both to find and serve their subscribers, streaming to them packets of audio, video, graphics, etc. As years go by, relentless technology will grow the bandwidth - both in the air and on the wire - possibly to a point that approaches those fabled applications foretold as virtual presence .

Yes, the future is bright for IMS as a reference architecture. It could mean a great deal in the continuing evolution of human communication. Or not.

Any technology’s potential can only be as good as the human solutions that are developed to fulfill it. IMS architecture creates a likely framework within which application developers and business and consumer services could work independently and together to form a thriving market ecosystem similar those enjoyed by the music and movie industries. But will they?

So far most of the hoo-ha has surrounded old digits, mastered somewhere in a studio by artists and craftspeople and then distributed millions of users. The value of those digits (compared with the analog era of 45s and drive-ins) has held up pretty well. The challenge on the frontier is finding the value in the non-packaged digits that will be flowing in increasing amounts between people and machines and other people and other machines, across all kinds of networks that people like to use.

These huge and fast-growing streams of digits will soon make all the old digits that people want to keep look like some quaint library in a small town while multimedia communication buzzes around the globe, covering the earth with access to anyone and anything you want. It will be interesting to see what happens in this space during the year ahead, and appropriate commentary will follow here. (more to come)

COMING SOON: The PowerPoint Wars
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