Friday, December 10, 2010

Broadcasting Isn't Only for Radio and TV

Broadcasting as a technology has been around for more than a hundred years, and everyone reading this has listened to and watched broadcasted radio and TV programmes. To broadcast means to send data to everyone with a receiver within the coverage area and the technology has no limits when it comes to the number of receivers. But is it only possible to broadcast radio stations and TV channels? Not at all. All kinds of data can be broadcast, something that opens up for a number of new and stable services with increasingly congested telecom networks.

Tryvasshøgda, Oslo: MiniTV is being broadcast from the tower to the right.

Other examples of what broadcasting is great for:

1. Traffic information to cars
You can get live and updated information about traffic conditions in the area you are driving through a broadcasting technology such as DMB (which includes DAB and DAB+). By broadcasting such info everyone will receive the info at the same time, ensuring immediate notification about traffic accidents, slippery road conditions or closed roads. This information is sent to your navigation device (GPS) which automatically reroutes you if that is safer or will save you time. To broadcast this info is many times cheaper than using telecom networks (GPRS/3G), something that will save the supplier and you money. This is a hugely popular service in Korea with 19 different traffic services, and some of them even offer an update of maps. The most common standard for such traffic info is called TPEG.

2.  eMagazines to your phone or tablet
If you are one of those who are subscribing to electronic magazines to Android tablets such as Samsung Galaxy Tab or Apples iPad you may have noticed that they take some time to download. Instead of sending out the magazine via WLAN at home (or a slower telecom network on your way to work), it can be broadcast to the memory of your device at the same time in the morning as everyone else gets theirs. This may be especially useful if the alternative is to download it via a slow telecom network. It may also save the publisher money as they will not have to pay for distribution via the Internet (at a cost of around 3 Euro cents per GB).

3. Films, videos and music
You can even receive films or music tracks to your device, although you will have to settle for the files that are being broadcast into the memory of it. You can in other words not decide on your own, but will have to settle for whichever film or music files that are being broadcast. If you leave your device on overnight it may have however have been tanked up with several new blockbusters. And one night maybe, just maybe, Madonna might decide to give away her new album to those with the broadcasting device turned on.

4. Route information
At many bus stops and smaller train stations there is a small info screen that tells you when your bus will arrive. A solution to do this via DMB is being introduced early next year in the Netherlands. This info has so far usually been distributed through telecom networks. There are two challenge with such solutions. The data transport is expensive. And GPRS/3G/WLAN receivers consume a lot of energy. So much that electricity has to be installed on bus stops that may not have been equipped with electricity. To hook all the bus stops up to the grid is very expensive. DMB receivers use very little power. So little in fact that these receivers will run on solar power. And in Germany you will get access to city bikes by buying a tram ticket. On the tram you will see info screens that tells you how many bikes there are nearby the next tram stop. If there are none, you will be told how many more stops you have to go before finding an available bike. This info is also being broadcast. B2B information will in many cases see broadcasting fit as their distribution in the future.  

5. Radio relevant information
When listening to radio you can also receive additional information on the programme through broadcasting. Who is interviewing who? Which song and artist is being played, and what does the covers look like? You may also receive photographs and the sudden textual breaking news alert. And if you want you can press the screen when a new favourite song is being played to buy and download it via the Internet.    

6. Broadcast websites
Do you remember Teletext or Text TV as it has also been called? It was introduced in the early 1970s and give you a certain number of pages with text and very simple graphics on your television screen. You navigate by tapping a page number (100-899) on your remote control. After using it for a while you remember all the "front pages" by heart. It contains news, sports, weather, stock quotes, programme infromation and more. It's almost a mini version of the Internet, although with no links leading to outside this little walled garden. And it was hugely popular in many parts of Europe, even still remaining so in some countries. It has, of obvious reasons, never taken off in connected devices, but it clearly shows the possibility to also broadcast textual information. Books, photos or maps can also be transferred in this way. In fact, all known files can be transportted through broadcasting. The questions is just whether your device can read them.

These are just a few examples. There are many more. Please list ideas or examples as commentaries underneath the blog post. 

Broadcasting can never replace the Internet. But everything that is available via the Internet can also be broadcast to the same kinds of devices. And if you know of files or info that will be massively popular, it can be broadcast to everyone out there, cheaply and without gatekeepers. Combination is king. Combination is key. The industries should work together and make their content and services available through all networks suited for the job. Different networks complement each other.