Monday, February 21, 2011

Plains, Trains and Automobiles

Train on a plain. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Why can't we just move all distribution of live television and radio to the Internet? Then you'll get everything through one cable, or even wirelessly. It's got to be the solution. After all, the Internet service providers (ISPs) out there outbid each other in promising you the broadest, fastest and cheapest broadband to your home in order to give you the Internet, TV, radio, on demand films, news, Internet banking and much more. They wouldn't do that if they couldn't deliver, would they? The funny thing is that ISPs at the same time are limiting how much data you can use per month, as well as wanting to charge media houses to stream TV and radio content to end users since media houses are 'causing so much strain to the broadband networks.'

That means that ISPs want to charge both their end-users and the media houses.

So maybe it isn't all that easy after all. I will try to illustrate the situation through plains, trains and automobiles.

Plains are in reality nothing more than space that may be covered by i.e. grassland, woodlands or forests. There is only a certain amont of space available. If you use too much of it for one purpose, less is available for other purposes. If you want to build 16 lane motorways, there will be less space for grass or forests.

The same applies to frequencies. They are also like natural resources. There is only a certain amount available, and you have to choose what to .

Trains are effective. A big train can transport almost one thousand people. Trains have their own tracks, don't run into traffic problems and can therefore go very fast. They are not affected by traffic jams on roads and their speed limits are also much higher than those for cars. But they can only run where there are tracks and they run according to a fixed schedule, not necessarily exactly when passengers want them to.

Trains and railroads are similar to broadcast TV and radio. An unlimited number of people can watch or listen to a programme simultaneously. But TV viewers or radio listeners can only enjoy their shows whenever they are on (unless they record them).

Automobiles or cars are great. They can go almost everywhere and give you personal freedom. But there are speed limits and other traffic rules and roads are easily clogged if too many cars are on the same streets. You can always build new lanes to a road, but you will then have to use of the limited plains to do that. But the more lanes that are available, the more people will hit the streets. And not only private cars, but also lorries, vans and trucks. The bigger the road, the more vehicles it can hold, the more vehicles it will have to hold and the worse the potential traffic jams at peak hours. And they use more energy per passenger than what is the case for trains.

The freedom of cars. By Walid Hassanein, licensed under a Creative Commons License.

So what?
Trains and automobiles have different purposes and do different things well. Both use of the limited space that is available on the plains, both must co-exist and both are dependant of each other. If you take away one of them the other one will struggle and be unable to do what it has been designed to do.

Just imagine forcing every passenger on a train to take his or her own car to the road during rush our, or to force every driver onto a train at the same time. The space on the plains must be optimized in order to accommodate for trains and automobiles, both of which are needed.

Doesn't that sound like broadcasting and the Internet?

The title of this blog post was inspired by the film called Planes, Trains and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin, John Candy and Kevin Bacon.