Telecommunication | modern media

Modern media

Worldwide equipment sales

According to data collected by Gartner[91][92] and Ars Technica[93] sales of main consumer's telecommunication equipment worldwide in millions of units was:

Equipment / year 1975 1980 1985 1990 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008
Computers 0 1 8 20 40 75 100 135 130 175 230 280
Cell phones N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 180 400 420 660 830 1000

Telephone

Optical fiber provides cheaper bandwidth for long distance communication.

In a telephone network, the caller is connected to the person they want to talk to by switches at various telephone exchanges. The switches form an electrical connection between the two users and the setting of these switches is determined electronically when the caller dials the number. Once the connection is made, the caller's voice is transformed to an electrical signal using a small microphone in the caller's handset. This electrical signal is then sent through the network to the user at the other end where it is transformed back into sound by a small speaker in that person's handset.

As of 2015, the landline telephones in most residential homes are analog—that is, the speaker's voice directly determines the signal's voltage.[94] Although short-distance calls may be handled from end-to-end as analog signals, increasingly telephone service providers are transparently converting the signals to digital signals for transmission. The advantage of this is that digitized voice data can travel side-by-side with data from the Internet and can be perfectly reproduced in long distance communication (as opposed to analog signals that are inevitably impacted by noise).

Mobile phones have had a significant impact on telephone networks. Mobile phone subscriptions now outnumber fixed-line subscriptions in many markets. Sales of mobile phones in 2005 totalled 816.6 million with that figure being almost equally shared amongst the markets of Asia/Pacific (204 m), Western Europe (164 m), CEMEA (Central Europe, the Middle East and Africa) (153.5 m), North America (148 m) and Latin America (102 m).[95] In terms of new subscriptions over the five years from 1999, Africa has outpaced other markets with 58.2% growth.[96] Increasingly these phones are being serviced by systems where the voice content is transmitted digitally such as GSM or W-CDMA with many markets choosing to deprecate analog systems such as AMPS.[97]

There have also been dramatic changes in telephone communication behind the scenes. Starting with the operation of TAT-8 in 1988, the 1990s saw the widespread adoption of systems based on optical fibers. The benefit of communicating with optic fibers is that they offer a drastic increase in data capacity. TAT-8 itself was able to carry 10 times as many telephone calls as the last copper cable laid at that time and today's optic fibre cables are able to carry 25 times as many telephone calls as TAT-8.[98] This increase in data capacity is due to several factors: First, optic fibres are physically much smaller than competing technologies. Second, they do not suffer from crosstalk which means several hundred of them can be easily bundled together in a single cable.[99] Lastly, improvements in multiplexing have led to an exponential growth in the data capacity of a single fibre.[100][101]

Assisting communication across many modern optic fibre networks is a protocol known as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM). The ATM protocol allows for the side-by-side data transmission mentioned in the second paragraph. It is suitable for public telephone networks because it establishes a pathway for data through the network and associates a traffic contract with that pathway. The traffic contract is essentially an agreement between the client and the network about how the network is to handle the data; if the network cannot meet the conditions of the traffic contract it does not accept the connection. This is important because telephone calls can negotiate a contract so as to guarantee themselves a constant bit rate, something that will ensure a caller's voice is not delayed in parts or cut off completely.[102] There are competitors to ATM, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), that perform a similar task and are expected to supplant ATM in the future.[103][104]

Radio and television

Digital television standards and their adoption worldwide

In a broadcast system, the central high-powered broadcast tower transmits a high-frequency electromagnetic wave to numerous low-powered receivers. The high-frequency wave sent by the tower is modulated with a signal containing visual or audio information. The receiver is then tuned so as to pick up the high-frequency wave and a demodulator is used to retrieve the signal containing the visual or audio information. The broadcast signal can be either analog (signal is varied continuously with respect to the information) or digital (information is encoded as a set of discrete values).[65][105]

The broadcast media industry is at a critical turning point in its development, with many countries moving from analog to digital broadcasts. This move is made possible by the production of cheaper, faster and more capable integrated circuits. The chief advantage of digital broadcasts is that they prevent a number of complaints common to traditional analog broadcasts. For television, this includes the elimination of problems such as snowy pictures, ghosting and other distortion. These occur because of the nature of analog transmission, which means that perturbations due to noise will be evident in the final output. Digital transmission overcomes this problem because digital signals are reduced to discrete values upon reception and hence small perturbations do not affect the final output. In a simplified example, if a binary message 1011 was transmitted with signal amplitudes [1.0 0.0 1.0 1.0] and received with signal amplitudes [0.9 0.2 1.1 0.9] it would still decode to the binary message 1011— a perfect reproduction of what was sent. From this example, a problem with digital transmissions can also be seen in that if the noise is great enough it can significantly alter the decoded message. Using forward error correction a receiver can correct a handful of bit errors in the resulting message but too much noise will lead to incomprehensible output and hence a breakdown of the transmission.[106][107]

In digital television broadcasting, there are three competing standards that are likely to be adopted worldwide. These are the ATSC, DVB and ISDB standards; the adoption of these standards thus far is presented in the captioned map. All three standards use MPEG-2 for video compression. ATSC uses Dolby Digital AC-3 for audio compression, ISDB uses Advanced Audio Coding (MPEG-2 Part 7) and DVB has no standard for audio compression but typically uses MPEG-1 Part 3 Layer 2.[108][109] The choice of modulation also varies between the schemes. In digital audio broadcasting, standards are much more unified with practically all countries choosing to adopt the Digital Audio Broadcasting standard (also known as the Eureka 147 standard). The exception is the United States which has chosen to adopt HD Radio. HD Radio, unlike Eureka 147, is based upon a transmission method known as in-band on-channel transmission that allows digital information to "piggyback" on normal AM or FM analog transmissions.[110]

However, despite the pending switch to digital, analog television remains being transmitted in most countries. An exception is the United States that ended analog television transmission (by all but the very low-power TV stations) on 12 June 2009[111] after twice delaying the switchover deadline. Kenya also ended analog television transmission in December 2014 after multiple delays. For analog television, there were three standards in use for broadcasting color TV (see a map on adoption here). These are known as PAL (German designed), NTSC (American designed), and SECAM (French designed). For analog radio, the switch to digital radio is made more difficult by the higher cost of digital receivers.[112] The choice of modulation for analog radio is typically between amplitude (AM) or frequency modulation (FM). To achieve stereo playback, an amplitude modulated subcarrier is used for stereo FM, and quadrature amplitude modulation is used for stereo AM or C-QUAM.

Internet

The Internet is a worldwide network of computers and computer networks that communicate with each other using the Internet Protocol (IP).[113] Any computer on the Internet has a unique IP address that can be used by other computers to route information to it. Hence, any computer on the Internet can send a message to any other computer using its IP address. These messages carry with them the originating computer's IP address allowing for two-way communication. The Internet is thus an exchange of messages between computers.[114]

It is estimated that 51% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in the year 2000 were flowing through the Internet (most of the rest (42%) through the landline telephone). By the year 2007 the Internet clearly dominated and captured 97% of all the information in telecommunication networks (most of the rest (2%) through mobile phones).[115] As of 2008, an estimated 21.9% of the world population has access to the Internet with the highest access rates (measured as a percentage of the population) in North America (73.6%), Oceania/Australia (59.5%) and Europe (48.1%).[116] In terms of broadband access, Iceland (26.7%), South Korea (25.4%) and the Netherlands (25.3%) led the world.[117]

The Internet works in part because of protocols that govern how the computers and routers communicate with each other. The nature of computer network communication lends itself to a layered approach where individual protocols in the protocol stack run more-or-less independently of other protocols. This allows lower-level protocols to be customized for the network situation while not changing the way higher-level protocols operate. A practical example of why this is important is because it allows an Internet browser to run the same code regardless of whether the computer it is running on is connected to the Internet through an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. Protocols are often talked about in terms of their place in the OSI reference model (pictured on the right), which emerged in 1983 as the first step in an unsuccessful attempt to build a universally adopted networking protocol suite.[118]

For the Internet, the physical medium and data link protocol can vary several times as packets traverse the globe. This is because the Internet places no constraints on what physical medium or data link protocol is used. This leads to the adoption of media and protocols that best suit the local network situation. In practice, most intercontinental communication will use the Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) protocol (or a modern equivalent) on top of optic fiber. This is because for most intercontinental communication the Internet shares the same infrastructure as the public switched telephone network.

At the network layer, things become standardized with the Internet Protocol (IP) being adopted for logical addressing. For the World Wide Web, these "IP addresses" are derived from the human readable form using the Domain Name System (e.g. 72.14.207.99 is derived from www.google.com). At the moment, the most widely used version of the Internet Protocol is version four but a move to version six is imminent.[119]

At the transport layer, most communication adopts either the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). TCP is used when it is essential every message sent is received by the other computer whereas UDP is used when it is merely desirable. With TCP, packets are retransmitted if they are lost and placed in order before they are presented to higher layers. With UDP, packets are not ordered nor retransmitted if lost. Both TCP and UDP packets carry port numbers with them to specify what application or process the packet should be handled by.[120] Because certain application-level protocols use certain ports, network administrators can manipulate traffic to suit particular requirements. Examples are to restrict Internet access by blocking the traffic destined for a particular port or to affect the performance of certain applications by assigning priority.

Above the transport layer, there are certain protocols that are sometimes used and loosely fit in the session and presentation layers, most notably the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols. These protocols ensure that data transferred between two parties remains completely confidential.[121] Finally, at the application layer, are many of the protocols Internet users would be familiar with such as HTTP (web browsing), POP3 (e-mail), FTP (file transfer), IRC (Internet chat), BitTorrent (file sharing) and XMPP (instant messaging).

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows data packets to be used for synchronous voice communications. The data packets are marked as voice type packets and can be prioritized by the network administrators so that the real-time, synchronous conversation is less subject to contention with other types of data traffic which can be delayed (i.e. file transfer or email) or buffered in advance (i.e. audio and video) without detriment. That prioritization is fine when the network has sufficient capacity for all the VoIP calls taking place at the same time and the network is enabled for prioritization i.e. a private corporate style network, but the Internet is not generally managed in this way and so there can be a big difference in the quality of VoIP calls over a private network and over the public Internet.[122]

Local area networks and wide area networks

Despite the growth of the Internet, the characteristics of local area networks (LANs)—computer networks that do not extend beyond a few kilometers—remain distinct. This is because networks on this scale do not require all the features associated with larger networks and are often more cost-effective and efficient without them. When they are not connected with the Internet, they also have the advantages of privacy and security. However, purposefully lacking a direct connection to the Internet does not provide assured protection from hackers, military forces, or economic powers. These threats exist if there are any methods for connecting remotely to the LAN.

Wide area networks (WANs) are private computer networks that may extend for thousands of kilometers. Once again, some of their advantages include privacy and security. Prime users of private LANs and WANs include armed forces and intelligence agencies that must keep their information secure and secret.

In the mid-1980s, several sets of communication protocols emerged to fill the gaps between the data-link layer and the application layer of the OSI reference model. These included Appletalk, IPX, and NetBIOS with the dominant protocol set during the early 1990s being IPX due to its popularity with MS-DOS users. TCP/IP existed at this point, but it was typically only used by large government and research facilities.[123]

As the Internet grew in popularity and its traffic was required to be routed into private networks, the TCP/IP protocols replaced existing local area network technologies. Additional technologies, such as DHCP, allowed TCP/IP-based computers to self-configure in the network. Such functions also existed in the AppleTalk/ IPX/ NetBIOS protocol sets.[124]

Whereas Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) are typical data-link protocols for larger networks such as WANs; Ethernet and Token Ring are typical data-link protocols for LANs. These protocols differ from the former protocols in that they are simpler, e.g., they omit features such as quality of service guarantees, and offer collision prevention. Both of these differences allow for more economical systems.[125]

Despite the modest popularity of IBM Token Ring in the 1980s and 1990s, virtually all LANs now use either wired or wireless Ethernet facilities. At the physical layer, most wired Ethernet implementations use copper twisted-pair cables (including the common 10BASE-T networks). However, some early implementations used heavier coaxial cables and some recent implementations (especially high-speed ones) use optical fibers.[126] When optic fibers are used, the distinction must be made between multimode fibers and single-mode fibers. Multimode fibers can be thought of as thicker optical fibers that are cheaper to manufacture devices for, but that suffers from less usable bandwidth and worse attenuation—implying poorer long-distance performance.[127]