Web services take an entrepreneurial edge: Webcasting and multicasting can enhance bandwidth use to promote subscriber growth
Technology is one thing. Providing a service that offers value to your customers while supporting entrepreneurial business goals is another. Taking advantage of new technologies that ride the bandwagon of market interest-and occasionally market hype-can sound like a great way to offer your installed customer base another service option. Yet without a value proposition that makes a sound business case, common sense dictates a don't-even-go-there philosophy.
An entrepreneurial focus, combined with the innovative use of technologies, delivers the goods for communications service providers. Telcos, cable TV firms, wireless services providers and Internet service providers often look at how to grow profit margins and decrease operations costs while maintaining a healthy and happy installed customer base.
In the search for that entrepreneurial edge, one of the first places communications carriers should look is in their use of bandwidth.
Two powerful technology-based services that enhance bandwidth use and go beyond the market-hype phase are webcasting and intranet multicasting. When used in conjunction with well-developed pricing and service plans, communications services enhance the bottom line and support increased growth in the installed customer base-two important business goals for any service provider in today's competitive environment.
The need to know Webcasting is one way to take advantage of market interest within a subscriber base. It's also a way for the service provider to use extra channels and available bandwidth to generate revenue through add-on or new services. Hot entrepreneurial topics such as news flashes, stock market updates and personal portfolio information make a webcasting solution compelling.
Webcasting is a powerful, Web-based service that combines the benefits of push technology with existing infrastructures and networks. Using existing technology at both the service provider and customer sites-both network and desktop technology-means more money and market without significant investment in equipment or technology.
As a service offering, webcasting provides an easy way to deliver real-time information downloads of corporate, mission-critical or special-interest information to a defined group of subscribers or partners.
As an entrepreneurial management solution within the provider headquarters, webcasting is an effective tool that can lower costs of communicating information and administering select programs. Webcasting also enhances a customer's bandwidth by harnessing the power of Web-based push technology running over a variety of "n-tier" client/server architectures.
>From a service provider's perspective, webcasting is typically handled with an intranet infrastructure-a multi-tier client/server network with special-purpose application and Web servers that host content, provide additional transactional engine support, or perform other important functions in storing, managing and delivering information throughout organizations.
The advantage of an intranet infrastructure is that critical information can be presented within the security of a provider's network, and the use of Internet protocol-based networking ensures a reliable, low-bandwidth transport.
Two key ingredients are required, both of which most service providers already have spent time building. They include an external telecommunications network or backbone-whether leased- or private-line-that moves the content from sender to receiver, and an internal client/server network that hosts the appropriate application servers.
The most effective network backbone is designed using a format such as asynchronous transfer mode, which is suitable for mixed data types.
Because of the cost to build out lines and infrastructure, many service providers overbuild, and in some cases they have excess capacity that can be put to a more profitable use through a webcasting service.
Alternatively, leased lines from other service providers that are not used to capacity are equally suited for webcasting. In either case, the fixed costs per pipe remain constant, regardless of how much content is pushed or cast through the network.
>From the infrastructure perspective of software and hardware, one tested solution that often works well is a PCN PointCast network of servers, running on an NT server. One example is the Compaq Proliant connected to the intranet or Internet with TCP/IP and a series of Cisco routers and switches, which perform important networking functions at the network edges.
The customer only needs to have a Web browser such as one from Netscape or Microsoft to participate in the webcasting solution. The customer simply downloads the PCN client to the desktop browser of choice and can immediately begin accessing the webcasting service with no extra training required.
The PCN server consolidates the information and sends it to the PCN client's interactive program and screen savers, which present the information to the customer. The PCN server uses push technology through a caching manager that consolidates information from multiple content servers and then pushes only the information requested by the specific client, significantly reducing the required bandwidth (Figure 1).
The meeting place Intranet multicasting-a value-added version of multicasting technology-is the live, simultaneous streaming of audio and video over a network infrastructure to an unlimited number of recipients (Figure 2). Not unlike webcasting, the infrastructure of choice is a multi-tier client server with wide area and backbone connections. As with webcasting, the key is intelligent use of existing bandwidth.
Multicasting is a great way to provide subscribers with another value-based communications solution that enhances the business model of interactivity and special-purpose communications.
Examples of value-added multicasting include on-line meetings and conferences, on-line training, global chat and special events production, workflow, and collaborative team development efforts (Figure 3). In short, it is any business service that relies on simultaneous communication of sound and image to large groups of people at low cost, with the added benefit of two-way interaction.
>From the consumer perspective, intranet multicasting provides a communications service supporting any community that needs to interactively and cost-effectively share information-regardless of where the community's members are located.
Examples of a consumer multicasting service include special-interest group conferences, interactive issue resolution, coverage of news and current events related to the special interest group, coverage of and participation in musical events, and even participation in on-line shopping or auctions.
Multicasting is all about efficiency and conserving resources, from bandwidth to server space. Multicasting harnesses the power of one highly efficient stream of audio and video content-one path that any number of users can use. Compare this with streaming video, which requires enough bandwidth or paths for every user who wants to get the information.
For example, instead of using a series of cables connecting each individual to the power plant (streaming video), a power company could employ a series of connections to each subscriber off the main power cable (multicasting).
>From a service provider, carrier or ISP perspective, multicasting is a great solution that requires only three technology pieces: network infrastructure, network transport and client/server software.
The network infrastructure consists of routers and switches that send the multicasting stream to the appropriate addresses-typically a type of router called a multicasting-enabled router that interprets the transmission as a single data stream, or a router or switch capable of performing multicast tunneling.
The network transport can take a variety of forms-including point-to-point, frame relay, ISDN, or in the case of larger service providers, ATM. Alternatively, service providers can use the existing multicast backbone, in which everything already connects to everything else.
Last is the actual client/server component. A powerful solution that fits the bill is available from RealNetworks Inc. (formerly Progressive Networks) and includes the multicast server software used by service providers to host and broadcast multicast content as well as the client software, which is a network plug-in to most standard browsers.
The entrepreneurial equation Not unlike most Web-based business models, the money is made in hosting content and providing a service to large communities of interest.
Suppose an ISP wants to extend its subscriber base to a local university to support distance learning. Because the number of subscribers who use multicasting does not effect the cost of running the service, the ISP has to charge only for the content hosted on the multicast server-in essence "leasing" the server to the university at a nice profit.
The ISP provides the plug-in client software for free as part of the value-added service and harnesses whatever transport speed is up and running, from as low as 128 kb/s to ATM speeds in the megabit and OCM class.
And just as important, multicasting server software requires no high-end platforms; a simple 486 PC will do. The return on investment is significant. For example, using a return-on-investment "multicast calculator," networkMCIservices estimates that multicasting alternatives to large group meetings will save the company more than $1 million in travel this year alone.
By using a calculator of this kind, service providers can input data for a series of standard variables and calculate the savings for a business or group-a nice marketing tip when selling a multicasting service to a corporate or business client.
A company saves on per person meeting costs such as per diem allowances, transportation, lodging and meals by hosting meetings over the intranet from the individual desktop. Business events, conventions, auctions, meetings and educational programs hosted via multicasting don't require travel and allow people to stay at their desktops and participate in only those presentations that are relevant to their business.
Intelligent bandwidth management is the key to entrepreneurial success. More business models will undoubtedly take advantage of the diverse content available to anyone with a network connection and a desktop computer to offer products and services around the clock worldwide.
But as we have seen, one of the tricks to adding real value to Web, Internet and intranet services is ensuring that the business equation works. And for carriers of all sizes and flavors, this means intelligent bandwidth management, cost-effective use of existing infrastructure resources such as servers and computers, and an enhanced capabilities portfolio. Webcasting and intranet multicasting fit the bill.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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