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Originating publication
July 01, 1996, Issue: 617
Section: Top Of The News
Emerging Technologies -- Car Pooling on the Internet
Evan Schuman

East Lansing, Mich. Little in this university town is not affected by the automotive industry. So it might seem ironic that a pre-press business is pushing the use of cable modems to reduce time and money spent on automotive transportation.

But that's precisely one of the main advantages seen by William Ray, president of Group InfoTech, who is using cable modems as an alternative not to T1 lines or ISDN, but rather to overnight delivery services and to clients driving artwork to and from InfoTech's headquarters here. InfoTech creates glossy brochures and advertisements for a mostly local client base.

"When [clients] come over, they've wasted that time," Ray says. "It's much easier if they can just stay in their office and drag 'n drop."

InfoTech's cable modem application, made possible under a test being conducted by Tele-Communications Inc., Englewood, Colo., using LANCity modems, uses the Internet as the connection medium between cable modems installed at InfoTech headquarters and a handful of client sites.

The biggest advantage Ray sees for his $15 million, 60-employee business is a leg up against larger but less technologically sophisticated competitors.

"We have a huge film capacity, but we don't have the proximity" to the largest potential clients in advertising centers such as New York or Los Angeles. "But if customers can just send it over the Internet," InfoTech is on a more even competitive footing, he says.

Eliminating a Step

The process of generating and revising art involves several steps, including making images into film. By transferring images over the Internet via cable, "we can eliminate the intermediate step of making and proofing the films" because they are transmitted digitally, he says.

Moreover, the Internet frees InfoTech from the incompatibilities that exist between various cable companies: A lack of standards prevents users in the jurisdiction of one cable company from communicating end to end via cable with users in the jurisdiction of another cable company.

This is why many companies are viewing cable networks as purely for LAN or Metropolitan Area Network deployment. But if a user is willing to use the Internet as its communications network, cable modems will connect sites across the country using the tried-and-true IP protocol.


Use of the Internet to link cable modem sites puts InfoTech in the minority of the early commercial deployment of cable modems, mostly because of speed, security and reliability concerns associated with the Internet. InfoTech weighed these issues, but decided they were secondary when compared to the benefits of potential national use.

As to the speed delays, Ray says his employees' concerns mostly involve moving data into and out of their systems as quickly as possible, which the cable modems do. In between those two steps, whether it's a few seconds or several minutes, doesn't make that much of a difference to InfoTech.

"Fifteen minutes doesn't mean anything. The issue usually is, 'Can we get it done by tomorrow?' " Ray explains. "The issue is days, not hours, and certainly not minutes."

InfoTech connects to the Internet through neighboring Michigan State University, which provides multiple T1s to the Internet backbone. Therefore, throughput can never exceed the 1.544 megabits per second available on a T1 line, despite the cable modems' ability to transmit at raw speeds up to 60 Mbps.

A typical file transmitted by InfoTech is roughly 30 megabytes in size, which takes approximately seven minutes with the current Internet connections, Ray says.

Far more problematic than the available bandwidth is that the university is home to 43,000 faculty and students who have taxed the T1 lines to their limit.

'It's Just Overload'

The Internet connection "wasn't meant to support that many people that quickly. It's just overload," says Mike Holcomb, InfoTech's chief technical-support person, adding that the Internet, in general, is "not highly reliable."

In terms of security, if anything happens to a critical image while it's being sent, the image can easily be re-sent, Ray says. And there are checks in place to prevent alterations from going undetected, he says.

Beyond that, Ray says he has little reason to worry about unauthorized access to data. "We're not doing bank transactions here," he says. "You want to steal a picture of Ronald McDonald? Feel free."

Another concern of using the Internet is reliability. The cable connections in use for the trial in East Lansing are preliminary, making their reliability spotty.

Holcomb, however, takes a pragmatic approach, saying he doesn't get too concerned about periodic outages or unforseen contingencies. "There's not a better alternative," he says. "When it does function, it functions incredibly well."

Copyright 1996 CMP Media Inc.



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