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CES 2012: ng Connect promotes new uses for broadband

January 12, 2012 |  8:24 am

Striker_Front

Broadband speeds have increased steadily in the United States, reaching an average of 5.8 Mbps in mid-2011. That's 50% faster than in mid-2009, and it's likely to keep going up. But aside from streaming movies and doing video chats on Skype, what will people do with all that bandwidth?

Alcatel-Lucent, a leading supplier of networking gear to telecommunications companies, is trying to give the public and broadband service providers a better idea of what connectivity can deliver. Just as important, it's trying to show DSL and cable-modem providers how they could offer new services, giving them more ability and incentive to invest in higher-capacity networks -- and less incentive to cap their customers' usage or bill them by the gigabyte.

It's doing so through an inter-industry coalition it founded called ng Connect, which brings high-tech companies together to brainstorm and combine their technologies into new service concepts. It's been showing off some of those ideas  this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including new approaches to television, fitness, public safety, shopping and healthcare.

On Monday the coalition announced that it had expanded to more than 125 members. New additions include Fitting Reality, whose software creates virtual dressing rooms for retailers; MetaWatch, whose wireless watches can display Web data and alerts from the wearer's smartphone; and Zephyr Technology, which specializes in remote body- and health-monitoring.

The demonstrations at CES included some familiar concepts, such as using a smartphone in a store to gather more information about the products displayed there, or continuously connecting service and public-safety vehicles to all sorts of information sources and devices (see the "Striker" concept vehicle above). But there were also some intriguing new mash-ups of capabilities on display.

For example, there was a prototype of a table for bars or restaurants that combined Microsoft's Surface computing technology, Brass Monkey's cloud-based games, streaming video and advertising, and 4G wireless broadband. And the "Avatrainer" demo combined a fitness game with wireless heart-rate monitors into a cloud-based service that enables travelers to keep track of their workouts away from home.

Jason Collins, an Alcatel-Lucent vice president who leads ng Connect, said the point of the coalition is to help tech companies combine their specialties into services that improve the experience for broadband users. It's also to help broadband providers "become part of the value equation" of the services made possible by their networks.

The demand for what's already available through broadband is ever-increasing. The question is how telecommunications companies will afford the investments needed to keep up with that demand. Obviously, Alcatel-Lucent wants service providers to expand their capacity by buying more of the company's gear. But its interests -- and ng Connect's -- are aligned with consumers' when it comes to finding alternatives to bandwidth caps, metered pricing and similar strategies that broadband providers have been exploring.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: The Striker concept public-safety vehicle. Credit: Alcatel-Lucent

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