ADSL supplies low-cost links to Syracuse

ADSL supplies low-cost links to Syracuse

City makes services available through desktop videoconferencing pilot

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

Social service providers in Syracuse, N.Y., are holding desktop videoconferences thanks to some funding, foresight and a little faith in asymmetric digital subscriber line technology.

The Onondaga County Social Services Department is one of 12 government, education and health care organizations participating in the Video Testbed Project trial, which will test the viability of videoconferencing over ADSL lines.

Twelve Syracuse organizations are linking via Bell Atlantic ADSL lines through MetroNet, which eventually will connect schools, small businesses and government agencies.

Department employees are holding Medicaid eligibility interviews with patients at the State University of New York Health Sciences Center. The setup satisfies a state face-to-face interview requirement, and it's especially useful for less-mobile elderly patients who are often discharged directly into nursing homes, department commissioner David Sutkowy said.

Make it easy

'It's a complete inconvenience for them to make an appointment with Social Services and come to the Civic Center to apply for Medicaid,' he said.

Sutkowy also plans to have staff conduct online welfare eligibility interviews with applicants at community centers with translators and familiar faces.

The test bed is a part of the larger Syracuse MetroNet project. MetroNet aims to build a broadband IP network supporting community agencies, schools, nonprofits and small businesses, said Wayne Miner, associate director of Syracuse University's Community and Information Technology Institute (CITI).

About 150 organizations have joined the MetroNet consortium. The group in 1997 received $3.5 million from a state program that had earmarked $50 million in legal settlement funds from Bell Atlantic Corp., then Nynex Co., to build telecommunications infrastructures in economically disadvantaged communities.

CITI director Murali Venkatesh chairs the MetroNet Technology Committee. ADSL was pretty new three years ago, but he and Bell Atlantic saw its potential for the program.

'We wanted to make sure that the solutions that were proposed were affordable by those human services agencies that don't have a lot of money,' Venkatesh said.

The MetroNet grant funds certain equipment purchases but not monthly access charges, so participants foot the bill for telecom connections.

Recent launch

Since 1997, the team has held three demonstrations of video applications tapping ADSL. The demos piqued the interest of consortium members, and MetroNet launched the Video Testbed Project in February.

Test bed user PCs sport the SmartStation desktop setup from VTel Corp. of Austin, Texas, which includes a coder-decoder, a camera, speakers, a microphone and software. The software provides full-frame videoconferencing at 24 frames per second, which is close to TV quality, Miner said.

Also on the network are multipoint conferencing units and gateways from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and Ezenia Inc. of Burlington, Mass. Cisco is also supplying a router.

The 12 trial participants are linked in a star topography through Bell Atlantic's highest ADSL service level. Participants will initially link up through ADSL modems from Westel Inc. of Austin, at 2.2 Mbps upstream and 1.1 Mbps downstream, but they will soon switch to modems from Alcatel of Paris that support 7 Mbps downstream and 680 Kbps upstream.

Less than ATM

The highest service level available is necessary for simultaneous video, Internet and telephone service, Venkatesh said. A connection goes for about $109 per month.

'That's significantly cheaper than T1 and asynchronous transfer mode,' said Venkatesh, who said the price will likely drop.

The technology isn't perfect:

' The bandwidth is more limited than that of more expensive technologies.

' ADSL doesn't travel well over long distances, so users must be within three miles of a service center. Two-thirds of U.S. residences and businesses qualify, according to Bell Atlantic.

' Because DSL originally caught on as a high-speed Internet technology, providers primarily support point-to-point connectivity rather than the robust multipoint connectivity videoconferencing requires.

' ADSL doesn't ensure quality of service. A 640-Kbps optimal-rate line can run lower depending on factors such as line condition and noise.

Even so, ADSL gives the most bang for the buck, and the technology is evolving. It's a question of time before providers achieve multipoint connectivity and guaranteed quality of service, Venkatesh said.

MetroNet will ultimately encompass a variety of technologies, including ATM, depending on user choices and funding. In the end, the consortium's goal is to boost the local economy as the diffusion grant intended.

'The idea is that when you have multilayered open architectures, many service providers can come in, so it opens up the business development possibilities in these communities,' he said.


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