February 15th, 2019
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02/28/2003 - Pilot Project Launched For New VP Net

At its first meeting, Jan 23rd, the newly formed Virtual Possibilities (VP) Workgroup authorized a pilot project to test, and help develop, both the new VP Net and the machinery for officially approving future VP Net projects. The pilot project, coordinated by EWU computer science professor Steve Simmons, will be the first to use the newly available optical fiber network, which was donated by Avista Corp and Columbia Fiber Solutions on November 26th, 2002. The pilot project will create a network link between a room in the SIRTI building and a room on the Whitworth College campus in north Spokane.

The first activity will be basic videoconferencing, utilizing the H.323 video communications standard over Internet Protocol (IP). Then, according to Simmons, “We want to move up the ladder of network videoconferencing, starting at the lower rungs with a few display zones and limited audio. We don’t know yet how many rungs we will be able to climb, or how soon.” "However," adds Simmons, "even the first levels will allow an initial test of the concept for an Inland Northwest Digital University (INDU) using the two rooms allocated to the pilot project."

Seminars in cyber security will be carried as test content on the newly forged network link, enabling seminar participants from EWU, Gonzaga, WSU and Community Colleges of Spokane to participate at the SIRTI location, while Whitworth faculty and network staff participate at the Whitworth location. In addition, local companies interested in cyber security will be able to attend the seminars at the location closest to their headquarters.

Simmons and several university colleagues will seek to advance the INDU pilot project by climbing the ladder of multimedia communications “as fast as possible.” Funding will be sought from federal and state sources for advanced equipment and university research efforts. “At the top range of multimedia communications is the potential to provide a model for a new, fourth generation, form of electronic distance learning, nicknamed ‘4G-DL’,” says Simmons. The fourth generation target is having a completely natural classroom experience presented at a distance, using gigabit MAN technology --- so convincing that all participants at the receiving end classroom would feel they are in a real, live classroom with a real live teacher. This will require far more elaborate video, audio, data transmission and bandwidth than do previous generations of distance learning. But luckily, the bandwidth available on VP Net is ‘truly formidable’ according to Simmons, who says, “In principle, we could have throughputs of up to 200 gigabits per second, depending on the equipment the VP Technical Group selects for VP Net operations.”

For purposes of the INDU pilot project, only 400 to 500 megabits per second needs to be allocated on the VP Net for even the most ambitious test operations. This, according to Simmons initial calculations, will support 10 high quality video streams, and several other streams, including high quality audio and support for disabilities, such as closed captioning. This in turn will allow all four walls of the rooms at each end of the SIRTI to Whitworth connection to be entirely covered by large, life size, video images, giving a very natural feel to the seminar experience.

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