Site: Association for Promotion of New Generation Services
Kyoto Experimental Center
2-2 Hikaridai, Seika-cho, Souraku-gun
Kyoto 619-02, Japan
Date Visited: May 22, 1995
Report Author: R. Kraut
J. Foley E. Glinert
The mission of the Association for the Promotion of New Generation Services (PNGS) is to run a field trial of broadband telecommunications network services to the home. The Pilot Model Project for New Generation Communications Network is providing 31-channel cable TV (including two high-definition channels); video on demand; image-based information services including department-store catalogs and transportation information; video game delivery; and video telephony. The project has planned other broadband services as well, including distance education and home karaoke, and wireless residential telecommunications services, including cellular telephone and FM paging services.
The project is funded at a total cost of approximately ¥10 billion (or ~$100 million). Facilities include a new building housing head-end equipment, a video juke box, a high-definition video production studio, a demonstration area, and transmission equipment. Home equipment includes a high-definition television (HDTV), a Sega video game, a VCR, and an Optical Network Unit for converting optical and electrical signals. The project is funded approximately 70% by the Communications Research Laboratory of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, by NTT, and by a large number of information providers (e.g., Sega) and telecommunications equipment providers (e.g., AT&T Japan).
The trial connects 300 CATV subscribers in the Seika-Nishikizu area with optical fiber to the home. The trial started in July 1994 and is scheduled to continue for three years. The trial has the dual goals of learning (1) how to handle the technological and operational challenges of offering broadband services to the home, and (2) what consumers want in terms of services and interfaces. The market questions are answered through semiannual surveys to participants in the trial, focus groups, and on-line monitoring of service usage.
The videotelephony service uses an 128 kbps ISDN phone, with up to 15 frames per second. The videotelephony service allows up to five people to be bridged into a single conversation. The approximately 3 inch by 5 inch image is jerky, and because of the video compression used, both video and audio are delayed between 500-1,000 milliseconds. As with most relatively low-bandwidth videophones, because of both video jerkiness and audio delay, telecommunications quality over the videophone is poorer than it would be over a conventional audio-only telephone.
The human interface to the video on demand and information services is primarily menu driven. For example, finding an article of clothing in one of the home-shopping catalogs requires traversing a hierarchical menu system; one cannot simply search for the category "shirts" or "socks." Similarly, finding a particular movie requires traversing menus items such as "American films" or "hobbies." This style of interface may be suitable for the relatively small number of information items available on the trial, but would be inappropriate as the only interface for a national service, with large numbers of movies and other information objects available. However, the nature of the interface to a commercial service does not appear to be a goal of the research technology and market trials, although this Japanese trial is heavily subsidized by the government.
The Japanese telecommunications industry, like that of the United States, is interested in getting into the video-on-demand business. Like firms in the United States, Japanese firms are conducting technology and market trials, although this Japanese trial is heavily subsidized by the government. It appears that the Association for Promotion of New Generation Services trial is based on obsolete technology, using tape-based, video jukeboxes as the basis for its servers. For example, the current trial does not allow multiple subscribers watch the same movie simultaneously, but with different starting times. At the time of the JTEC visit, they were planning to install a video disk server in the summer of 1995, however. The market trial is hampered by a relatively thin set of services, and it is not clear whether the researchers will learn much about demand given this selection. For example, while home shopping is available as a service, only two large department stores are represented. Users can look through catalogs and see special prices for advertised products, but cannot actually buy products on the network. Instead, they must make a toll-free telephone call. Participants can download from a library of 30 Sega games, but none of the games are multiplayer games, in which participants can play against other players on the network. Similarly, the video-on-demand inventory consists of about 300 tapes per month. While the tapes available change, they come from only a restricted set of distributors and, for example, do not include many the hot titles available at the local video rental store or the rental store's backlist. Video-on-demand usage is light -- about five titles per household per month -- and the project has never had all of its 30 tape machines in use at once.
JTEC's hosts commented after the visit that the PNGS trial has the primary objective of investigating cost-effectiveness and regulations related to the eventual implementation of broadcast and telecommunications integrated services. The trial has been started as an analog service. Because of the delay in software development, more time is needed to introduce a "perfect digital system," according to the PNGS representatives, who noted that broadband fiber service trials in the United States have also experienced delays due to technical issues. PNGS representatives planned to demonstrate a new digital system at the APEC conference in Osaka in November 1995.
Association for the Promotion of New Generation Network Services. (1994). Pilot model project for new generation communications network (brochure).
Weber, L. 1995. Japan's B-ISDN and fiber-to the-home projects in Kansai Science City. Tokyo Office, U.S. National Science Foundation. Report Memorandum 95-11.