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FWD Goes Nova!

Back On December 22nd FWDs Dan Berninger sent out the following e-mail:

Dear FWD Member,

You are invited to participate in the next FWD HD trial starting January 1, 2010.

We have room for 100 participants in the trial which tests a web like model (the Nova) for enabling HD communications.

The blog post attached below describes the Nova concept and motivation for the trial.

Please fill-out the application at

Participation in the trial requires a $100 USD setup fee.

High definition represents the next frontier for communications.

First generation high definition offers twice the sound of standard definition devices and delivers nuances associated with the emotional content of speech.

We will notify you of acceptance via email within 24 hours and start a waiting list after filling the available slots.

The trial will explore the use of the Nova as a business collaboration tool, as a means for families to stay in touch, and as a shared space for live events.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

The email references his post as a guest on Jeff Pulver’s blog. In that post entitled, “FWD Nova Trial: HD Communications via a Web Model” he outlines the idea of the “Nova.”

This email was also noted elsewhere. It raised some eyebrows amongst folks in the Broadband Reports VoIP Forum.

Ever curious, I joined Dan in his personal Nova on Monday to get a little more insight into the FWD Nova experiment.

The Nova experiment is intended to question some of the presumptions commonly associated with the use of a telephone;

  • A phone call is a one-to-one communication path
  • A phone call interrupts what you are doing
  • A phone call can be better than PSTN (G.711) audio quality
  • There’s no cost per connection or relating to distance, only a price on the Nova itself

It seems that he’s trying to start breaking some habits with respect to phone calls. The idea is that you would have a Nova, which is really just a wideband conference bridge. When you’ve availaible to chat you’d log in and just kinda hang out there as you went about your day. If anyone needed to contact you they’d connect and have a chat, come and go as they pleased. It would not cost either of you anything, just like visiting a web site has no specific cost.

Dan feels that this sort of interaction has an inherent kind of “presence” capability. You give out your Nova contact details and not your specific contact details. You then connect to the Nove by whatever means convenient at the moment. Therefore there is a level of abstraction to the addressing scheme. You never have to worry about someone calling you and an inopportune moment, as they never call you directly.

ZipDX is hosting the Nova experiment on their conference bridge. We’ve used ZipDX to host the VoIP Users Conference calls regularly for almost a year. It’s an outstanding service.

The experiment aims to support SIP hard phones using G.722 wideband, and presumably a good speakerphone capability. To be on such a persistent call a proper conference phone from the likes of Konftel, Polycom, or snom might be a good idea.

While our conversation on Monday was brief, it reminded me of a story that Digium’s John Todd once told about using an old PictureTel video conference system to stand-in for him at his office on days when he worked from home. As he tells the story, after a few days of having the system setup coworkers were treating it like him, drifting into his office to chat…even thought he wasn’t actually there.

People became comfortable interacting over the audio/video link. The depth of the comfort, and the rate at which its achieved, varies with the degree to which the technology simply gets out of the way. If the image quality is good, and the audio quality very clear then it functions as a natural, unrestricted channel for inter-personal communication.

Dan’s description of the Nova reminds me mostly of the Vivox Voice Chat application for Facebook. It’s a persistent conference bridge, in wideband, albeit Siren 14 vs G.722. The big difference is that Vivox provides the phone as a Java download into the browser. All the the user needs to provide is rudimentary mic & speakers or a headset.

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