A look at the 10 technologies that are keys to our digital age. Without realizing it, you've probably used at least one of them already today -- if not all. But whether you're aware of them or not, without these technologies our world would be a very different place. Here's two: High-speed net access -- Where would we be without fast Internet access? It's easy to forget that just 10 years ago, most of us were still using ordinary modems. The broadband revolution ushered in streaming video, MP3 downloads, Internet phone calls, and multiplayer online gaming. And we owe it all to TV. In the 1980s, cable companies were promising 500 channels of round-the-clock programming. Cable was poised to become the most important wire into the house; but the telephone companies had an ace up their sleeve. A new technology could push high-frequency signals over ordinary phone lines, which previously had been good only for low-bandwidth voice calls. The telephone companies saw this as an opportunity to offer video on demand and to compete with the cable companies at their own game. Or so they thought. The plans of the telcos for video on demand dried up by the mid-1990s, but the technology remained. Now called DSL, it had morphed into a high-speed household on-ramp to the Internet. The cable companies followed suit with a comparable technology, and the broadband speed race--for both DSL and cable -- began in earnest. Both cable and DSL still use traditional frequency signaling over copper wires, but new breakthroughs are poised to go mainstream. Fiber to the premises (FTTP) promises lightning-fast network speeds, and WiMax will push broadband into territories that wires can't reach today. As for what applications this next broadband revolution will bring -- well, we have only begun to imagine.
Voice over IP (VoIP) -- You've made a few Skype calls and you've looked into digital phone service from your broadband provider, but that's as close as you've gotten to VoIP technology. Or so you think. In truth, VoIP is revolutionizing the telecom industry, blurring the lines between voice calls and digital networks. Those prepaid calling cards that offer rock-bottom international rates? VoIP makes them possible. Similarly, a growing number of businesses use VoIP behind the scenes to eliminate long-distance charges between branch offices. Routing calls over the Internet circumvents traditional telephone company charges, and fewer fees and taxes mean lower prices. Digital calls are easier to direct and manage, which makes them attractive even to traditional telephone companies. Don't be surprised if soon the landline you've lived with forever is replaced by an all-digital alternative--though you'll likely be none the wiser.
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