Innovations in information technology are succeeding each other and being diffused throughout the economy so rapidly that experts now speak of the "information revolution." The convergence of computer and communications technologies has created powerful systems with vast capabilities for computation, analysis and access to enormous amounts of information. Because of our achievements in telecommunications and microelectronics, Canada has a unique opportunity to benefit from the information revolution.
New information technologies are receiving increasing emphasis in the department's research and development efforts. Research programs also contribute to the orderly and efficient development of telecommunications networks and services and support the department's mandate to improve and extend utilization of the radio frequency spectrum.
While much of the research is carried out in-house, the department contracts out a portion of its research needs. Contracts awarded to universities encourage the development of academic centres of excellence. Industrial contracts allow for the transfer of technology, strengthening the innovative powers and the competitiveness of Canadian industry.
In addition to its own activities, the department carries out for the Department of National Defence, various research projects and provides advisory services in support of military communications systems. The department is also a source of expertise for other departments such as the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The department undertakes a number of programs to help keep Canada and Canadian industry in the forefront of new and rapidly developing information technologies. A main activity during the fiscal year has been in programs related to Telidon, the Canadian videotex system. Canada has an obvious interest in promoting Telidon as an international videotex standard. In November 1980, Telidon was accepted as one of three world videotex standards by the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee, the UN agency responsible for setting international telecommunications standards.
Other work includes research on coding schemes to allow for all-digital television and investigation into innovative display technologies, terminal equipment and storage media. Longer term research and development focusses on computer hardware and software tools relating to image-based interpersonal communications.
Developed in the department's research laboratories and publicly introduced in 1978, Telidon is an interactive visual communication system which permits public access to computer-based information sources. Known generically as videotex, this type of system allows home users to call up written or graphic information for display on their TV sets. The Canadian Telidon is considered technically superior to other videotex systems, in that its unique system for coding information allows high resolution images to be obtained using low bandwidth communications systems such as telephone lines.
In February 1981, the government announced it would invest a further $27.5 million in the Telidon program over the next two years to ensure the existence of a commercially viable videotex industry in Canada with a capability to compete in export markets. This investment is expected to lead to the installation of 12,000 Telidon terminals by 1982.
Increased federal funding will be used for the following activities:
- purchase by the government of about 6,000 Telidon terminals to be loaned to industry for use in operating systems or trials;
- product research and development to reduce the price and expand the capabilities of the Telidon equipment, for example, by completing development of low-cost, very large scale integrated Telidon terminals;
- support for important national and international Telidon systems, including a national broadcast teletext service in both official languages;
- support for market development and standards; and
- support for public interest initiatives to permit disadvantaged groups minorities and consumer organizations to exploit Telidon's potential.
Since the Department of Communications unveiled its Telidon technology in August 1978, numerous field trials and pilot projects have been announced, involving broadcasters, telephone companies, cable television firms, manufacturers and various information provider organizations. These trials are taking place both in Canada and in the United States. Field trials across Canada are being coordinated by the Canadian Videotex Consultative Committee, set up in 1979 to advise the deputy minister on the evolution of videotex in Canada. The committee held four meetings during the period under review.
The Canadian government's Task Force on Service to the Public will use Telidon as part of a nation-wide program to provide the public with improved access to government information and services. Telidon will be incorporated into most of the service bureaus to be set up in this pilot project, to test its use in providing government information. A preliminary data base has been created by pulling together a broad cross-section of information from major departments and agencies.
A major foreign sale was made in July 1980 to the government of Venezuela. Telidon is being used to provide information on health, social and economic aid programs to the vast numbers of people moving into Caracas from rural areas.
Canada's first commercial Telidon service was to go into operation in southern Manitoba in April 1981. Project Grassroots will offer farmers access to 20,000 pages of specialized information.
The department continued its promotional efforts during the year to increase the level of public awareness of Telidon. Some 400 demonstrations were put on for small groups of individuals in the department's regional offices and at headquarters. On a larger scale, representatives of the department gave approximately 100 public lectures or continuous demonstrations at exhibitions in Canada, in addition to international demonstrations and marketing tours.
One of the department's main objectives in the Telidon program is to encourage the development of an industry capable of producing and marketing Telidon hardware, software and services. Since 1978, five Canadian companies have started manufacturing a basic range of Telidon hardware and software. As well, Telidon has attracted more than 40 potential information providers.
In March 1981, the department published a report on Telidon information providers. The report gives an overview of the videotex field trials to be conducted in Canada within the next few years and reviews the roles and activities of information provider organizations as well as the costs and constraints they face.
A critical factor in the acceptance of videotex is the availability of well-indexed information. For this reason, the department carried out behavioral research during the year on the effectiveness of hierarchical or tree-structured indexes.
Meanwhile, the department is continuing its research to improve and enhance Telidon technology. Extensions are already in preparation for multi-mode interpersonal communications, a generalized photographic mode, picture manipulation instructions to turn each terminal into an information provider terminal, synthesized voice and audio output, and a generalized telesoftware language capability.
Both software and hardware are being developed to turn the powerful computing ability of the Telidon terminal into the main element of a flexible home or office computing system. In the not too distant future, a Telidon user will be able to receive complete computer programs down-loaded onto his own terminal, then disconnected from the host computer and operate independently. This holds particular promise for computer aided learning, video games or calculations such as income tax.
Software is also being developed to allow direct access to mainframe computers by means of the Telidon network.
Reprinted courtesy of the Department of Communications Annual Report 1980-81