The Broadband Phone

Using the Broadband Phone was child's play

I started the Broadband Phone project in early 1999, with Andy Fisher. That was great fun! It was fast-moving, became high-profile within AT&T, and got lots of attention. People like gadgets.

The Broadband Phone was a VOIP phone combined with a thin client - actually a VNC viewer with a touch screen built around a custom Linux ARM-based board. There was a server - an ordinary Dell PC also running Linux - which was the SIP proxy and also provided all the pixels for the user interface. It ran about 100 phones in the end, I think, and was the main internal phone system for the lab.

This was in the days before Asterisk and FreeSwitch, so we had to write our own SIP stack. And we wanted the graphics to be really snappy, so we created a GUI toolkit where all of the widgets knew how to render themselves directly into VNC; they generally never went via a conventional framebuffer. It was a wonderful system, and a great opportunity to create a new and unusual platform from scratch. Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can still see my original website for the project.

There was a significant effort to spin this project off as a new company called Telescopix but, sadly, this was 2001, and creating technology startups had suddenly become exceedingly difficult!

No official video was ever made of the system, but I recorded an informal demo at one point:

Here’s an MPEG4 version you can download.

Now, I imagine, most of the hardware is buried in some enormous AT&T warehouse somewhere. You remember the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?

More pictures of the Broadband Phone development can be found in my Flickr account. Here’s a slideshow.

And here’s a handout used at the Royal Society demo.

Broadband Phone - sketching

Broadband Phone - sketching