London University is a collegiate University with colleges spread over the Greater London area ranging from Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (RHBNC) at Egham (South-West London) to The Whittington Hospital at the Archway in North London and Queen Mary & Westfield College in the East.
By the mid 1980's the colleges of the University were offering students access to courses based in schools other than the one where they were enrolled. Although this increased the range of subjects each College could offer, it required the students to travel across London to attend classes. An administrative nightmare ensued. The time tabling of classes in order to allow the students to travel between sites significantly reduced the time available to attend class.
An interactive video link provided the solution, and research in partnership with British Telecom (BT) followed. The system was based on the technology that BT had developed for the switched star cable television network that was at the time being installed in the City of Westminster.
The system consisted of a star network connecting seven University locations with a video crosspoint switch located in Senate House. Video switching was also provided at some of the remote sites so the network could be extended locally. Connection between the remote sites and the hub was provided by fibre optic cables which carried four near broadcast quality analogue signals and a fifth data channel. Control of the system was provided by a computer located at the hub of the network in Senate House. [Figure 1]
The Westminster cable system used multi-mode fibre operating at 850nm which had an attenuation of 3.5dB/km and a bandwidth of greater than 600Mhz/km. This enabled a transmission distance of 4km to be achieved before the picture quality degraded. Whilst this was acceptable for the shorter links the links to Imperial College, Queen Mary and Westfield College and Royal Holloway and Bedford New College used monomode fibres at 1300nm. The longest link, 42km to QMW used a repeater at 25km. The longest possible link using this technology was quoted as ~70km.
It was originally envisioned that LIVE-NET would be used mainly for teaching science courses. Whilst LIVE-NET was (and still is) used for teaching postgraduate theoretical physics the system tends to be heavily used for teaching arts and medicine.
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