Gone are the days of physical data transmission with paper “hard” copies, floppy disks, compact disks, or any other storage media. Data transmission via the Internet, ranging from plain text to multi-media, is now routine. Contemporary orthodontic practice requirements integrate well with what technology has to offer. Whether it is interacting with a colleague through text, voice, or video; transferring patient records to distant locations; or submitting manuscripts to journals, the Internet is sculpting the contemporary orthodontic visage. This article describes various modalities of Internet communication, from the humble e-mail to real-time video interactions.
The Internet’s origin during the Cold War did not prophesy its unfolding into a silicon behemoth. Authors have previously discussed the origins, terminology, and orthodontic resources of the Internet.
The Internet has eased communications between distant locations and time zones. To the orthodontic specialty, this means reliable dissemination of information; electronic patient communication and appointment scheduling; patient referrals to colleagues and transfer of their records; online diagnostic analysis, backup, and retrieval; manuscript submissions to journals; distant learning through webinars; real-time interactions without the physical presence of faculty; and much more.
Modes of communication with the Internet include the following ( Fig ): (1) e-mail (electronic mail) based on simple mail transfer protocol, (2) file transfer protocol (FTP), (3) hyper-text transfer protocol (HTTP) file transfer, (4) remote frame buffer (RFB) protocol and virtual network computing, (5) voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP)-session initiation protocol (SIP), (6) video-teleconferencing/videoconferencing-SIP based, and (7) Web conferencing.
E-mail has become standard mail, with land mail now often dubbed “snail mail.” Instant data transmission has become the standard in every field, including orthodontics. The Internet is an effective platform transcending all dimensions—space, time, and matter. This form of communication is effective for exchanging information, especially text with colleagues, peers, and consultants; manuscript transactions; and leisure uses, to name only a few. The maximum size for an e-mail ranges from 10 to 20 megabytes, depending on the service provider. Simple mail transfer protocol is the current Internet standard for e-mail transmission across internet protocol (IP) networks.
File sizes can easily exceed the limits of simple mail transfer protocol. In these cases, FTP and HTTP file transfers are required.
FTP is a standard network protocol used to exchange and manipulate files over an IP computer network. FTP is built on client server architecture and uses separate control and data connections between the client and server applications. Graphical user interfaces have been developed for all desktop operating systems in use today.
FTP allows transmission of much larger files. The process typically involves the acquisition of a “user account” on an FTP server, either free or paid, after which the user can upload files onto the server. Once a file is uploaded, it is available for download worldwide to anyone with the proper access information. Some free FTP servers, such as www.drivehq.com/FTP , provide 1 gigabyte of space and allow maximum file sizes of 100 megabytes. FTP requires special client software such as Cute FTP (Globalscape, San Antonio, Tex) or Smart FTP (SmartSoft, Victoria, Seychelles). The process can challenge the novice user, even in the current era of user-friendly operating systems. FTP was a popular protocol a decade ago but is used now mostly for special applications, such as Web page content upload.
HTTP file transfer is akin to FTP, except that it is browser based (Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash; Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Foundation, Mountain View, Calif) and runs on the World Wide Web (www) platform, the predominant platform today because of its user friendliness and graphical user interface. Many Web sites provide a simple way to use the data upload service, both free and paid ( www.rapidshare.com , www.mediafire.com , www.adrive.com , and www.sendthisfile.com ). The user can choose to protect the file with a password or make it open access. Uploaded files are available for download all over the Internet any number of times and can serve multiple downloaders at the same. The standard procedure requires the uploader to distribute the link to download the file via e-mail, message boards, Web sites, or another form of communication. Some file servers allow the user to place the file in a searchable database.
RFB protocol enables remote access to graphical interfaces. Along with virtual network computing, it forms the heart of applications such as Team Viewer and Dynagate (both, TeamViewer, Göppingen, Germany) that enable real-time file transfer. Team Viewer establishes true virtual private network encrypted connection, enabling direct high-speed file transmission from 1 user to another (point to point) without an intervening file server. Team Viewer was originally developed to provide offsite troubleshooting support to clients, so that the support personnel could view and manipulate the client’s desktop over the Internet. Using applications like these built on the RFB and virtual network computing protocol, one could share a Powerpoint (Microsoft) presentation, Web browser, or any other application over many monitors linked together via the Internet. This is the basis of Web conferencing: the ability to share content over the Internet with many participating clients. Files can also be transferred through the popular instant messaging clients such as Yahoo Messenger (Yahoo, Sunnyvale, Calif), Google Talk (Google, Mountain View, Calif), or Skype (Skype Technologies, Luxembourg, Luxembourg) by using the same protocol.
VoIP or IP telephony, as it is popularly known, is based on a simple method of converting analog signals (eg, sound waves) into digital packets before they are transmitted over the Internet. Soft phones (VoIP software running on a computer) are free to use for computer-to-computer calling anywhere in the Internet-connected world. They can also be used to call conventional phones (land lines and cell phones) at nominal prices. Other endpoints for using the VoIP protocol such as analog telephone adapter and IP phones have been previously described. These phones do not require an intervening computer to process the call and can be used like standard public switched telephone network land phones. Wi-Fi phones are also available that use VoIP when a wireless signal is available. Applications such as Fring (Boaz Zilberman, Ramat Asharon, Israel) enable Symbian (Symbian, London, United Kingdom) and Windows (Microsoft) Smart cell phones to do the same when connected to a Wi-Fi network, enabling cross-platform connectivity with other VoIP and instant messaging clients.
Video-teleconferencing and videoconferencing are interactive telecommunication technologies that allow 2 or more locations to interact with 2-way video and audio transmissions simultaneously. The simplest videoconferencing system is point to point, suitable for individual use at home or in a private orthodontic office; it uses inexpensive equipment, such as a personal computer, a Web camera, software ( Table I ), and a high-speed Internet connection. This technology is shaping the future, enabling interactions among colleagues discussing cases, and pioneering ways for interactive seminar instruction in orthodontic residency programs, taking computer-assisted learning to a new level.