WATPA: FW: The Future of the Internet

From: Norm Jacknis <norm@jacknis.com>
Date: Sat Apr 29 2006 - 23:08:32 EDT


The Future of the Internet

In a decade, the Net will dig deeper into our lives.
April 10, 2006 Issue of Red Herring

Fast-forward 10 years, a decade out from the final deconstruction of the old
order marked by headlines about France’s
&Ticker=ALA> Alcatel sweeping up its last remnant,
&Ticker=LU> Lucent Technologies, AT&T’s old equipment division.

The year is 2016. You’ve just come out of surgery and are being pushed down
the hospital corridor on a gurney toward the recovery room. The nurses know
you are on the way because a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on
your plastic patient identification bracelet automatically generated an
alert to the nursing station.


The doctor doing rounds checks the Internet to monitor your vital signs. As
always, the implants in your body are beaming real-time information about
your brain waves and blood pressure to a protected web site 24/7. Your
daughter, who is on a different continent, is already whispering words of
encouragement into your ear—thanks to an embedded speech processor equipped
with 802.11 wireless technology, TCP/IP communications protocol, and
specialized software that allows sound from the Internet to flow directly
into your cochlea. Using your VOIP-enabled mobile telephone, you tell her
not to worry.


“One expects there to be much more organic connection between people and
technology,” says
&Ticker=GOOG> Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, who is widely
known as one of the “fathers” of the Internet for his role in co-designing
the TCP/IP protocol and the Internet’s architecture.


Crossing the Line

If Mr. Cerf and about two dozen other pundits Red Herring interviewed about
the future of the Internet are right, in 10 years’ time the barriers between
our bodies and the Internet will blur as will those between the real world
and virtual reality.


Automakers, for instance, might conceivably post their parts catalogs in the
virtual world of Second Life, a pixilated 3D online blend of MySpace,
&Ticker=EBAY> eBay, and renaissance fair crossed with a Star Trek
convention. Second Life participants—who own the rights to whatever
intellectual property they create online—will make money both by using the
catalog to design their own cars in cyberspace and by selling their online
designs back to the manufacturers, says Danish economist and tech
entrepreneur Nikolaj Nyholm.


Today’s devices will disappear. Electronics will instead be embedded in our
environment, woven into our clothing, and written directly to our retinas
from eyeglasses and contact lenses, predicts inventor, entrepreneur, author,
and futurist Ray Kurzweil. “Devices will no longer be spokes on the
Internet—they will be the nodes themselves,” he says.


We will know exactly when our children will be dropped off because the
school bus will be connected to the Internet, says Internet doyenne Esther
Dyson. Our cars might one day arrange for repairs at dealerships before we
realize there’s a problem.


Everything from the family fridge to the office coffee pot—as well as
heating, cooling, and security systems—will be managed through the Internet,
possibly using souped-up mobile phones doubling as universal remote
controls, says Google’s Mr. Cerf. By 2016, he predicts the online population
of 1 billion will treble, and a huge portion will be mobile. And by then,
the Internet will become so pervasive that connecting to it will no longer
be a conscious act.


Bandwidth access of 100 megabits per second or more will become the norm.
“It is probably a safe bet that everyone will be able to have a full-motion,
high-definition real-time link to anyone,” says Bram Cohen, creator of the
popular peer-to-peer program BitTorrent. Once that happens, “the concept of
who is online and who is offline will melt away,” says Bradley Horowitz,
Yahoo’s director of media and desktop search.


Taken for Granted

In sum, the Internet “will just become like plumbing, which you won’t notice
unless it backs up,” says Brewster Kahle, inventor of the Wide Area
Information Server, the Internet’s first publishing system, and co-founder
of the Internet Archive, the largest publicly accessible, privately funded
digital archive in the world.


While the technical underpinnings of the Internet are likely to undergo
drastic change, the nature of those changes will be wrought by policy
decisions made by governments with a heightened interest in overseeing the
Internet. When a network is this critical to just about everything, it’s
reasonable to expect that governments will seek tighter control of what
remains today a decentralized and somewhat anarchic system. The trick will
be to preserve the creativity that spawns innovation—and profit—in this more
vital and inevitably more regulated Internet.


No matter what, people will continue to make money from Internet innovation
in a variety of ways.

Targeted advertising will continue to be an important revenue generator, as
will intellectual property distribution, predicts Mr. Cerf. Tools for
content production will evolve to allow for widespread and uniform tagging
of content, significantly improving our ability to use sensor data,
financial information, medical data, text, imagery, video, and audio. And
the semantic web being promoted by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee
will help us better match computer understanding with human understanding of
the world around us, though it will likely be far from perfect.


People will be able to talk to the Internet when searching for information
or interacting with various devices—and it will respond, though not
necessarily in English, which will cease to be the dominant language on the
web, says John Patrick, a founding member of the World Wide Web consortium
and former vice president of Internet technology at
&Ticker=IBM> IBM.


As so-called sensor networks evolve, there will be vastly more machines than
people online. As it is, there are almost 10 billion embedded
micro-controllers shipped every year. “This is the next networking
frontier—following inexorably down from desktops, laptops, and palmtops,
including cell phones,” says Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and
founder of
&Ticker=COMS> 3Com. This is what will make up much of the machine-to-machine
traffic, he says.


Services, Services, Services

RFID tags will be in wider use. So will geo-location services, which can be
used to locate friends, places, and events of interest. Better real-time
language translations will be available, at least for text translations.


Mash-ups won’t be limited to web sites—we’ll see the introduction of
“mashed” real-time web applications. The Internet will further revolutionize
publishing, film, and television. “You will suddenly have a few hundred
thousand producers out to kill each other, competing on the Internet,”
predicts Charles Zhang, founder and CEO of Beijing-based portal Sohu.com.
“You will have instant rankings of the most popular videos,” adds Mr. Zhang,
who reckons China will lead the way in this new form.


Independent management consultant and author John Hagel III sees
opportunities in network infrastructure management and customer relationship
businesses that put together individualized bundles of products and services
and act as trusted advisors.


Search will remain big. Big players will continue to dominate online, says
Paul Saffo, director of the Palo Alto, California-based Institute of the
Future. “The lesson is, if you want to become big you do so by empowering
and enabling lots and lots of small players.” The same way that Google,
&Ticker=AMZN> Amazon, and eBay did, he adds.


So just how big will Internet business be? “My whole thesis is that
information technologies are growing exponentially. Things that we can
measure like price performance, capacity, and bandwidth are doubling every
year so that’s actually a factor of a thousand in 10 years,” says Mr.
Kurzweil. “So if the Internet is already very influential—if there is
already a trillion dollars of e-commerce, already a very democratizing
technology, then multiplying its size and scope by a factor of a thousand
will be a very significant change.”


A Clean Slate

But this assumes that the current Internet, which was never designed to be a
critical part of an economy’s infrastructure, will be able to sustain a
tripling of the number of people connected and the addition of
billions—perhaps even hundreds of billions—of devices.


Concerns about how to prepare for such a future took center stage at a March
8 meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) in Paris. The meeting drew researchers, telecom executives,
academics, government officials, and economists from the United States,
Europe and Asia.


“The Internet is at a turning point and the changes are big enough in nature
to warrant the high-level attention of policy makers,” says conference
organizer Andrew Wyckoff, head of the OECD’s information, computers, and
communications policy division.


Indeed, willful service disruptions, viruses, and the web’s fragility and
lack of robustness have all become issues of enormous importance as the
Internet becomes central to the global economy and people’s lives. Even spam
has graduated from irritant to serious threat.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Senior Research Scientist Dave Clark,
who has been actively influencing the development of the Internet since the
1970s, believes the Internet needs a total overhaul, not just more patches.


Mr. Cerf wonders about that himself. “Plainly the Internet continues to play
an extraordinary role in the daily life of its billion users, so in a sense
it cannot be considered hopelessly broken,” he says. “But it is arguable
that it can be significantly improved.”


Growing Up

The Internet did not really become a mass-market communications tool until
after 1983, when the U.S. government’s original ARPANET—short for Advanced
Research Projects Agency Network—changed communications protocols and hooked
up with a computer network linking academic computer science departments
nationwide, helping usher in the web we know today. It was built on the
telephone network and satellite and radio systems of the day, and adapted
amazingly well to new technology. But “a new version of the Internet is
certainly imaginable,” says Mr. Cerf.


Those who argue that the current Internet does not need fixing “tend to be
people who sell a lot of antivirus software,” says John Wroclawski, director
of the computer network division at the University of Southern California's
Information Sciences Institute.


Mr. Wroclawski, working with a team of graduate students as well as some of
the Internet’s pioneers, is trying to rethink the Internet from scratch. The
idea is to keep an open mind to what works, including preserving the best of
what we have today. To that end, they are participating in the Global
Environment for Networking Innovations (GENI), a new National Science
Foundation project to build an advanced test-bed network for piloting new
protocols and applications on the Internet.


A second NSF initiative, the Future Internet Design (FIND), is one of many
projects aimed at generating new approaches that can be tested over GENI’s
advanced test-bed network.


“We don’t presently have a roadmap of where we are trying to go with the
Internet,” says MIT’s Mr. Clark. Instead of worrying about backward
compatibility and migration issues, the focus has shifted to “where we would
like to be in 10 to 15 years,” he explains. “If the story is compelling
enough, people will figure out how to get there.”


There are different schools of thought about GENI’s ultimate impact on the
Internet’s technical underpinnings. Some, like Nick McKeown, a Stanford
University professor involved in three different “clean slate” initiatives,
believe that after testing new technologies over the GENI platform, a
consensus will emerge on one approach and entrepreneurs will innovate around
that—and commercialize their products with the help of venture capitalists.


Others think entrepreneurs will end up commercializing different approaches
addressing different problems. In this scenario, specific applications will
have their own dedicated networks that will coexist indefinitely running
over GENI, which, as a platform, will become the new Internet.


Water or Wine

However, “The biggest challenge to efforts such as GENI will be confronting
the reality that there will be no technical solutions to the top problems of
the Internet that do not also solve the underlying issues of economics,
ownership, and trust,” says K.C. Claffy, founder and director of the
Cooperative Association of Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) at the University
of California, San Diego’s Supercomputer Center.


In short, it will be difficult to choose a technology direction without
becoming embroiled in policy decisions that impact business models.


The future direction of the Internet could end up being one in which the
telecom carriers apply their own business model to the Net—one that CAIDA
senior analyst for economics and policy Tom Vest calls “telcotopia”—which
would basically mean a return to the public switched telephone network
(PSTN), where no network service is possible outside of an explicit
partnership with the regional or national PSTN owner. In another scenario,
the Internet could become a government-run utility, whereby network control
ceases to be a strategic business advantage. Finally, the “let a hundred
flowers bloom” approach could be adopted, in which many different
infrastructure control arrangements and business models compete and coexist.


The outcome of that debate is likely to determine the technology path of the
Internet. The telcos, for example, are unhappy with just being the pipes
because they can’t earn their traditional profit margins. “Society has
decided IP is like water—this has strong implications for a [telecom]
industry structuring itself to sell wine,” says CAIDA’s Ms. Claffy.


So, telcos are pushing to start putting functions in the core of the network
because they believe they can make a lot more money with services than they
can just providing access.


Getting Smarter

To date, the network’s core has been dumb—meaning its only job is to blindly
carry data from one user to another. All the innovation—think Mr.
Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web or Niklas Zennström and Skype—happened at
the edges. But there are several proposals, all likely to be tested on GENI,
that would move some of the innovation to the Internet’s core.


One idea is to replace today’s routers, the boxes that direct Internet
traffic, with much simpler dynamic circuit switches, which would allow the
introduction of new optical technology, says Mr. McKeown, director of a new
Stanford Clean Slate program, which will use outside donations to seed small
projects that could end up changing the Internet’s architecture in 10 to 15


The upside of this approach could make service providers’ networks more
efficient, lower their costs, and make the model more sustainable. The
downside, as USC’s Mr. Wroclawski sees it, is that “any move to change the
current overall Internet structure might be tremendously threatening to
innovation in the future.”


When it comes to telcos, it is competition, not just innovation, that their
detractors see at risk. Unlike in Europe and some parts of Asia, the U.S.
has restricted competition in broadband access to the consumer—the portion
of the network referred to as the last mile, or the local loop. The policy
virtually guarantees insufficient capacity and artificially high prices,
says Bill Woodcock, director of Packet Clearing House, a San Francisco-based
nonprofit research institute that analyzes Internet traffic, routing
economics, and global network development.


To make matters worse, some U.S. local exchange carriers in recent months
began lobbying for a different model in which any traffic generated by any
network endpoint—such as Google—has to compensate the carrier for the use of
its broadband facilities. “This is an attempt to return to a 19th century
model of telecommunication with complex inter-carrier termination and
compensation mechanisms,” says Mr. Cerf.


No Interference

If telecom carriers want to provide value-added services in addition to
broadband access, they should be free to do so, he says. But, he and others
argue, they should not be free to interfere with the provision of broadband
services by others.


Telcos are dependent on companies like
&Ticker=YHOO> Yahoo and Google to provide content that telecom customers
want. Some folks, Mr. Woodcock being one, see them using protection-racket
tactics to corner business, offering to degrade the service quality of
competitors for the right price—helping Google against Yahoo (or the other
way around, as the case may be) or Skype, Vonage, and others, he says.


“In my opinion, legal protections are needed to preserve both consumer
choice in the use of the Internet and to ensure continued innovation of new
services without having to obtain permission or negotiate commercial
arrangements with the access providers,” Mr. Cerf says.


In fact, some believe that Google now has more than enough cash and heft to
provoke a power shift, even though it lacks the Washington, D.C. connections
and savvy of telco lobbyists.


New technology solutions could also act in favor of companies like Google
and Yahoo. Canadian researchers are already testing a system in which the
user owns, rather than leases, the last mile of connectivity. The user then
connects to a neighborhood co-location point, where he will be free to
interconnect with a phone company—or use an alternative provider such as a
Google or a Yahoo.


Engineers have already tested the system successfully. Trials with consumers
could start as early as this summer, says Bill St. Arnaud, senior director
of advanced networks at CANARIE, a Canadian industry and government
consortium that is developing next-generation Internet technologies.

Mr. St. Arnaud argues that, just as governments do not define where you can
buy your computer or how much memory it can have, users should be able to
configure their own network, decide how much bandwidth they want, and choose
from a menu of providers.


Mr. Arnaud believes that CANARIE’s approach can make money, and possibly end
the practice of governments propping up phone companies at the expense of
consumers. “While the business case for the carriers may be disappearing, a
host of new business and investment opportunities is being created with far
greater economic wealth creation,” Mr. Arnaud writes in his blog. “Our
biggest concern is that governments will be distracted by the complaints of
the old industry such as carriers and penalize the new economy industries of
the Internet.”


Big Brother

Nearly everyone interviewed by Red Herring for this article predicts that
government involvement in Internet issues will continue for the next 10
years, as will the debate over such involvement. The Chinese government’s
attempt to limit searches on Google is only the beginning.


Indeed, the U.S. government’s claim that it does not control the Internet
Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) proved hollow when the U.S.
Department of Commerce recently told ICANN to delay the allocation of the
.xxx and .cat domain names, asserts Packet Clearing House’s Mr. Woodcock.


The White House’s move gave “a lot of unexpected leverage at a particularly
dangerous time” to a Chinese government attempt, through the United Nations’
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), to place control of critical
internet resources like IP addresses in the hands of national governments,
says Mr. Woodcock. If national governments directly oversee available
Internet protocol addresses, they can control and therefore limit the entry
of all new Internet service providers.


America’s perceived control of the Internet is likely to change, but not for
the reasons people think, says Israeli tech entrepreneur and investor Yossi
Vardi. He predicts that many U.S. corporations will continue to lobby
Washington to tighten their grip on the food chain—including pieces like
music, movies, software, and telecoms—and the natural result of that will
see the center of Internet gravity shift to countries where the grass roots
is more powerful and operates more freely.


Others, such as Ms. Dyson, founding chairperson of ICANN, hope that ICANN
will retain the authority it has today but will continue to be seen as
illegitimate, which is “a desirable state of affairs,” she says, “because it
means it can do very little.”


The moment any Internet governing body is seen as legitimate and gains
power, governments will use it only to further censorship and other
nefarious aims, she argues. It would be better, she says, if ICANN stays in
place, and everyone watches it like a hawk.


To paraphrase Winston Churchill on Democracy, a free Internet is the worst
form of Internet, with the exception of all the others.
  <http://www.redherring.com/images/basic/reddot.gif> © 1993-2006 Red
Herring, Inc. All rights reserved.

Received on Sun Apr 30 07:29:49 2006

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