24 Apr Will we butt up against the Web's limitations?
For thousands of years, trade routes were considered important to the regional sustainability of every civilization. Those trade routes are now electronic.
Most people don’t equate network infrastructure with the rest of the layers of critical infrastructure that have been recognized throughout centuries as necessary for global commerce. They should. The need to understand how maximizing electronic trade routes is critical to maximizing the economic viability of a region.
To put it in a historical perspective, the chart below gives an overall view of commerce and the layers of critical infrastructure that supported its growth and expansion. While space has yet to be conquered from a realistic commerce perspective, we might as well add it into the framework because it will certainly play some role in the next century. For this discussion, we will focus on the broadband connectivity level.
CHART: LAYERS OF CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
|LAYER||DOMINANT INITIAL DRIVER|
|SPACE (FUTURE) (INTERPLANETARY)||Just beginning to be built (space shuttles, station, satellite networks) Future – mid-21st Century, 22nd Century? U.S., Russia, China?)|
|BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY NETWORK||Korea, Japan, China, Netherlands (beginning 21st Century)|
|AIRPORTS||United States (mid-20th Century)|
|POWER (GRIDS, NUCLEAR POWER)||United States (beginning/ mid 20th Century)|
|TELEPHONE NETWORK (VOICE ONLY)||United States (beginning/mid 20th Century)|
|RAILROADS||United States (mid-1800s)|
|ROADS/BRIDGES||Roman Empire (500BC- 476AD)|
Source: James Carlini, keynote speech, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
The common thread across each layer of infrastructure is the transportation of goods and services. The Phoenicians were the first who had a significant regional impact on their Mediterranean neighbors. They used their ships across the water thousands of years ago to expand their markets and spread their culture:
They arrived from a foreign land and brought with them imported knowledge and skills. These they applied to their new environment. They added new cultural advances learned locally.
Having excelled at seafaring in a sea-turned land, they traveled and traded widely. They gathered and spread knowledge throughout the region. Thus it was the cultures mingled and ushered in a period of growth and development.
Later in the next millennium, the Roman Empire expanded its political and commercial boundaries by developing roads and bridges. They also developed aqueducts to deliver water to promote regional growth and trade. Railroads, airports, telephone, and power networks followed more than a millennium later.
The transportation of information
The importance of the Internet is finally being recognized in this millennium by those who should have been rebuilding the copper “roadbed” of telephone wire.
Just like single-lane dirt roads that evolved into multi-lane highways, the single-function voice network has to be updated to a multi-channel, multi-gigabit network that can handle the explosive growth of video and other convergent applications. Just as you can’t drive fast on a dirt road, you can’t speed fast on copper. This is from a recent article:
Speaking at a Westminster forum on Web 2.0 [recently] in London, Jim Cicconi, vice president of legislative affairs for AT&T, warned that the current systems that constitute the Internet will not be able to cope with the increasing amounts of video and user-generated content being uploaded.
“The surge in online content is at the center of the most dramatic changes affecting the Internet today,” he said. “In three years’ time, 20 typical households will generate more traffic than the entire Internet today.”
Cicconi, who was speaking at the event as part of a wider series of meetings with United Kingdom government officials, said that at least $55 billion worth of investment [is] needed in new infrastructure in the next three years in the U.S. alone with the figure rising to $130 billion to improve the network worldwide.
“We are going to be butting up against the physical capacity of the Internet by 2010,” he said.
Many people have asked me: How much would it cost to rebuild the network to accommodate all the new traffic? This $55 billion price tag is the first real number I have heard from AT&T. I would tend to go along with that figure so long as they’re talking a multi-gigabit network as the deliverable and not something that leaves us with U-verse at 30 Mbps.
It’s timely that AT&T acknowledges the market needs in the U.S. economy, which have outgrown what their engineering visionaries thought would be more than the “adequate network infrastructure” they planned and implemented in the last 10 years.
With all the money AT&T has spent in the last five years to lobby for competitive restrictions (which amounts to phone network protectionism), the company could have been much further into the implementation of its next-generation network.
Are we at the end of the empire?
Contrary to what many say about the U.S. being in the forefront of network technology, the reality is we’re more in catch-up mode when it comes to broadband connectivity. There is a significant price tag on renewing all layers of our infrastructure.
It’s not enough to implement a new roads program or a bridge and dock program. Any comprehensive study that looks at what’s needed in this state or any other state must include reviewing the layer of broadband connectivity. If they don’t, they might as well hand out a lot of violins to the politicians in charge.
Pass out some to the lobbyists, too, who are nothing more than the “advisors of Nero.” Remember in the Roman Empire the story where Nero played his lyre while Rome burned? He made many wrong decisions based on poor advisors, he lost allegiance, and was condemned by the Roman Senate to be flogged to death.
Instead, he chose suicide. Nero wasn’t on the top 10 list of good leaders of Rome. If we don’t heed the mistakes made in the past, we’re condemned to repeat them in the future. We can’t afford to let any state burn.
Carlinism: It’s time to put your money where your cable is.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: The domino effect of “cheap” IT labor
• James Carlini: Building IQ expands with broadband connectivity
• James Carlini: On Patton and getting back to real organizational leadership
• James Carlini: Column on abuse of H-1B program ignites feedback
• James Carlini: H-1B is broken, but which candidate will fix it?
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.