Giving Ourselves a Broadband Facelift for the 2010 Matrix

Of all the memories the telecom community has of the 80s and 90s, one of the most vivid is the sight of long haul fiber optic cable systems being buried throughout the United States. A product of deregulation, competition, and the birth of the Internet, American telecom companies saw a desperate need for greatly increasing transmission capacity, and responded with investments in long haul fiber, metro fiber, and digital switching needed to meet all visions of what we knew in those wonderful days of innovation.

Globally, broadband Internet, 3G + wireless, and the convergence of everything from entertainment to telephony into digital formats is driving not only Internet technologies, but also physical telecom transmission systems to the threshold of existing capacity. This explosive growth in information and communications technologies creates an interesting dilemma for telecom companies.

Do you spend your efforts finding ways to control the use of existing capacity? Or do we acknowledge the fact our network-enabled global community is not likely to get any smaller, and the world now needs our telecom thought leadership to both greatly expand what we already have, while aggressively investing in developing transmission technology that will enable, not restrict, growth in all things digital.

Not a US-Only Challenge

When a child in South Africa, Hanoi, or Denpasar has equal access to Hulu TV, Skype video chats, and eLearning systems from either a fixed workstation or mobile phone, it can be argued technology is serving the purpose of enabling and providing a new generation with the intellectual tools they need to flatten the geographic and political barriers we have lived with since the beginning of time.

All great, benevolent thoughts. Our children may need the tools to correct the problems we’ve created through irresponsible use of fossil fuels, exploitation of natural resources, human transmitted disease, war, and creation of toxic “stuff” that continues to restrict our planet’s ability to create an acceptable quality of life for all.

Face it, educated people in general do not make as many BIG mistakes as those who blindly follow others due to ignorance or lack of exposure to a wide variety of knowledge. Internet and telecom-enabled technologies may facilitate some people who thrive on physical or ideological control, however that is also diluted as the percentages bring their own knowledge of fact, and exposure to a liberal dosage or prism of different perspectives.

Or in other words, we can hope primary school students from different countries and cultures who meet each other through chatting or cooperative educational projects will be more likely to collaborate on useful endeavors in later life than those who are only exposed to a narrow view of society, culture, ideologies, and leadership.

Getting to the Vision

All this is great. An altruistic, warm, and fuzzy view of the future. Getting our vision to reality requires a tremendous amount of work. The current caretakers of industry and leadership do not have all the intellectual tools needed to keep up with a developing generation of children who were birthed in the Internet Age.

However we (the current caretakers) are pretty good at building things. Among those things are fiber optic transmission systems spanning oceans, continents, cities, and now even homes. We are good at building wireless transmission towers, and are still pretty good at building devices that can connect all this fiber, tower, and wireless infrastructure together.

And the younger generation is beginning to envision ways to exploit the transmission “matrix” that is beyond the comprehension of our current caretaker generation.

“The world is becoming one, big, ubiquitous, homogeneous system because of “the network” and the network exists and needs to exist because it exists (in other places) already. This is the justification to build. It is a self-fulfilling chain reaction.” (Hunter Newby, CEO Allied Fiber)

The Republicans in the US like to scream the need for Americans to “Drill Baby Drill,” exploiting domestic sources of fossil fuels, reducing our dependence on foreign sources for energy. In the telecom industry we are beginning to feel the need to “Dig Baby Dig.”

We need to increase our ability to continue delivering the network transmission capacity required to give our next generation the tools needed to really make a “Matrix-enabled” future, rather than spend our efforts scrambling, as in the energy analogy, to control or reduce our dependence on existing sources of telecom capacity.

How it is Going to Happen

In the US, for the past 30 years deregulation has allowed the telecom industry to build their infrastructure without any oversight other than what local or state governments impose for licensing and access to rights of way. Most debates have surrounded topics such as net neutrality, control over markets, or conduct of both content and users connecting to the Internet.

The US National Science Foundation inadvertently created the current, sometimes restrictive environment within the US Internet community by passing control of the NSFNet backbone to a select few commercial providers (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint). This award increased incentives for carriers to control their part of the US Internet space, and reduce incentives to aggressively build out physical capacity needed to meet the exponentially increasing demands for bandwidth and capacity.

It did not greatly meet infrastructure requirements needed to support the convergence of everything that can, does, should, and will travel over Internet Protocol (IP) networks over the next 25 or 30 years. While there are some positive developments in the local loop (FiOS, LTE, WiMAX, Uverse, etc), Newby cautions in the US there is a dearth of long haul and metro capacity needed to string all the local initiatives together.

The answer is to dig. Dig more conduits around the United States and Canada, drop the highest existing capacity fiber cabling within the conduits, connect wireless towers supporting LTE/4G+ to the high capacity backbone, connect buildings and homes, and develop new even higher capacity transmission technologies to parallel or exceed similar models of growth such as Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law.

But to give us the space needed to develop those technologies, for now, dig baby dig. Give fiber optic long haul, metro, and local digs the same tolerance we give to filling potholes and expanding lanes on a freeway system – while in the background we hope our leadership designs high speed rail, better road construction materials, and better ways to move from point “A” to point “B.”

Consider broadband, hyper-band, and uber-band development the true 4th Utility justifying extreme social priority, without which we will suffer the same fate as losing electricity, water, and roads. As with roads, everything we do going into the future will ride the broadband “matrix,” and without enough available lanes we will reduce ourselves to a frustrating gridlock of intellectual, business, and social development.

Dig baby dig…

NOTE: I was first introduced to the concept of the “Matrix” in the early 1990s, when a friend of mine suggested I read a book by John S. Quarterman entitled “The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide.” 20 years after, and it is still the most enlightening view of the Internet, what the internet cloud and should be, as well as look into the future as anything I have ever read on the topic. It takes William Gibson, Neal Stephensen, and translates their fiction into a reality which continues to become part of our day to day lives. Or maybe it gave both authors additional ideas needed for them to develop fiction…

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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