Collaboration

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Fat cat telcos are killing the net

I feel as though we are standing on the edge of a very dangerous precipice...

Written at and despatched from a Beijing hotel via a low-cost wi-fi service.

So far the internet has provided us all with new degrees of freedom and greater diversity of communication and information than anything we have experienced before. It has changed just about everything and totally eclipsed broadcasting and the telephone in terms of casual, home, business, fixed and mobile use.

It's been so successful it seems the 'dark side of the force' sees an opportunity to make a land-grab and change everything in its dubious favour.

In a surprising move the US telcos and network providers have involved government in a debate to change legal/regulatory status for their operations that has the potential to limit the future capability of the net.

Why are they doing this? Money of course! These old world companies have seen their supremacy and profit margins dwindle in favour of the newcomers, so they want a slice of the new and growing pie.

Of course the situation is far more complex than might be assumed on first inspection. The network operators are supported by their equipment makers and other suppliers who also see the potential for knock-on rich pickings. On the other hand the newcomers in the service provision space see any form of net control as a threat and infringement of their future activities. A full brief of the US Congressional involvement in this 'net neutrality' debate can be found in this silicon.com Cheat Sheet.

Needless to say, the amounts of money at stake are huge, with the network providers enjoying a total market value in excess of $300bn; in the newcomers camp the number is even higher at more than $500bn.

So beyond the problem of sheer greed, what's the issue? The net as it stands is a wonderfully chaotic place, fundamentally incapable of providing any form of real-time service - voice, video, any form of instant messaging or human interaction - with any guaranteed quality of service (QoS).

Yes, it all works to some degree some of the time but continually increasing the number of VoIP and videoconference calls, radio and TV broadcasts just creates congestion, increased latencies and ultimately one meltdown after another.

The reality is that the internet protocol (IP) was never designed or intended for real-time anything! In order to achieve any reasonable QoS level it is necessary to nail down routings on a call-by-call, session-by-session basis. Ironically the internet then starts to look like a circuit-switched system

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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