In the recent Australian election campaign, one of the key campaign focal points was the policy concerning a high-capacity broadband backbone for the majority of the country. There are many aspects of this that are interesting.
The fact that it is an election issue interesting of itself – it means that there is now recognition that Australia is falling behind other developed nations with regard to the Internet and that keeping pace with this particular form of infrastructure is important.
Then there is the fact that there are such divergent views as to how this should be implemented. One party says they want to put in an optic fibre cable running to 93% of the homes and deliver at least 100Mbps, possibly 1Gbps. This will cost an estimated $43Billion. The other party proposes a network based on a major rollout of wireless towers delivering 12Gbps to 97% of homes at a cost of a little over $6Billion.
And the other thing I found interesting about all of this is that no-one seemed to have any imagine about what would be done with all that bandwidth. I have no problem with spending on a major infrastructural scheme, a scheme that brings back memories of the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric scheme in the scale of its cost, but I question why people are proposing such major projects when they don’t seem to be able come out with illustrative examples other than entertainment and medicine. Apparently we are all going to have our lives saved.
I noticed some people asking why would we need 1Gbps, and my response is to remind people that when Bill Gates and Paul Allen were discussing how much RAM a computer could ever possibly have, they thought that 640KB would be ample.
There are plenty of things that 1Gbps bandwidth could allow, and I will attempt to explore some of them, but first there is one other variable in this that I haven’t seen mentioned in the media and that is the bandwidth consumption that this fast connectivity will allow. How are the consumers going to be charged? If the speed encourages people to pull down heaps of stuff, or upload huge amounts of data, it will mean that costs will blow out if the data price does not come down considerably.
One of our staff based in Japan has 1Gbps to his home and an upload limit of 50GB per day, no download limit. I wish.
Now, what kind of things could you do if you had that much bandwidth?
The obvious ones, like entertainment, with games, movies don’t really bear mentioning, except that once the time taken to download files of a given size passes some threshold, it ceases to be a barrier to use. For different people that point will differ.
Torrents will become incredibly convenient – files will be downloaded more often and therefore available from more locations, all of them high speed. I wonder what that will do for the movie, music and software industries.
One of the big changes that will come about is the interconnectivity via the Internet of all manner of devices. The speed and ubiquity of the net will increase the use of these devices in the so-called Internet of Things. Devices will maintain state in the cloud and check in to report their current situation as well as see if there is something the device should know about. Agent software will interact with this information and perhaps make changes to the values for other devices.
Here is an example: a car’s GPS is sending to the cloud information about where it is – XYZ coordinates that enable some agent software to determine velocity, direction etc. The agent software knows where home is and can make a determination that the car is heading to the house. As it passes some predetermined proximity boundary, the agent can check to see what the current situation is with the home air conditioner or heater and based on the ambient temperature and preconfigured preferred temperature, it can turn the air conditioner on.
Opportunities to exploit this information will grow as the bandwidth to support them grows. So with the GPS example, the data could be sent back to a central agent that can determine how many cars are not moving quickly enough in one location, and tell the GPS that there is a traffic problem up ahead. Or the data could be anonymised and fed to a government town planning service that can use the data to determine future bridges, tunnels, toll gates etc.
Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a communications network is equal to the square of the number of nodes. When devices are connected like this, the potential is unimaginable.
Like Facebook or Twitter, where individuals decide what they wish to publish, and other individuals decide what they wish to subscribe to, the idea of devices publishing a range of data for other permitted devices to subscribe to, either directly or through some intermediate agent software, is very compelling. Printers can publish their toner levels and how many drum cartridges they have, while some device designed to dispatch a printer repair agent can keep an eye on things. Not only can devices publish information about their current status, they can also have built in a range of metadata – information that they seek out from elsewhere on the intranet and republish. For example, while a printer may publish information about its toner levels, it may also have a Google-style search that publishes the results of a search on its own model number. This would be useful in the case of factory recalls, announcements of new firmware, or perhaps sales of peripherals, accessories and consumables.
To bastardize a quote from the movie Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.