The Convergence of Communications and Content in the 21st Century
Most of the last century was spent overcoming the challenges involved in building networks that could carry voice, video, and data at the same time. Now that these networks are starting to be deployed, the focus is shifting from the network, to the content that is carried over it. In the 21st Century, the real challenge is anticipating what these networks will be used for.
Communications is at a crossroads like no other in its history -- caused by the proliferation of high-capacity broadband and the explosion of digital technologies and content. These are creating powerful new businesses and new models that are challenging (and often dismantling) the old. The shift from infrastructure to content impacts everyone on the planet.
The effects are being felt first amongst horizontal communications industries (telecom carriers, network equipment manufacturers, and software developers) which must re-invent themselves or die. Examples of this succession from the old to the new are already commonplace: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is building an optical network to compete with incumbent carriers; Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Sun Microsystems Inc. are looking to IPTV to make their entrée into digital broadcasting; service providers now offer VOIP, VPN, WiMax, and 802.11 offerings that transcend enterprise and telecom boundaries; and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) and IBM are using technologies like IMS to help telecom carriers develop personalized services.
Content providers (music industry, television networks, and game developers) also must work out how to take advantage of the new comms order or be eviscerated by their competitors -- new and old. And industry verticals (pharmaceutical, financial, petrochemical, transportation, and so on) also will be revolutionized by ubiquitous communications networks.
In other words, the traditional competitive set and their roles are being turned upside down. But communications in the 21st Century will impact much more than "industry" -- reaching into every part of society.
In this new communications order the Internet becomes an Übernet -- an enveloping force that is far more pervasive and powerful than the current Web.
Ubiquitous peer-to-peer communications at high speed and over a choice of media will become the norm -- and not just for the technocrats and digerati, but throughout every stratum of society, in (almost) every corner of the world.
Such a network has the potential to support both great good and terrible iniquity. On the one hand, for example, it makes it far easier for people to give money to charities, and to track the effectiveness of those donations. On the other, “net warfare” (use of public networks to co-ordinate terrorist attacks and the organizations that plan them) is already becoming increasingly common.
For all that remains obscure some things are clear. The ability to deliver raw capacity will become less and less critical as time passes. 40-Gigabit and 100-Gigabit Ethernet already are upon us. Optical technologies that deliver Terabits of throughput are being deployed. Yet faster speeds will inevitably follow. Ultimately the prognosis for building block technologies and the companies that make them is bleak; capacity will be a commoditized, a given.
Conversely, and for the foreseeable future, a number of “shim” technologies that sit between capacity and content, helping to control the new comms universe, will remain relevant. Examples include SDP, IMS, and policy based networking. But even these technologies are not the future of communications -- they are simply the enablers, the digital middle men.
Yes, no, maybe?
— Red Prognosticator, Light Reading