Content in the front line
Software, content and data will all be downloadable through one line in the biggest shake-up the digital world will ever see, argues Varujan V. Pambuccian, president of the IT&C Commission in the Chamber of Deputies
The communication network will be leading the next wave of development in information technology.
Communication networks are witnessing an increase in bandwidth – the amount of information which can pass through phone-lines – which has allowed them to be used beyond voice, e-mail or web browsing.
But could we be witnessing an end to conventional hardware and software? And can everything soon be accessed through a laptop or mobile phone?
The best technological combination seems to be from a nucleus in which the transfer is made through optic fibres using different wavelengths on the same line and a user access network, together known as the Ethernet.
The advantages of such architecture are becoming clearer. The network’s nucleus supplies highly populated areas, such as dense cities. By using WDM-type technologies, it can transmit information at relatively long distances while maintaining a bandwidth of several gigabytes per second (Gbps). When a user wants to access the nucleus using the Ethernet, this technology today can assure a speed of 10Gbps at very low prices.
At this level, distribution is made in a building or a very close group of buildings without weakening the network. The network’s nucleus also contains a large storage space, and programmes its customers’ needs, giving the covered area a high degree of autonomy.
This network architecture re-creates a metropolitan network as a giant computer connecting an immense number of terminals. We are practically returning to the days of the giant room-size computers built in the mid-1980s to service corporations, but now the processing power and the number of terminals connected to the same computer are huge.
This means the network’s nucleus will start to resemble more the hard drive of a computer, thus leading to a dramatic decrease in the end user’s need to store and process documents. This has been observed by processor producers, who have made processors with a very low consumption level (under one watt), and powerful enough small systems, some of them charging themselves directly from the network. An older idea of Compaq called them ‘thin clients’, but they have a processing power similar to that of conventional PCs. New network architectures also allow for two new approaches which will change the IT business model. As network nuclei start to resemble more the hard drives of a computer, this makes the idea of using software programmes directly from the network affordable.
The first real approach in this direction came last autumn from Google, through the Docs and Spreadsheets facility. Google is now the main promoter of change, and there are more than a few waiting for the first network-resident operating system to appear. Web-based operating systems, which I mentioned in my previous article in this column in July 2007, are just a transition element to this. Once storage capacity increased at the level of the network’s nucleus, and once the transfer speed increases as well, access to digital content (audio, video, flux or text) became easier. The only barrier still in place is connected to managing intellectual property rights. Once this is profitably resolved for all parties involved, the communication network will become the main means to access content.
In the next years we will see a dramatic decrease in traditional media, owing to a massive transfer of advertising to the new distribution medium, which is the communication network.
As software becomes more resident in the network’s nucleus and less at the terminal’s level, this will also force the licensing model in place today to become obsolete. Operators will become access suppliers and content managers, be that soft or multimedia content. We will witness the appearance of more subscription systems, which will include voice, Internet, soft and multimedia content access. Some of them will be charged ‘pay as you go’, some will be supported by advertising, but enough freeware will still remain, as Romanticism will never disappear. Of course, everything is at its beginnings and it is hard to know how these will be combined. But we are witnessing the most dramatic change in the history of the digital world and those who will first ride this third wave will benefit the most from what is happening today.