Future Trends (Data Communications and Networking)

By the year 2010, data communications will have grown faster and become more important than computer processing itself. Both go hand in hand, but we have moved from the computer era to the communication era. There are three major trends driving the future of communications and networking. All are interrelated, so it is difficult to consider one without the others.

Pervasive Networking

Pervasive networking means that communication networks will one day be everywhere; virtually any device will be able to communicate with any other device in the world. This is true in many ways today, but what is important is the staggering rate at which we will eventually be able to transmit data. Figure 1.6 illustrates the dramatic changes over the years in the amount of data we can transfer. For example, in 1980, the capacity of a traditional telephone-based network (i.e., one that would allow you to dial up another computer from your home) was about 300 bits per second (bps). In relative terms, you could picture this as a pipe that would enable you to transfer one speck of dust every second. By the 1990s, we were routinely transmitting data at 9,600 bps, or about a grain of sand every second. By 2000, we were able to transmit either a pea (modem at 56 Kbps) or a ping-pong ball (DSL [digital subscriber line] at 1.5 Mbps) every second over that same telephone line. In the very near future, we will have the ability to transmit 40 Mbps using fixed point-to-point radio technologies—or in relative terms, about one basketball per second.

Between 1980 and 2005, LAN and backbone technologies increased capacity from about 128Kbps (a sugar cube per second) to 100Mbps (a beach ball; see Figure 1.6). Today, backbones can provide 10 Gbps, or the relative equivalent of a one-car garage per second.

The changes in WAN and Internet circuits has been even more dramatic (see Figure 1.6). From a typical size of 56 Kbps in 1980 to the 622Mbps of a high-speed circuit in 2000, most experts now predict a high-speed WAN or Internet circuit will be able to carry 25 Tbps (25 terabits, or 25 trillion bits per second) in a few years—the relative equivalent of a skyscraper 50 stories tall and 50 stories wide. Our sources at IBM Research suggest that this may be conservative; they predict a capacity of 1 Pbps (1 petabit, or 1 quadrillion bits per second [1 million billion]), which is the equivalent of a skyscraper 300 stories tall and 300 stories wide in Figure 1.6. To put this in perspective in a different way, in 2006, the total size of the Internet was estimated to be 2000 petabits (i.e., adding together every file on every computer in the world that was connected to the Internet).

Relative capacities of telephone, local area network (LAN), backbone network (BN), wide area network (WAN), and Internet circuits. DSL = Digital Subscriber Line

Figure 1.6 Relative capacities of telephone, local area network (LAN), backbone network (BN), wide area network (WAN), and Internet circuits. DSL = Digital Subscriber Line 

In other words, just one 1-Pbps circuit could download the entire contents of today’s Internet in about 30 minutes. Of course, no computer in the world today could store that much information—or even just 1 minute’s worth of the data transfer.

The term broadband communication has often been used to refer to these new highspeed communication circuits. Broadband is a technical term that refers to a specific type of data transmission that is used by one of these circuits (e.g., DSL). However, its true technical meaning has become overwhelmed by its use in the popular press to refer to high-speed circuits in general. Therefore, we too will use it to refer to circuits with data speeds of 1 Mbps or higher.

The initial costs of the technologies used for these very high speed circuits will be high, but competition will gradually drive down the cost. The challenge for businesses will be how to use them. When we have the capacity to transmit virtually all the data anywhere we want over a high-speed, low-cost circuit, how will we change the way businesses operate? Economists have long talked about the globalization of world economies. Data communications has made it a reality.

The Integration of Voice, Video, and Data

A second key trend is the integration of voice, video, and data communication, sometimes called convergence. In the past, the telecommunications systems used to transmit video signals (e.g., cable TV), voice signals (e.g., telephone calls), and data (e.g., computer data, e-mail) were completely separate. One network was used for data, one for voice, and one for cable TV.

This is rapidly changing. The integration of voice and data is largely complete in WANs. The IXCs, such as AT&T, provide telecommunication services that support data and voice transmission over the same circuits, even intermixing voice and data on the same physical cable. Vonage (www.vonage.com) and Skype (www.skype.com), for example, permit you to use your network connection to make and receive telephone calls using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).

The integration of voice and data has been much slower in LANs and local telephone services. Some companies have successfully integrated both on the same network, but some still lay two separate cable networks into offices, one for voice and one for computer access.

The integration of video into computer networks has been much slower, partly because of past legal restrictions and partly because of the immense communications needs of video. However, this integration is now moving quickly, owing to inexpensive video technologies. Many IXCs are now offering a "triple play" of phone, Internet, and TV video bundled together as one service.

Convergence in Maryland


The Columbia Association employs 450 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees to operate the recreational facilities for the city of Columbia, Maryland. When Nagaraj Reddi took over as IT director, the Association had a 20-year-old central mainframe, no data networks connecting its facilities, and an outdated legacy telephone network. There was no data sharing; city residents had to call each facility separately to register for activities and provide their full contact information each time. There were long wait times and frequent busy signals.

Reddi wanted a converged network that would combine voice and data to minimize operating costs and improve service to his customers. The Association installed a converged network switch at each facility, which supports computer networks and new digital IP-based phones. The switch also can use traditional analog phones, whose signals it converts into the digital IP-based protocols needed for computer networks. A single digital IP network connects each facility into the Association’s WAN, so that voice and data traffic can easy move among the facilities or to and from the Internet.

By using converged services, the Association has improved customer service and also has reduced the cost to install and operate separate voice and data networks.

New Information Services

A third key trend is the provision of new information services on these rapidly expanding networks. In the same way that the construction of the American interstate highway system spawned new businesses, so will the construction of worldwide integrated communications networks.You can find information on virtually anything on the Web. The problem becomes one of assessing the accuracy and value of information. In the future, we can expect information services to appear that help ensure the quality of the information they contain. Never before in the history of the human race has so much knowledge and information been available to ordinary citizens. The challenge we face as individuals and organizations is assimilating this information and using it effectively.

Today, many companies are beginning to use application service providers (ASPs) rather than developing their own computer systems. An ASP develops a specific system (e.g., an airline reservation system, a payroll system), and companies purchase the service, without ever installing the system on their own computers. They simply use the service, the same way you might use a Web hosting service to publish your own Web pages rather than attempting to purchase and operate your own Web server. Some experts are predicting that by 2010, ASPs will have evolved into information utilities. An

Internet Video at Reuters


For more than 150 years, London-based Reuters has been providing news and financial information to businesses, financial institutions, and the public. As Reuters was preparing for major organizational changes, including the arrival of a new CEO, Tom Glocer, Reuters decided the company needed to communicate directly to employees in a manner that would be timely, consistent, and direct. And they wanted to foster a sense of community within the organization.

Reuters selected a video solution that would reach all 19,000 employees around the world simultaneously, and have the flexibility to add and disseminate content quickly. The heart of the system is housed in London, where video clips are compiled, encoded, and distributed. Employees have a Daily Briefing home page, which presents the day’s crucial world news, and a regularly changing 5- to 7-minute high-quality video briefing. Most videos convey essential management information and present engaging and straightforward question-and-answer sessions between Steve Clarke and various executives.

”On the first day, a large number of employees could see Tom Glocer and hear about where he sees the company going and what he wants to do,” says Duncan Miller, head of global planning and technology. ”Since then, it’s provided Glocer and other executives with an effective tool that allows them to communicate to every person in the company in a succinct and controlled manner.”

Reuters expected system payback within a year, primarily in the form of savings from reduced management travel and reduced VHS video production, which had previously cost Reuters $215,000 per production. Management also appreciates the personalized nature of the communication, and the ability to get information out within 12 hours to all areas, which makes a huge difference in creating a consistent corporate message.

Information utility is a company that provides a wide range of standardized information services, the same way that electric utilities today provide electricity or telephone utilities provide telephone service. Companies would simply purchase most of their information services (e.g., e-mail, Web, accounting, payroll, logistics) from these information utilities rather than attempting to develop their systems and operate their own servers.

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