Desktop broadband or bust

No sooner do I finish writing about TelstraSaturn's network guy claiming we'll all want 100Mbit/s to the desktop within five years than I read a story in Japan Today about a company offering just that.

No sooner do I finish writing about TelstraSaturn’s network guy claiming we’ll all want 100Mbit/s to the desktop within five years than I read a story in Japan Today about a company offering just that.

Tokyo-based Usen Corporation will offer a 100Mbit/s line to the home from March 1 for a price of Yn5800 a month. That’s about $113 a month. The service launches initially with “only” 10Mbit/s but moves customers to 100Mbit/s as quickly as possible. The price of bandwidth, which has been a premium for so long, is becoming nothing more than a commodity. Think pork bellies and the like; now think bandwidth. Yup, joining RAM and processor speed on the “generic chopping block” is your connection to the world.

What couldn’t you do with 100Mbit/s? Start planning, especially if you’re thinking five years out. By then Moore’s Law will have us all using 10GHz chips, with a gig of RAM and 50-gig hard drives. It’s enough to give you the giggles. Of course every PC will still ship with a floppy drive.

When you factor in Metcalfe’s law about network proliferation, the year 2006 will see everybody networked all the time. If columnist Jim Swanson thinks he’s never out of touch at the moment wait till his cellphone can receive streaming video files or enormous spreadsheets and the like. There’ll be no escape. This isn’t fiction, it’s not even an overzealous assessment. Intel is working on these chips right now.

If I wanted to get properly carried away I’d talk about field programmable gate arrays and assume the IndraNet network devices were installed across the globe, then we’d see some serious parallel processing power. Or we could talk about quantum computing and the end to encrypted files as we know them.

If we’re getting 100Mbit/s to the desktop, the backbone will be put under serious strain. The Southern Cross Cable will have to be complemented with a veritable “spaghetti junction” of international connections and we’ll need satellites galore. The proposals being discussed under Internet 2 will need to come online much faster so we can cope with file sizes that are currently astounding but in 2006 will be standard.

The question is are you ready for all this? Are you ready for your staff to buy handsets and mobile devices that deliver as many cycles as the desktop I’m writing this on? They already buy Palms and iPaqs and they’ve all got cellphones — when the user gets mobile as well, how will your network cope? Palmtops purchased out of the stationery budget or discretionary spending are often unsupported by IT staff — and rightly so. But when they can carry your entire contacts database or all your product specifications around and connect to your LAN the potential for trouble is huge. You will have to support these devices or face potential security risks on an enormous scale. And how exactly do you support a user that isn’t in the office constantly but still demands LAN-grade connectivity?

If you’re struggling to work that mental exercise out, spare a thought for the telcos — they’ll have to do that for corporate customers all around the country.

Just as the mobile marketplace grows and develops and becomes capable of leapfrogging the dial-up connection, so broadband from the desktop becomes a reality. This year sees a large number of customers and end users being able to take advantage, almost simultaneously, of DSL, cable and satellite connectivity offering high-speed connections to the internet from the office and CDMA and GPRS offering high-speed connections to the cellphone. While there are obviously some problems with GPRS, and nobody from Vodafone has contacted me to refute my recent story about the possible restricting of the top speed of GPRS to a piddly 14.4Kbit/s, it still offers a data-centric service and you can bet there are users who will make good use of it.

On top of the connectivity explosion we have a huge number of application developers coming over to the mobile side of the business. They are full of enthusiasm, vigour, good ideas and, on top of that, money. They can take on the world’s latest growth market and surf that wave when it breaks, which I for one am very pleased to see. We may not have Motorola building a development centre in New Zealand yet, but we have a host of local companies with their eye firmly on the ball. Watch this space, because really, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Brislen is a Computerworld journalist. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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