SANTA CLARA, Calif. User demand and the rising supply of broader bandwidth will feed off each another to make new networking schemes a reality, according to panelists discussing the future of the Internet at the SuperNet conference on Tuesday (Jan. 16). But legal and technology issues must both be addressed to prepare the way for a tomorrow's Internet, panelists said.
Most panelists said today's Internet faces the opposite of a Catch-22 situation, where increasing bandwidth leads to the creation of new Internet applications, which in turn feeds demand for even more bandwidth.
The entertainment industry is key to this "push-pull" model, said Rich Wall, program director of Internet technology at IBM Corp.
"The No. 1 thing is to listen to your kids," Wall said. "We hire high-school kids in the summertime to help us build our Web tools."
The mass media's interest in the Internet might also help by creating high-bandwidth video applications, Wall said. In particular, he said highly sophisticated online content may be one possible result of the recently approved merger of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. "I really think this AOL-Time Warner model is going to change the whole idea of content," Wall said.
In addition, network providers will appear in different forms as Internet access becomes available through unorthodox mobile platforms, said Donna Bastien, senior marketing manager for Agilent Technologies Inc. For example, she noted that the OnStar system, which connects car drivers to roadside assistance and other services, is a mobile network owned by General Motors Corp.
"Think about a car company being a network provider. It's happening," she said.
But it's generally recognized that these kinds of networks and applications will become possible only if the industry improves quality of service and speeds up provisioning of connections.
Exactly how to do that remains up for debate. Judy Estrin, chief executive of Packet Design Inc., said she prefers a scenario that would keep intact the "cloud" nature of the Internet, which lets regions of the network stay independent as long as they adhere to a global addressing scheme. It's this disjointed model that allowed the Internet to grow as widely as it did, she said.
Changes to Internet Protocol will be necessary to handle the new complexity in the network, but those changes shouldn't sacrifice the Internet's distributed, independent nature, Estrin said. As an example, she said that some proposals around the use of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) or multiple protocol label switching (MPLS) might stray too far from the "cloud" model. "I'm not against ATM or MPLS, but the connection-oriented technologies need to stay within their clouds," she said.
Apart from all of technology issues, there are also a number of legal issues related to copyrights and trademarks that will also have to be addressed, given the number of potential applications involving music, movies and TV, Estrin said.
"We have to be thinking about the non-technical issues," she said. "Protection of intellectual property rights and digital rights management are big issues. We need to help the business leaders get together to solve this. You can't ignore it, or else the content won't be there and the pull won't be there."