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April 15, 2016

Negroponte's 'Switchless' Future: Was He a Visionary?

Nothing is more frustrating than looking back at the past and seeing what should have been obvious at the time. Except maybe when companies talk as though the past did not happen at all.

Nicolas Negroponte explained to us in the 1980s that TV and voice were going to switch as a result of technology. We were going to get our TV on wired connections and voice was going to become wireless.

Today, there is the effort to have everything be wireless. It sounds good, except the reality is that wireless has not found a pricing model that makes it capable of carrying all the traffic.

A recent article in the Detroit News pointed out that in 2014, the U.S. wireless industry posted its first decline in revenue, even though the data service subscription grew.

In the article the claim is made that wireless is ready for video, and they point to AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV as comparable to other carriers’ video solutions.

However, what they fail to realize is how different the AT&T deal is from the other players. While Verizon’s purchase of AOL and perhaps Yahoo puts it into the content business, it does not come with an alternate delivery service (i.e.; satellite).

Wireless efforts to find alternative backhaul services and expand to small cells, and to shift the burden to alternate networks shows that wireless cannot manage the consumption economically yet.

I have been making the point to some friends that are gung ho for NFV that if there is no connection to the services, the deployment is not going to solve the bandwidth management problem.

Seamus Hourihan used to try to explain that we are in age of session management. While that is true for the IP side of the connection, we are still managing bandwidth strategies.

Someday the communications path will truly be virtualized. For today, we are still in flux. That leaves opportunities for Ingenu, LoRa, SigFox and Wi-Fi. Existing carriers are looking for solutions and are not beyond partnering with alternatives.

Eventually normalization will be found and many strategies will be abandoned. If anyone lived through the 1996 boom, they will recognize the cycle.

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