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Cloud Computing & Broadband Competitiveness

Wires & Wireless Service to be Determined by Markets & Regulators

Broadband infrastructure has emerged as an issue of national competitiveness. The countries that meet its challenges best will be the winners in the century that lies ahead.

Enterprise Cloud Computing will play an increasing role in this story, although for now, the big emphasis remains on individual consumer activity.

The big issues are, in order of increasing importance:

  • Wired bandwidth capacity

  • Wireless bandwidth capacity

  • Markets

  • Government control

The first of these issues may have been solved more than a decade ago, when optimism that the dot-com boom was going to last forever led to tens of billions of dollars of fiber-optic cables being built in the US and undersea. Much of it remains unused.

More recently, undersea cables-which encompass millions of connections delivering in the low terabits per second, and costing in the $300 million range-are being developed to serve developing Asia and Africa.

Wireless bandwidth seems to be a more crucial issue. Data has now surpassed voice traffic in the wireless world, even though smartphones are still badly outnumbered by simply voice-only phones.

As the marketshare for smartphones increases from 11% two years ago to 20% today and who knows by tomorrow, wireless networks will be put to severe tests.

Thus, there are intense efforts in the US and Europe, for example, to release wireless bandwidth that was previously used by television for analog broadcasts, but which now lie fallow. Wireless is also replacing landlines to deliver residential Internet service during the final hop in many developing countries.

Video is the big data generator for both land-based and wireless service, with its big files. A special report from Cisco issued every year estimates that video will constitute 90% of all Internet traffic in a couple of years.

One simply must ask, how much of the global Internet's massive infrastructure is being built and used simply to allows us to amuse ourselves to death?

The third element in this equation is markets, which will determine whether or not there is enough bandwidth available. People in developed countries have gotten into the habit of paying $20, then $50, and now $100 a month to get the service they want, whether in their homes or on their phones.

Many developing nations have similar pricepoints for the emerging middle classes that think they can afford it.

Cloud Computing should also drive enormous new traffic "around the edges," as companies create their own loops within the vast, anarchic structure of the Internet to deliver the computing power they need.

The role of government will be the most important one. Sometimes, this occurs with a relatively light touch. The US government, for example, has been talking up Cloud Computing for a couple of years, and its NIST standards institute continues to work on refining its cloud-computing definition.

Sometimes the touch is heavier in the form of regulators who've long gotten their kicks by controlling who can play in their citizens' sandboxes. They are not always popular. Long-term dissatisfaction among American consumers with their local cable and telephony companies is no secret.

Neither is the recent uproar in Canada over a regulator's decision to require that all providers cap their service, ie, not be allowed to provide unlimited service but only usage-based service, or UBB. It's desired by the few big providers but opposed by consumer groups and smaller competitiors. The Conservative-led government promises to overturn the ruling.

Meanwhile, the US government may be getting involved soon in privacy issues, and it has already entered the fray over net neutrality, ie, whether or not providers can provide preferred service.

Heavy-handed government control of Internet content is an ongoing toothache in China, and a powerful demonstration of an Internet kill switch by the Egyptian government showed just how important and volatile an issue the Internet has become.

The coming years will reveal the souls of those in government worldwide, as they grapple with the unruly, transformative power of the Internet.

As Churchill once said, you can't look at something this big without wanting to nationalize it. Or certainly, without wanting to control it.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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