July I 2007

Fredric Morris, Editor-In-Chief, Connect-World
Fredric Morris
Editor-In-Chief
Connect-World

Doing the broadband bounce

I just got back from NXTcomm in Chicago – without my bag, notes and research material, all lost somewhere along the way – so if I get a fact or two wrong, blame my airline.

NXTcomm is the ‘son-of’ SuperComm. The TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) and the USTA (US Telecom Association) jointly produced the SuperComm series of mega-telecom shows for years. They broke up, and each then produced their own much smaller shows. The TIA had its GlobalComm show and the USTA produced NextComm. Industry pressure, supposedly, forced them to marry again.

The new show is much smaller than SuperComm. Still, given the support of the industry, of the TIA and the USTA, NXTcomm is bound to grow and regain much of the ground lost during the SuperComm break-up. NXTcomm, fortunately, has successfully re-edited one of SuperComm’s strongest attractions – their excellent series of conferences.

As always, the IEC was there with their superb Communications Forums. A number of other groups were also invited to run special conference events including: ATIS TechThink Technology Conference; BICSI North-Central US and Canadian Regional Meeting; The Digital Hollywood Conference; DiversityNXT – Supplier Diversity for ICET; FierceMarkets – WiMAX Strategies; International Business Development Panel; Stifel Nicolaus Investor Conference; NTIA Program (dealing with disasters); and the Wiley Rein Communications and TechLaw Conference.

The theme of the event, ‘The ICET Universe Expands’, reflects the increasing importance of entertainment – ICET stands for information, communication and entertainment technology – as a driver of the sector’s economy. As Bob Wright, former head of NBC Universal, and currently Vice Chairman of its controlling corporate parent General Electric, said in his keynote address, telecom service providers need to work with content providers because the entertainment option is the ’front door’ to the market for telecom service providers.

I have to agree with him, but there are times it seems that many of today’s service providers do not do much more than put their foot in the door and wait until the door slams back on their foot. Many of the telecom sector executives I have spoken to over the last years have little vision of the telecom world beyond entertainment, triple or quad play or even the ring-tone. Their inability to see some of the real challenges the industry must one day face, or even the opportunities they create, is astonishing, but that’s the subject for another eLetter – or book.

Although NXTcomm was true to its promise to look into the growing world of ICET, the real star of the show was broadband. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, was there to proclaim the wonders of IP, of video, of touchy-feely Web 2.0 interaction among people and, not so incidentally to gloat over the success of its CRS-1 router. The CRS-1, the Carrier Routing System-1, or the HFR (huge f…ing router) as it was code named during development, is a huge f…ing success. If my memory serves me (sorry my notes are gone) they have already sold more than a thousand in the three years since launch and are well on their way, with more than 900 sold just this year, to double that mark shortly.

Despite Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist credo, “Less is More”, when it comes to ICT, especially broadband, more is definitely more. . The CRS-1 is proof. There is only one way to answer the question, ‘How much capacity do you want?’. The reply can only be, ‘more’.

The CRS-1’s resounding success in the marketplace is one of the strongest indicators of broadband’s exponential growth. The CRS-1 is a giant carrier router that can be configured to handle up to 92 Tbps (yes, that’s terabits – trillions of bits per second). When the CRS-1 was launched in 2004, most industry observers thought it would take ages to earn back its half billion dollar development cost.

When mainframe computers were first commercialized, few thought there would be a market for as many as one hundred throughout the world. Similarly, most thought that only a few of the giant CRS-1 routers would be sold. Cisco’s competitors were so slow to catch on, so slow to believe that broadband would grow by three hundred to five hundred per cent year, that they are still running to get their own super gear to market.

The other NXTcomm keynote speakers including AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson seem to agree that consumer broadband demand, especially for TV and video, which use as much as a thousand times more bandwidth than voice will be continue to grow explosively. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg spoke of their Fios all-fibre network build out strategy. The costly network, he explained, was needed to ensure the sort of bandwidth that new applications, especially, video demand.

AT&T and Verizon, like all the major service providers are counting on video, data and entertainment to anchor the service bundles – read, weapons – they are using to fight off the cable provider voice, video and data bundles that are eroding their market share. The operators, like Cisco seem convinced that there will be no let-up in broadband demand for the foreseeable future.

Chambers attitude seemed to sum up the show much better than anything he or any of the other keynoters said. At the speech and the press conference that followed, he raced through his presentation, changing densely worded slides faster than one could read them while he preached the gospel of the coming – Hallelujah – monster broadband tidal wave. He fairly bounced with glee, like a silicon super ball, to the broadband beat.

Convergence, a term used and abused in recent years, was still an important subject at the show – no longer as a promise, but as a fact. The hype has calmed down and convergence is mentioned more often simply as a driver of broadband growth. As more and more functions are loaded onto the same network, the more the traffic the network must handle; the ‘pipes’ through which the traffic flows need to get fatter.

IMS, a great star at events in recent years, got only passing mention. No one seemed anxious to speak too loudly about it. Not that anyone really doubts it will play a significant role in the sector’s future. It is just that – When? – is a question no one really wants to answer.

It still seems odd to me, despite the irrefutable logic behind the choice, that Ethernet is still – after all these years – the technology of choice and one of the star technologies at the show. I have vague memories of twisting together a pair of kite strings to make an Ethernet connection between two paper cups. To my prehistoric ICT dinosaur brain, the talk of carrier Internet, the latest in Ethernet’s long series of re-births and reincarnations over the last 30 years or so, seems like talk of great grandma rising from the grave and do battle with the latest technologies – and winning.

Ethernet has been quietly battling all comers for years now with a winning combination of speed, scalability and low-cost implementation. Carrier Ethernet, built upon the old, familiar LAN standard, added the sort of features to the standard that carriers must have to operate their networks reliably. The features – standardised services, scalability, reliability, quality of service (QoS) and service management – have added new life and unlimited growth potential to the ancient (in ICT years) standard.

It is Carrier Ethernet, together with the foresight that drove the development of the HFR super router, which by sustaining the growth of broadband, is providing a lifeline for the carriers. Broadband keeps bouncing along, higher and higher.

______________________________

Connect-World Africa & the Middle East (2007) will be published later this month. The issue will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: GSM ME Gulf and North Africa (Dubai, 2-3 Sept), Gulfcomms (Dubai, 8-12 Sept), ICT Africa 2007 (Nairobi, Kenya, 1-5 Oct), Cards Africa, South Africa (Johannesburg, 8-11 Oct), and GSM Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, 21-22 Nov).

The theme of this issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will be, ICT for the people – Economic and social development in Africa and the Middle East

Development depends upon a wide variety of factors. Economic growth calls for investment, an educated population, easy access to markets, information and communications. Information and communications technology, ICT, cannot, by itself, improve health, stop wars or provide education, but it is a major driver of socio-economic growth and development.

The advent of ICT in Africa and the Middle East has, arguably, done more than any other single factor to alleviate the region’s problems and provide tools for sustainable development. The influence of ICT extends from the continent’s commercial and financial centres to unimaginably remote rural areas. It helps big businesses grow and small businesses survive, it creates jobs and ties even the smallest farmer, tradesman, business of any sort, to the markets they depend upon. ICT is helping reform governmental, educational and health services and is bringing them directly to the people – wherever they may be.

ICT provides the region’s door into the global economy, to citizenship in the Information Society. This issue of Connect-World Africa and the Middle East will investigate how ICT is already revolutionising the region, changing its economies and societies forever. We have asked the region’s top decision makers to describe their vision of Africa and the Middle East’s future and of what is needed to achieve it.

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