For the Week of September 23, 2002
I had negative expectations for Interop + Comdex . So did the rest of the media
-- hardly anyone showed up.
But I was surprised. And impressed. There was big news at this show, very big news.
The news is that if you own copper, be afraid. Be very afraid. If you're a phone company like BellSouth, or a cable outfit like AT&T, you're about to become obsolete.
Proof that Moore's Law applies to radios filled the show floor. The dominant booth wasn't that of Microsoft or Novell, but that of Proxim , where the "entertainment" was a sales pitch posing as a therapy session. (It was better than it sounds.) The company was pushing the fact it now offers a full line of 802.11 equipment, for use in anything from a home LAN to a wireless ISP network, with backhauls that run up to 100 Mbps, at distances of up to about 40 miles.
Proxim's recent acquisition of Orinoco from Agere also means its production is fully-integrated, from chip to channel. Proxim should give strong competition to Alvarion , which has dominated the WISP business for some time now. That means lower prices and better terms for everyone.
Why does Moore's Law apply to radios? Data radios rely on chips, Proxim executives explained calmly, and chips get better every year. Not just microprocessors, but DSP chips as well. And DSPs - which can translate any digital signal into its meaning in real time - are at the heart of today's WiFi.
Proxim was far from alone. I saw my first dual-mode 802.11 A and B access points at this show, from a company called Intermec . (There are two models, the WA-21 and WA-22, but only the first is rugged enough for work in a public network.) By using OFDM modulation, such "A-B" points give users access to 11 channels and 450 Megahertz of bandwidth in which to use it. David Bledsoe of Intermec showed off the new product (without press data or brochures) promising they'd start rolling out of the factory next month, in quantity. He also offered a network analysis product called MobileLAN which looked like it might fit quite-smartly in a WISP operation. It runs on a standard PC.
A few stands over from Intermec, AdTran was offering DS-3 radios (using the 5.8 GHz UNI-band) suitable for backhauling to OC-3 fibers. Dan Pritchett, director of wireless products, said he's offering twice the price-performance of a year ago, and thinks that trend will continue. His ability (and willingness) to compete directly with Proxim in this space should guarantee it.
Now, the next thing you're going to say is, what about security? Bush security czar Richard Clarke famously stated a few weeks ago the industry should stop selling 802.11 unless it's secure. Displays in the booths of wireless security companies showed two-thirds of the signals on the Interop show floor were going out in the clear, 1/3 were going out with the minimally-secure WEP standard, despite the fact that Symbol Technologies (http://www.symbol.com) was giving everyone a Wi-Fi card that implements security. (In their defense, some noted that the Interop system was designed to be public, and thus an insecure network was appropriate.)
The only question the industry needs answer, however, is where to put the security. There were two main options offered. One was to put it in wireless access points, as Colubris' vice president of channel sales and business development James Ciociolo demonstrated. This is perfectly sound and logical. By requiring authentication and encryption before anyone is allowed into an access point, the network is secure right to the edge.
The problem is that this approach does raise the price of the access point dramatically. "It costs more, but we've got a router-friendly VPN-gateway," Ciociolo acknowledged. He also noted that in his device encryption is done in silicon, as is compression, so there's no loss of speed. The same box also does SNMP management, protecting mail servers from "drive-by spammers." . Still, this could work great for small networks with just one or two access points.
The alternative to Colubris' approach is to put security in a network gateway and use cheap access points to provide connections everywhere. This is perfect for a corporate campus that wants a lot of access points. Ken Evans, vice president of marketing for Fortress Technologies , showed that off in his AirFortress. This increases network coverage very inexpensively.
Best of all, Evans said, security now actually improves network throughput, since it comes with compression. An 11 Mbps 802.11b channel loses 3 Mbps to normal 802.11 and Ethernet chatter, and 4 Mbps to the fact it's half-duplex. With AirFortress, Evans said, you pick up 1 Mbps, delivering 5-6 Mbps to the customer. (On a "A" channel rated at 54 Mbps you're talking about real speeds of over 26 Mbps.)
One more important point everyone agreed upon. Those 11 Mbps speeds on "B" channels, and those 54 Mbps speeds on "A" channels, were formerly pretty theoretical. Now they're not. Yes, you cut that speed in half because Internet communication runs at full-duplex, not half. But you're still talking about more speed than phone and cable guys can deliver. And when you use wireless backhauls to reach competitive fiber, the copper is bypassed completely.
That, of course, is the bottom line. The industry's growth has been hampered until now because WISPs were having to buy T-1s from carriers, making them as dependent on the Bells as their CLEC predecessors were five years ago (and as easily killed-off through simple non-cooperation, as the CLECs were). These boys won't be fooled again.
How will the copper boys respond? The FCC is going to give them their "monopolies" back so they can't abandon copper. The WISPs are going to completely bypass them so they can't play bureaucratic games. Oh, and next year should see the launch of DirecTv's "Spaceway" satellite system, offering true two-way broadband speeds to anyone with the proper satellite dish.
Your Clue here is to sell your Bell stock and sell your cable stock, if you have any. And watch out for Big Government attempts to saddle the WISPs with added costs (like a requirement to pay for "universal access," a fund that benefits only the Bells). That could delay progress. But it can only delay progress - it can't stop it.
Moore's Law is inevitable.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
Great News! Corante has finally launched my "Moore's Lore" blog . Drop by and watch it grow.
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My other books include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive
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Takes on the News
Next Up: A Voice OS
A few years ago, after taking over Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina ran some ads promising the company would return to its garage-shop roots. The ads were a canard. You can't run a multi-billion dollar company like a garage shop. She quickly reversed course and is now flying the great old company into the ground following its merger with Compaq.
But it has become evident, over the last several months, that the technology industries must return to their garage-shop roots in order to grow again. The reason is government. The Bush Administration and Hollywood are trying to force Digital Rights Management (DRM) and a cramped view of copyright down consumers' throats. Consumers won't buy it. We don't need many excuses not to buy, and losing your right to see, hear and read what you want, how you want it is a very big reason indeed not to buy. (I'll give up Windows '98 when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.)
So Intel has some troubles coming with its next generation of chips, because it has DRM built-in. And Microsoft has bigger problems, not just because of resistance to DRM, but because the Internet and Moore's Law are driving down the cost of hardware. Windows (and Office) now cost more than the PCs they run on.
Without Microsoft and Intel driving growth, with DRM stalling PC evolution, new paradigms are necessary. Wireless broadband is one such paradigm, especially as WISPs find they way around carriers and get directly onto highly-competitive, low-cost fiber networks. Linux is another such paradigm, because it's lower in cost than Windows, thus allowing the mass production of low-cost servers.
The third new paradigm, which I mentioned last week, is a voice operating system. It would be more precise to call this a user interface, like the original Windows, since it would run on the Linux box. Instead of controlling computers through mice and typewriters, all tied to a TV screen, control it through speech, spoken responses, and observed behaviors. Work on such an OS was halted, really, by the rise of the Internet. But super-fast chips seeking a market give software developers a big incentive.
With a voice OS, you tell the computer you're leaving and it locks the house up for you. You announce your return and the house is unlocked. You remember a coming appointment and announce it to your calendar. The speaker reminds you of it in time to get there. The PC and network surrounds you, in your office or home - it's not something you have to go to. It's all very Star Trek and very computation-intensive, but that's what faster chips, falling prices, and the refusal of the industry to deliver content (music, movies, etc.) is forcing the industry to do.
So we're looking for volunteers for a great business lottery, a multi-billion dollar opportunity, something that comes along once in a generation. The last such lottery, in the 1970s, produced such people as Gordon Moore, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. They're all richer than Croesus . Who will win this lottery?
Are you young? Are you smart? Are you hungry? It could be you.
Score One for the Good Guys
One of the great questions of our time is the impact of the Internet on closed societies. Will it open it up, or will those societies be able to seize the benefits of the Internet while remaining closed?
China is the great test. China has four times the population of the U.S. It is fully committed to modernization. Yet it is just as fully committed to maintaining the power of its central government, and its corrupt Communist autocrats.
Thus we have the "Great Firewall of China," a technical effort to prevent Web content or e-mails the government finds disturbing from coming in-or-out, built against an Internet-savvy audience of 40 million souls that's growing rapidly.
When China blocked Google early this month, then Altavista , in the run-up to a Party Congress aimed at anointing a successor to Jiang Zemin, the alarm was sounded worldwide. When Chinese ISPs then hijacked Google's domain name, sending users instead to Chinese sites that obey government mandates , the anger in some quarters turned to rage. (Altavista, curiously, made its site available at other URLs including www.raging.com. )
Superficially it seems all's well that ends well But as The Washington Post noted, "some content linked to the site remained blocked -- for example, Tibetan independence sites." .
The cat-and-mouse game, in other words, between liberty and oppression continues. But by insisting on playing the game, by trying to get around the blocks or seeing their searches hijacked by inefficient, state-run engines, China's Internet users are already infected. Liberty won't be stamped-out easily.
ICANN Becomes Bush Front
There's only one conclusion to draw from the quiet renewal of ICANN's authority , when placed alongside the fierce criticism the company is drawing from Internet insiders .
This is the way the Bush Administration wants it. Unlike many people I don't think George W. Bush is stupid. He's dyslexic, but so is my daughter. Dyslexia is not something that happens to dumb people, only smart ones.
But it does seem, increasingly, that the Bush Administration thinks people are stupid, and that democracy is only a means of getting what you want. I think this stems from the government's own illegitimacy, which will be corrected (one way or another) only on November 2, 2004, the date of the next U.S. Presidential election.
The evidence for this is too strong to ignore. Afghanistan is being left to its warlords because they cooperate, nominally, in the hunt for Al Queda. Treaties are routinely ignored or abrogated, except when the U.S. wants support for U.N. resolutions to enforce its military rule.
I think the best summary for my view here comes from Alan Ramsey, a columnist at Australia's "Sydney Morning Herald." "I am not anti-American and I am not anti-Semitic," he wrote. "I am anti-bullshit." In all questions, especially those involving the Internet, it's time we all became "anti-bullshit," or we'll drown in it.
Clued-in iis Dave Eggers , who has chosen to self-publish his latest book, "You Shall Know Our Velocity," thereby making more from a limited run in 100 bookstores than he could from a huge run sold at Barnes & Noble end-caps. This doesn't mean Eggers is a genius, or even a nice guy. But he does understand the industry's changing economics.
Clueless is the agent Eggers hired, Andrew Wylie . This so-called "super agent" doesn't do business in the 20th century, he works in the 18th. Maybe his ruthlessness does make him money, but his future is very, very limited.
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