Friday, January 25, 2002

A Letter to Dana



Dana Blankenhorn writes a regular newsletter on topics of common interests of today's Internet society. In his recent post of 25th January 2002, Dana wrote something I wanted to comment on. As I finished my responce email to him, I thought I would place it here for general consumption as well. Here's the email:

...... This got me to do some serious thinking. Why do we need wires at all? Phone and cable upgrades cost billions of dollars and take 25 years to pay off. They improve service, but only arithmetically. Wireless services seem to be improving logarithmically, and if the price-performance doesn't go up right alongside Moore's Law the principle is the same - you upgrade by simply changing boxes on either end. Instead of looking for a phone switch, just find a fiber connection -- from there bandwidth is both unlimited and free......

Dear Dana,

You've got it slightly wrong here:

1. "From there bandwidth is both unlimited and free" isn't that correct a statement. First, even in US which is the most extensively wired piece of land on earth, fiber forms long haul connections from point to point. Fiber Rings and meshes are still greatly out numbered by point-to-point fiber network segments. And unless we are talking about fully-meshed, omni-present fiber infrastructure, 'plugging in to a fiber infrastructure' will remain a sexy showcase object. Next, bandwidth on fiber is neither cheap, nor unlimited. Like the Pentium 4 processors aren't cheap just because there is a lot of sand (silicon) on our beaches. Unless we realize a world where 90% of the content servers are placed on switched LANs that attached directly to a universal fiber mesh that doesn't restrict the network throughput at any point within itself, this universality of cheapness (or free-ness) won't materialize.

2. "The wired infrastructure" you mentioned in your post sounds like if you think that 'copper wired' and 'fiber wired' are two different animals. They aren't. From a technology point of view, copper and fiber wired network is one and the same thing - they are mind-your-own-business entities as far as sharing of public spectrum is concerned. I don't know if you are getting it or not, but the thing is that when you step in a WiFi world, every Tom Dick and Harry needs to know how is the public wireless spectrum shared between the rest of the the Toms, Dicks and Harries. You can't just close your eyes and utter a network bandwidth you would want to have available to you. You need to look around in the neighborhood, have everyone agreed upon the same thing and only then you can send out your first bit out to the network. On the other hand, 'wired networks' work in a different way. Whatever is being carried on a given wire (be it a copper pair or a fiber strand) is none of the business or worry for the wire running next to it (of course we are not indulging in the finer details of EM interferences phenomenon here). This means that all you need is the right equipment on both sides of your wire and from there onwards, you are the king of your universe running your network at whatever bandwidth your pocket and politics can afford. Theoretically, you can have more bandwidth being operated in a given physical area on a wired network then on a wireless network that has only one shared media to work on - the thin air!

P.S: This goes on to my website at http://pakistan.blogspot.com as well.