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Internet guru John Patrick predicts the benefits of bountiful bandwidth

Monday, October 4, 1999

By Ed Scannell

John Patrick is vice president of Internet technology at IBM and chairman of the Global Internet Project, a group that working on next-generation Internet development from technical and policy perspectives. He was a founding member of the World Wide Web Consortium, and is a member of senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a member of the Internet Society.

In an interview with InfoWorld editor Ed Scannell, Patrick talked about what the Internet will be like when bandwidth is cheap and plentiful.

InfoWorld: What will the addition of significantly more bandwidth mean to the world?

Patrick: Video will become just another data type. Just like we take color and images for granted in the Internet today, a couple of years from now we’ll take video for granted. In fact Web sites that don’t have full screen, jitter-free, high-quality video in the not too-distant future will be considered to be boring, like there is no one home there.

InfoWorld: What new policies will be needed to control all the new applications that will result from widespread availability of high bandwidth?

Patrick: That’s an area we don’t think about much. When we have the convergence of all forms of communication onto the Internet which is made possible by higher bandwidths — lots of things change. Everything becomes packetized — e-mail, Web pages, police radio, radio broadcasting, TV, and video conferencing. All of that will be on the Internet. When that happens a lot of interesting policy questions will come up. For example, when it is possible to have full-screen, jitter-free video over the Internet, will people think that the Internet be regulated like TV is?

InfoWorld: What is the role of the Global Internet Project in setting new policies?

Patrick: The Global Internet Project, in collaboration with [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and [the] European Commission, brings together experts from around the world to talk about … what are the issues going to be when we have a world of really high bandwidth.

The purpose of the meeting is to anticipate what are the toughest policy issues going to be. We are not going to try and establish policies or even come up with answers. What we hope to do is build consensus around what the key issues are going to be so we can get dialogue and activities started now and not get behind the 8-ball.

InfoWorld: What are the issues?

Patrick: One issue is what is the privacy issue three years from now.

Second, how do you provide universal service in the Internet Age. In today’s telephone system there are regulatory and pricing subsidies by the FCC [U.S. Federal Communications Commission] to make sure that people in rural areas have a way to have telephone service. So what about when the Internet becomes a single medium? What measures will be necessary to provide access for everyone? That are lots of ways to do that but if it is done in an overly regulatory fashion, it could be not a good idea.

Third one is the possible collision of the Internet with broadcast law. Today there are lots of rules about what you can show on TV, when you have to stop broadcasting and how often you must show public service announcements. When the Internet is able to be like TV, are people going to say we want to apply all those same rules to the Internet? We believe that self regulatory approaches are the preferred way. We believe that with something as unfolding as fast as it is, don’t be too quick to regulate cause by the time you even get the regulations printed, things are different.

Fourth is privacy and societal impacts. Will the idea of private and public states change when you have huge numbers of people connected with full screen video capabilities? How will people feel then about privacy across society?

Fifth is about enhancing the user experience. How can we make it more welcoming and more accessible? Getting the first 100 million people on the Internet was easy because it was people like us using computers every day who don’t mind installing plug-ins and downloading new browsers. But to get to 1 billion people, that isn’t going to hack it. So one of the issues is, are we really going to try and make it simple?

Sixth is globalization and culture clash. How will we realize the economic benefits and yet deal with the inevitable fact that it is going to become a really small planet? Today, we have different cultures, not only around the world but in this country. When you have the ability to turn on the Internet with live video from all over the world, what kinds of shopping experiences will there be, how will cultures be preserved, will everyone speak English or Chinese?

So we are bringing together experts from around the world to prioritize issues and gain consensus. Then following that the Global Internet Project hopes to get the dialogue going and not wait until the next generation of the Internet is here.

InfoWorld: what are the pieces of Internet II and where do they stand?

Patrick: There are a much broader set of things under way which we collectively call Next Generation Internet. And under that banner there are a series of activities, Internet II is mostly focused on bandwidth. Abilene is up and running with something like 70 points of presence. It is up to 2.5 gigabits [transfer speed]. That is going well. But IBM’s focus has been mostly in the applications space, working on prototypes and how to work on taking advantage of the bandwidth.

InfoWorld: What kind of applications?

Patrick: We have out in Chicago a collaboration set up with Northwestern University and Cisco and Ameritech, called the International Center for Advanced Internet Research [iCARE]. They are starting to prototype [applications] that take advantage of high bandwidth. For example, one of the projects IBM is working on is a Video Portal to create a video jukebox — not like what we see with Real Networks but rather full screen, like TV. We are using our product called the Video Charger, and it delivers multicasted MPEG video. Good stuff. We demoed it late last fall. We broadcasted seven PBS TV stations from Chicago. (Abilene wasn’t up and running then). We pumped in through VBNS into a hotel in San Francisco and we had IBM PCs set up with large screen monitors with a little Java applet tuner. And on this tuner you could pick which one of the seven TV stations you wanted to watch. And it was all full screen. This is one the apps that can take advantage of Abilene.

Also underway is DIF Serve standard – the Differentiated Services. Since we last spoke that has been finalized. It is in the publication phase, but final agreement has been reached in how this will work technically. It allows for putting a tag on every packet so that the packet will have a class of service identified so that e-mail can get into the slow lane, video can get into the passing lane and be accelerated through the Net to achieve better quality of service.

InfoWorld: When will high bandwidth Internet be available to the mainstream?

Patrick: There is enough fiber in place already to deliver trillions of bits per sec. A lot of it though is dark — not yet being deployed. So as you get more bandwidth in the homes through cable models and DSL [Digital Subscriber Line], that is going to drive a lot more traffic into the backbone. Bottom line on bandwidth is you have two things going on, technology and competition and the packets. And packets don’t care if they are going through copper wire, fiber optic or through the air. So you can have multiple competing technologies in play at the same time and in the same geography. I didn’t even mention satellite and LNDS and Power Grid — lot of ways to move packets around. And these different ways all compete and threaten the other so there will be a leapfrogging each other.

There is a company that says they can drive 10Mbps through the existing wiring in a home – like the X10 power switch controller works that sends an FM signal over the power line so you can turn your lights off via remote control. You know, the things you buy in Radio Shack. They have come up with a way to encode packets and deliver them through the wiring in a home and can do so at 10 million bits a second.

I really believe we will be awash in bandwidth. It is just not an issue. The issue is how will we take advantage of the bandwidth and are we going to step up to the policy things we have mentioned. The bandwidth takes are of itself.