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Home > Business > Special

Are wired networks here to stay?

Rajesh S Kurup and Leslie D'Monte | May 06, 2006

Jeong H Kim who leads Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs as its president and Phil Edholm, chief technology officer and VP (strategy & architecture enterprise solutions and packet networks), Nortel, express their views on wired networks.

Jeong H Kim spearheads Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs as its president. The company's biggest innovations include the transistor; the charged coupled device that made digital imaging and portable video a reality; the Unix operating system; the most widely used computer language 'C' and the laser beam.

Kim has a contrarian view when it comes to networks. He is insistent that in the future, applications would be moving over to wired lines.

"I believe that voice is moving from wireline to wireless, while on the contrary video is moving from wireless to wireline. Wireless has its own limitations and functions mainly based on allocation of spectrum. With the advent of high definition data, video and other applications, there is a need for high bandwidth and only wired networks can support this.

"So, if you are focusing on wireless networks, then you might not be able to set up an infrastructure for the next wave of applications that would be video intensive. So, I'll like to make a point that wired networks are the future of technology, and not wireless networks," he explains.

In fact, Bell Labs had demonstrated the capacity to transfer 107 gigabytes over 400 km on wireline as part its broadband thrust.

This was conducted sometime last year and feasibility studies and prospect researches are on to make this a reality. This would have far reaching applications such as transferring of huge quantum of data that can revolutionise Internet experience.

Bell Labs is now working on a technology called Iron Trap - a quantum computing initiative. The technology will help computers run 10 million times faster.

At present, a $1000-computer has the computing power, equivalent to that of a little mouse. By 2025, it will increase to that of a human being and by 2060 it would have the intelligence of the entire human race.

Kim also stresses on nanotechnology (deals with particles that are one thousand times smaller than micro particles) as these particles are more cost-effective and consume less power.

You may have heard of Moore's Law which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles annually.

Then there is Robert Metcalfe's law, which states the value of a network equals approximately the square of the number of sytem's users. Simply put, the value of a fax machine increases when more people use fax machines.

These laws aren't new but assume more significance when the person citing them as technology trends has a law that bears his own name. We're speaking about Phil Edholm and his Edholm's law.

Besides, he's not only the chief technology officer and VP (strategy & architecture enterprise solutions and packet networks), Nortel, but also the holder of seven patents with 18 applications pending.

Edholm talks about three categories of communications - wired (in offices), wireless and nomadic (in some places). He says data rates for these three telecommunications categories increase on similar exponential curves - slower rates trailing the faster ones by a predictable time lag.

His law predicts that in 2010, third-generation (3G) wireless will deliver 1 Mbps, Wi-Fi will bring nomadic access to 10 Mbps, and office desktops will connect at 1 Gbps.Edholm also notes that we may someday see the end of wired communication.

Applications such as high-definition TV, high-quality videoconferencing, and three-dimensional displays will require more bandwidth and, hence, wired communication.

However, the human eyeball can process only a limited number of pixels per second. "How fast can somebody type? How fast can somebody watch a video? So at some point when wireless hits those bandwidth limits, we can abandon our wirelines," he explains.

The Nortel CTO notes that IT is in its third phase. The first phase was the 60s and 70s, which saw the automation of existing systems such as payrolls, etc. The 80s (second phase) changed the way companies were doing business with IT influencing a change in business processes.

Finally, he says: "When IT becomes a utility such as electricity, it ceases to be a strategic edge. It is then that companies will have to engage the customer to change business processes."

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