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‘Father of the Internet’ forecasts mobile future

Dr. Lawrence Roberts, a co-founder of ARPANET, the predecessor of today’s internet, recently spoke at a conference on how the Internet will look in 10 years time. 

He was speaking at October’s World Hi-Tech Forum – Focus on India, organised by the London-based British Institute of Technology and e-Commerce (BITE).

Businesses are more reliant than ever on the internet for promotion and marketing. Consumers too are also making e-commerce a part of their everyday lives. Dr. Lawrence Roberts, one of the key founders of the original internet called ‘ARPANET’ believes that 99% of us will be online by 2018, compared to 22% of the world population now and that everyone will possess a mobile device which will be secure, hold our personal information, allow us to make payments, work as a GPS and universal remote control.

Internet Genesis

Dr. Roberts designed ARPANET in 1967. It was an experimental research project, which aimed to develop the technical ability to connect computers together over a network. By 1971 it connected the east and west coasts of the United States and he began working with the United Kingdom, but it was far away from the internet as we know it today. Its beginnings were academic and centred on defence (DARPANET), only opening up to commercial use as late as 1991.

Even though the base of development has increased, he says not much has really changed since the early days. His key note speech focused on the lack of fairness in terms of the internet capacity, created by Peer-to-Peer (P2P) multi-flow applications that can overload it.

The ‘equal pay’ aspect of his speech considered the high cost that businesses and consumers pay for accessing the internet, with some people having greater internet capacity for the same price as others who will be paying the same price for less. P2P networks are cited as the culprit with 5% of users congesting the network by taking up 80% of its capacity. Many small businesses will be using one or more P2P applications.

Skype, the instant messaging and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) telephony software program is one very popular example that is used by SMEs and consumers alike. In the consumer space its widespread usage is based on file sharing from music to photos, and Napster was of the first to use this kind of network architecture.

Fairer pricing for access should generate a huge growth in internet usage and consequently increased opportunities for people, companies and organisations to exhibit themselves, their products and services to a “world wide audience”. The potential to advertise and make sales both direct and otherwise is enormous.

Open door with three keys

The three keys required for opening the door on this future are: lower costs of access, a freeing up of capacity and improved security.He therefore calls for a revised equality rule, which will allow similar users to gain equal internet capacity for what they pay for access.

“If the network assures that all similar users get equal service, file sharing will find the best equitable method – perhaps slack time and local hosts”, he says while warning that the service will deteriorate over time, which will affect businesses ability to operate online – causing the internet to slow down as the congestion increases. Businesses needn’t be alarmed, he’s doesn’t denounce P2P networks; he says they can be quite effective. With a more equitable network based on similar users, file sharing will find the best way to handle capacity.

The trouble is that P2P networks don’t know the boundaries of ‘fairness’, nor do users realize that by using P2P applications they could be slowing down and stalling others on the network. Roberts says this leads to “globally un-economic product decisions.”

The technical policy from the early days of ARPANET of ‘Equal capacity per flow’ has to now become one of ‘equal capacity per user’, considering that the flows of data across the internet are now managed by computers and not human beings. Within the equitable world that he describes P2P applications, for businesses and consumers, will still work and perhaps even prosper. A reliable internet is good for business productivity too.

Increase internet security

Furthermore, although security has increased – making e-commerce a reasonably safe activity – he thinks that much more can be done to improve network security. When ARPANET first started there were no checks, for example, on the source of data - from and to particular machines or about their users. He says the same applies today.

So improved security is essential for any internet user and user confidence, and this requires the ability to check who you are connected to. This can only be a good thing, particularly as the ongoing growth of e-commerce is very dependent on trust as well as the ability of users to readily access the internet without suffering detrimental technical issues.

Poor security and accessibility, as well as high internet access charges, endanger the life of e-commerce and today’s online brands; affecting their ability to sell, grow their customer-base and maintain their reputations, With Christmas around the corner, imagine the impact on online sales over the festive period if 99% of us were able to buy or bought products and services through the internet. A reduction in mobile phone contract subscriptions would also increase mobile commerce (m-commerce).

No digital without him

More importantly without Dr. Roberts early work, there would be no internet as we know it today. A report by Reuters suggests that e-commerce sales will equate to £59.8bn this year - a 28% increase over sales in 2007. Without ARPANET e-commerce simply wouldn’t exist, nor would the modern internet as we know it. They are both his amazing legacy.

By David Healey and Graham Jarvis
Editors and Media Services Consultants, Media-Insert Communications
Written on behalf of the British Institute of Technology and e-Commerce

Copyright notice

The photograph on this page of Dr. Lawrence Roberts, the ‘father of the internet', is published courtesy of the British Institute of Technology and e-Commerce.  BITE are the organisers of last year’s World Hi-Tech Forum: Focus India. This year’s event in October 2009 focuses on China.  Email: farmer@bite.ac.uk. Copying or reproduction of this photograph must be further to gaining consent from the Institute, otherwise known as ‘BITE’.

First published by Netimperative.com


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