So I saw this absurd story the other day about how AT&T is claiming the backbone of the Internet will crumble under all the traffic by 2010. Then Lani and a couple of personal friends forwarded me the article asking my thoughts.
Where I Get These Crazy Ideas
I have a fairly lengthy background with networking, both wired and wireless. Over five years ago, my father was working for a giant technology corporation working to maximize the efficiency of bandwidth over existing infrastructure. They have been developing this with some of the largest wireless handset, computer hardware and software manufacturers in the world.
I spent several years working for AT&T Wireless. Many people believe that with wireless, we won’t need the infrastructure in the ground. The problem is, all of the towers your cell phones and laptops connect to are plugged into the same infrastructure.
Most of the video you now watch online is played via Flash because it uses some of the most efficient encoding methodspossible. I’ve been using Adobe/Macromedia products for a long time and I can easily say, they don’t stop making their products better.
Okay, I love Google. In this context though, they have purchased vast amounts of “dark fiber”, invested in large undersea cable projects and lobbied for open wireless standards on abandoned frequencies. Huh?
Dark Fiber is fiber-optic infrastructure built out in the last 1990s that went unused. Analysts think Google has purchased $1.25 billion worth of this unused fiber across the country. That could probably manage some overflow from AT&T’s network.
Asia-Pacific is very bandwidth-hungry and business ties only continue to increase, so adding additional infrastructure across the pacific is very beneficial for all parties involved.
You may have heard of the large 700 MHz frequency auction…oh, you didn’t? Okay, I’m a nerd. A lot of very valuable wireless spectrum was opened up when TV went digital. All of the typical players like Verizon Wireless and AT&T wanted this spectrum. The FCC required that it be an open standard, allowing all protocols and hardware to have access to the infrastructure. Google has been accused of “gamed” the auction by bidding up to a certain point which included the open standard compliance.
Google has also recently been lobbying to gain open access to wireless “white space”, the little pieces of unused frequency between the wireless bands.
Why I’m Not Concerned
AT&T is smart. Verizon is smart. Comcast and Time Warner are smart. They are constantly developing new standards to make transmission more efficient across their current infrastructure. I think the issue we need to fear is that this is all a setup to charge people more for different types of service. If I want to watch Hulu.com, I get to pay more than someone who just wants to check email. I’m sure BitTorrent users would have to pay the most.
I don’t care because I believe Google is smarter. They have the in-ground infrastructure. They have great lobbyists that will probably help them get the white space they want. And they have access to the new frequency that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are having to pay for. I have full faith and confidence that Google is poised and ready to roll out some type of service should AT&T and/or Verizon begin to start charging based on usage. Google is in favor of Net Neutrality, which would keep pricing fixed and not based on specific services.
Maybe I Should Be Concerned
Our activities are very bandwidth-intensive. From the hundreds of photos of a listing to the video tours you’re creating to your mass email campaigns, the real estate industry uses a lot of bandwidth. Any changes that may come about could potentially be another cost of doing business. I personally doubt it will get that far though.
I, For One, Welcome Our Dark Fiber White Space Wielding Do No Evil Google Overlords
I switched from Comcast to Verizon FIOS as soon as I could because I was tired of Comcast always trying to stick it to me. Verizon isn’t much better. Google may not be any better, but I think it’s safe to assume a lot of people would jump ship simply because they’re tired of what they have now.
April 29, 2008 at 7:08 pm
1. “Do No Evil” is a pre-IPO mantra.
2. “Evil” is subjective.
3. If it is profitable but not illegal, then not doing evil may be counter to the fiduciary owed stockholders
Excellent overview. Thank you for the synopsis.
April 29, 2008 at 7:25 pm
Well yes, you’re right on all three of those points. I have a bias, I really like Google and the various side projects they’ve funded, plus I haven’t been burned by them yet, so they haven’t done any evil to me.
April 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm
Nick, your tech insight is much deeper than I ever knew- WOW!
I’m not worried either because I agree it’s just another way to charge users for bandwidth and other services we already pay for (which is total crap, imo).
That’s like saying Realtors’ ability to practice real estate in this environment is becoming more difficult and by 2010, the job will be SO difficult because of this tough market that commissions will have to be tripled due to the difficulty of performing grueling tasks in such a grueling market. What a sham.
Thanks for exposing the BS that is our interwebz providers.
April 29, 2008 at 8:20 pm
I far from knowledgeable about this and maybe a bit naive, but the internet has become too important to industry and government (just watch the South Park episode where they loose the internet). If it’s an issue, someone will put countless dollars into it to insure that the internet stays functional.
Again being naive, but technology (packets of information) gets smaller and venues get faster. These knuckleheads that are predicting the failure of life as we know it, have underestimated how much money companies will spend to make more money. If AT&T can’t get it done, someone else will step in…
April 29, 2008 at 8:51 pm
Remember all the doom and gloom that the world would end when the computers hit the year 2000?
And, Verizon has the worst customer service of any company. I would jump ship.
April 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm
Nick – You sir, are wicked smart! I am so relieved after reading this – though I wasn’t worried until I started reading it – Does that make us even?
Glenn fm Naples
April 30, 2008 at 7:05 am
NIck – a good assessment. A few months ago, I read or heard that the internet would have problems due to the large amount of e-mails (especially e-mail spam) which are much larger than they were historically.
Surprisingly, we don’t realize that everything that is wireless starts and ends with wire. LOL
Aria Schoenfelt, Austin Real Estate
April 30, 2008 at 10:09 am
This really reminds me of the South Park episode where the internet ‘breaks’. I’m really not concerned. These companies will find a way to continue offering services that so many consumers are willing to pay for.
Reading the Yahoo! article with a marketing background, it seems like PR to me (that’s PR as in Public Relations, not Page Rank as we are beginning to know it). They are talking about what steps AT&T/Yahoo! are taking to save the internet. It makes them look good if they’re doing the work to save something we’ve become so dependent on, bandwidth. They aren’t the only ones improving our connectivity and infrastructure. But they are certainly good at patting themselves on the back about it.
AT&T, Verizon, TimeWarner, and even the smaller companies will find a way to both keep us connected and make themselves look good in the process.
Nick Bostic, Real Estate Technology
April 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm
@Lani – Careful what you say! I think some people may try to adopt your triple-commission idea (I’ve seen a couple of “marketing” companies trying to do that around here already)
@Matthew – I agree, someone will definitely step in. Unfortunately, deregulation of the telcos has pretty much failed since it’s back in the hands of the almost the same original players. Someone with some serious resources would have to fill their shoes and right now, my vote is on Google trying something out.
@Jeanette – I’ll admit, I was a little concerned about Y2K for a moment or two. As for customer service, it’s tough. I worked in wireless, before AT&T I actually sold every carrier. They’re all bad, I find it’s just having the correct (low) expectation when you call in or find someone good in a store that you can work with.
@Bill – I think we’re even 🙂
@Glenn – First it was spam that was going to kill the internet, then YouTube, next it’ll be Twitter… Like Aria said, it’s a cheap PR attempt to set us up for higher bills in the future. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I had cell customers think their phones were talking directly to satellites.
@Aria – Perfect reference to South Park, even with the major undersea cables being cut recently, it’s pretty tough to imagine the internet breaking. It’s definitely a PR move (and no, I don’t care about anyone’s Page Rank 🙂 ), they’re doing a great job of doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years. Drinks all around!