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The Next Generation Internet (NGI)
by Daniel Hopping

Last month, I discussed the Semantic Web as one of the three technologies that I think will converge during the next five years to make a significant change in how we live, how we work, how we play, and how we shop. The Semantic Web will know what you want. Your browser will understand the content of the web pages that you surf. You will do things with the Web that you cannot now imagine.

Today, it is as hard to predict the future of the Internet and e-business as it would have been for a Civil War telegraph operator to imagine what we are doing now in communications. We simply can't foresee all the ways that the Internet of the future -- the Next Generation Internet -- will be used or the full impact it will have.

In the last ten years, the Web was born, browsers have emerged and users have grown from 16 million to almost a Billion. It has created hundreds of billions of dollars of economic growth. It enabled the meteoric growth of thousands of companies and transformed business, education, entertainment-- almost every aspect of our lives. And even larger changes are coming as the Internet becomes faster, more robust, and more versatile.

For us to take full advantage of the capabilities of the Semantic Web, we will need a faster path onto and through the Internet. When the Web emerged ten years ago 4.8K bps was considered fast and broadband was out of the question for the household. Currently the connection over telephone lines is 56K bps; cable modems can provide almost 5,000K bps and a new connection from the telecom company by the name of Citizens is called ADSL2+ and can operate at almost 20,000K bps. Verizon has a new service called Fios that is advertised to be able to run at 30,000K bps.

What would you do different if the Web ran at 100,000,000K bps? I think you would do everything different. You could transfer a DVD in a less than a second.

The Next Generation of the Internet has been built and is now running at over 200 Universities.

Internet2® is a consortium of 207 Universities working with Industry and Government to create the next Generation of the Internet. Internet2 has a number of projects designed to accelerate the journey into the future. One of these projects is called Abilene. Abilene is now running at 10,000,000K bps and plans on hitting 100,000,000K bps. You can visit Internet2 at: http://www.internet2.edu

Most descriptions of the future of the Internet have focused on bandwidth. But the Next Generation Internet is about a lot more than just high-speed networks. It's really about applications. It's not what the technology can do; it's what we will be able to do with it.

Several technologies will soon converge to allow the NGI to become: NATURAL, INTELLIGENT, EASY, EVERYWHERE, FAST, TRUSTED, and ALWAYS ON.
  • NATURAL means having tools for collaboration and conversation so you can work together as effectively in cyberspace as you do face-to-face.
  • INTELLIGENT means the Internet will not only guide you to the information you want, it will provide you with the tools to turn that information into the knowledge you need.
  • EASY means the seamless integration of all the different Internet applications you use so you never again have to worry about the format of your files or the types of browser you are using.
  • EVERYWHERE means we will have ubiquitous access to the Internet and to the millions of different devices--PCs, PDAs, cell phones, TVs, VCRs, cars, refrigerators, vending machines, even pet collars--attached to it.
  • FAST means we will have speed and be able to prioritize the data that is transferred over the network. Just think what 1000 time faster would do.
  • TRUSTED means the Internet will have effective, transparent privacy, security and authentication built in. It will be safe to pay vendors in Millions on the Net.
  • ALWAYS ON means the Internet will be there whenever you need it -- that it will be designed to ensure reliability. Like a Palm Pilot, you just turn it on.
The three most important capabilities of the NGI that will matter to Retailers are very high speed, Multicasting, and demarcated levels of service.

Higher bandwidth – Maybe 1,000 times faster than the current Web. Imagine if the Web was like cable TV, but with 40 Million channels.

Multicasting – Allows a packet to be sent to many locations at the same time. This allows content to be shared in real time with a high efficiency. This will enable applications that we can not now imagine.

Demarcated levels of service – Content can be prioritized with delivery ensured.

The Semantic Web and the NGI
Most analysis of the NGI that I have seen does not take into account the impact of the Semantic Web along with the NGI in delivery of service. Together these will make grid computing more of a reality for companies. Most retailers have more computer power in the stores than at the enterprise level. Why not use that power when the store is closed to do the big jobs like pattern recognition and trend analysis. IBM is currently doing just that on employee lap tops when the machine goes into screen saver. Almost a hundred thousands IBM employee’s laptops are now working on a protein folding problem whenever their terminal is idle.

This combination will allow a different model of where the software lives and how it is charged for. If there is no difference in performance between native and thin client remote operation, we can be much more creative. Why not rent a software package based on minutes of use rather than deal with installation and ongoing maintenance?

As the Internet has become faster, people have spent more time surfing. They have spent more time on a retailer’s site. The faster the pages come, the more pages are examined. What can we do for the consumer with a connection that is 1,000 times faster and that understands the content?

The Internet is becoming so pervasive, so reliable, and so transparent, that we'll all just take it for granted. It will just be part of our life -- like electricity or plumbing.

Daniel Hopping is a global technology futurist, author, consultant and speaker. With four decades of hands-on experience, Dan’s area of expertise is forecasting the impact that technology will have on the retail industry and tomorrow’s consumer.

Copyright © Daniel Hopping. All rights reserved.

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