Flotsam and Jetsam


Rather than risking turning this into an all-link blog, I've decided to make this a more prosaic post and pick a few interesting trends that I've noticed amongst the gazillion RSS items I skim through every month and vendors' efforts to foist their solutions on me.

Let's start with networking, which is seeing a fundamental inversion - and I don't mean your bog standard wiring closet, I mean real, big, bad country-wide voice and data WAN networking in any sense of the word. The continuous barrage of Wi-Fi, 3G and WiMax news has focused mostly on the edge (i.e., access) part of the network, but at most networks' core, MPLS IP networking has been slowly gnawing at ATM, and we're fast approaching a time when most operators will have to face pretty tough investment decisions - maintain the ATM meshes they run over leased "dark" fiber (which currently run a lot of ATM voice, but where IP-based protocols are increasing in use) or simply ditch the whole thing and run packet over SONET with MPLS and native IP services. Nobody seems to be discussing this, and my guess is that it's because most people (or reporters) forget that there is a lot more to providing a service than the access layer.

Still, there will always be news at the access layer. Next year's hype is likely to be related to HSDPA, which will be the next logical step for any operator currently deploying UMTS. Some people are starting to say it will kill Wi-Fi, others see no real point in delivering raw bandwidth without a complelling service. Me, I still think it's all about real Internet access, period - people don't care about the technology, they just want to open a browser and type cnn.com. We should be making that happen, whether it's on a laptop, a PDA or a mobile phone.

And speaking of PDAs, I see a lot of feature-bloated releases these days, as if the PDA were some sort of all-in-one desktop/phone/digicam replacement. It's just ludicrous - manufacturers keep aiming at the over-saturated premium/professional user segment and churning out overly complex solutions - both clear indicators that they're missing the point altogether. People want simple, effective and, above all, time saving technology. It's pretty obvious that the new mass-market PDA is the mobile phone (forget the Zire, and no way the Treo will fly if it gets any more complex - it should be simplified even further).

Of course some people (like me) essentially want the PDA to grow up and replace a lot of my PC's functionality, but most people really want a smartphone. And still, it's not a perfect approach by any stretch of the imagination. Smartphones have evolved way faster than PDAs, but mostly (and sadly) in the same direction (feature bloat) with even Nokia's Series 60 becoming slow, unwieldly and a serious competitor to bait stores.

And operators haven't made it easier, focusing on flogging popular content rather than on providing services that actually make people's lives easier. As a simple - and rather trivial - example of that can be achieved today (as in right now), please raise your hand all those who would love to be able to wirelessly backup/sync your phone to a server - Thank you, you've just made my point. There are a lot of potential services like this that have the potential to help operators retain customers in a cheap and effective way - if they're done properly and are obviously useful.

I don't mean merely easy to use, they have to be obvious, not buried under umpteen menus.

It's not just a matter of UI design - all in all, I think we're missing a lot of perspective.

Speaking of perspective, I'm getting pretty tired of trawling the RSS feeds. News stories are biased as hell, with so-called "analysts" often reading nothing else (with the odd press release thrown in as a "reliable source") and quoting the original piece with just enough fluff to make it look like "reporting". Duplicate articles are, literally, a dime a dozen.

What irks me is that there are a lot of good (and also a lot of plain stupid) ideas floating around in all aspects of networking, mobility and computing (even some that keep getting re-hyped and re-hashed over the years to no avail), but very few people who can tie it into a cohesive vision - and that's not only a vision of where we're going, it's also a vision of what we're missing out on.

My guess is that we're making things needlessly complicated for everyone. But then, I'm just someone who actually uses technology to get something else done - even if it's mostly similar technology :)