Regardless of what we do with the Internet, one thing people agree on: faster means better. Comparing today’s broadband data experience to that of the dial-up dawn of the Web in the 1990s is like comparing the speed and convenience of modern intercontinental passenger jets to air travel during the golden age of the airship at the beginning of the 20th century. And as charming as that era was, none of us would go back.
Before its fiery demise on May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg was known for its ability to cross the Atlantic from Frankfurt to New Jersey in 78.5 hours. Today, that trip can be done in less than eight hours.
A three-day trans-Atlantic flight today would mean far fewer face-to-face meetings with clients, suppliers or colleagues in Europe. Visits to European operations to investigate problems first-hand would be almost unheard of, and opportunities to meet with competitors and other stakeholders would be rare indeed.
Now consider speed online: fast throughput will change what we consider is even possible over the Internet.
Those speeds are coming to a network near you. The Internet that Canadians enjoy today has its roots in ARPANET—a research network that dates back to the 1960s. Looking at how universities are using networks today is a good indication of what the rest of us can expect in the years ahead.
Already, high-speed networks such as CANARIE—Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network—routinely deliver speeds of 100 gigabits per second to universities and government laboratories. This not only allows more researchers to take advantage of Internet-enabled resources, it changes the very nature of research. And just like the advent of the fixed-wing aircraft changed the experience of flight, ultra high-speed networking carries big changes to the Internet experience for Canadian citizens and businesses.
What’s in our future? Backbone spoke with CANARIE president and CEO Jim Roche and others who follow the evolution of high-speed networking to offer six things Canadian businesses need to know about the need for speed.
1. You will use data differently
High-speed networks have already transformed how research is conducted. In the past, scientists would postulate a theory and then conduct experiments to prove or disprove it. That’s no longer the case. “What we’re doing now is generating a whole whack of data from an experiment, and then analyzing the data to see if we can find the underlying theory,” Roche said. “This new type of research demands more computing power to analyze the data, and more network capacity to move the data around.”
The ability to analyze and act on huge volumes of data will create new opportunities for businesses. We’re seeing consumer examples of this in what David Jacobson, recently retired as director of emerging technologies, consulting and deals at PwC, called “the cross-linking of experiences.” You cross-link when, for instance, you consult IMDb on your smartphone while watching a movie. In the process, you enrich your enjoyment of the movie. “As it appears on TV, simultaneous marketing onto a mobile device really reinforces things,” Jacobson said. “A lot of businesses are realizing that this is becoming vitally important.”
So we can expect more cross-linking, more experiences that bring together different forms of data from different sources, presented on multiple devices simultaneously. As these become more sophisticated, network speed and capacity will become more of an issue. As an example, Jacobson said, “The tremendous requirement for downloading movies and uploading video that’s been taken on smartphones or cameras—all of that places a very heavy load on links to the home and to small-, medium-sized and large businesses.”
2. You will need new tools
Before acting on new opportunities, businesses must be able to analyze the huge volumes of data that high-speed networks enable them to collect. Roche said CANARIE has witnessed a 50 per cent annual growth in data on its network, and new tools are needed to make sense of that. “Many researchers don’t have that skill—they don’t have the background in computing and networking infrastructure—and consequently, they need tools that are more human-oriented,” Roche said. CANARIE is helping to create tools for researchers, and he expects these will eventually benefit corporate Canada, too. “A great example of this is the explosion in use of the World Wide Web once the browser was developed, and that came out of a research environment,” he said. “We’ll see a similar development and adoption of tools for big data analysis.”
Jacobson envisions this tool as a personal dashboard that collects information from various sources on and off the network, and presents the data in a form that allows a person to quickly make savvy decisions. For example, to prep for a client meeting, the dashboard would automatically build a background dossier for pre-meeting study, flag issues that need to be addressed and identify sources for that information, suggest area restaurants for the meeting based on the preferences of each participant, add an alert to each person’s calendar, warn of potential traffic issues en route to the meeting and suggest alternate routes, and so on.
3. Data must be cloud-ready
In an interview conducted via e-mail, Yvon Audette, national partner-in-charge, IT Advisory at consulting firm KPMG, said businesses rapidly embrace cloud-based solutions such as Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service. And it’s not just big businesses. “Based on the adoption of cloud services, I would say this demand is right across the board,” Audette said. “Whether clients are relying on key SAAS, PAAS or IAAS cloud solutions for their business, this all drives high-speed networking requirements.”
Jacobson points out many services, including his dashboard concept, will only be effective if a company’s data is in a form that can be shared over the network and used on a variety of devices. As an example, proprietary databases for record keeping won’t cut it. “One doesn’t want to have to format conversions by hand, it has to be platform independent,” Jacobson said. Migrating business data to platform-independent systems that can work with cloud-based services is best done sooner rather than later.
4. Listen to employees
In addition to cloud-based services, Audette said employees increasingly want to bring their own devices to work and that companies are considering Bring Your Own Device strategies. “There is no question that the proliferation of mobile devices is driving greater demand for wireless in organizations.”
According to Jacobson, the BYOD phenomenon is an example of how businesses are benefiting from tech-savvy staff. He calls these people “selfsumers,” those who shun traditional advertising in favour of doing their own product research and making an informed decision. Along the way, these selfsumers often develop innovative ways to use technology, and Jacobson said businesses would be wise to tap into the expertise of their staff, to find out what they’re doing and brainstorm ways to use the best ideas in a corporate environment. “There are ways of doing that effectively. One is by chatting with people. Another, which selfsumers like and which is very popular, is social networking, not only to get ideas from people but also to discuss those ideas and develop them, to become innovative right across the organization.”
5. You need a replacement plan
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating: technology evolves rapidly and taking advantage of all that high-speed networking can provide will require companies to upgrade their technology on a regular basis. Jacobson lists a number of questions companies need to ask about employees: “Where are they? Where do they need to go? How will they manage this? What is the projected life-cycle of their technology? When will they need to renew their efforts? And so forth,” he said. “These are not trivial matters at all, they’re not something a company can do in an ad-hoc way.”
6. Canada needs a broadband strategy
Roche at CANARIE stressed the importance of good public policy to encourage the creation and adoption of high-speed networks. “Canada has flipped from being one of the top countries for Internet access to the middle of the road,” he said. “This is a challenge. It means that if I’m starting a business that depends on connectivity, I’m going to think twice about doing it in Canada. If I’m a consumer in Canada it’s creating a barrier to me in accessing information and participating in the digital economy.”
“From a policy perspective, I think as a country we need to figure out how to regain, if not our leadership position, then at least our place amongst the leaders in broadband access, both in wired and wireless technologies,” he said.
In other words, it’s time for Canadian Internet policy to enter the Jet Age.
Networking is an A.R.E.
Here’s a guide to some of the most common technologies that support the need for speed:
- 802.11n The state-of-the-art standard for Wi-Fi technology uses multiple signals and antennae to deliver the fastest wireless speed and best signal range, and is designed to support wireless connections of more than 100 Mbps. However, even 802.11n will be old-school soon, once the 802.11ac draft is accepted. This should deliver a maximum single link throughput of at least 500 megabits per second.
- FTTH/FTTP Fiber To The Home/Premises Fiber optic cable is routinely used for the core of a network, but is only beginning to appear at the edges, the points where citizens and businesses connect to the network.
- LTE Long Term Evolution The latest standard for data transmission on mobile networks. Also known as 4G, the standard governs data speeds of up to 300 Mbps to the user’s device and up to 75 Mbps from the user’s device.
- WiMax A long-range wireless networking technology based on the 802.16 Wide Area Network (WAN) standard. WiMax delivers data rates of up to 75 Mbps over a distance of several kilometres.
What’s available now?
CANARIE can deliver 100 Gbps to its clients. How does that stack up to what the average Canadian gets? Surveying the Web sites of select major carriers provides the following info for each carrier’s best high-speed residential Internet access speeds (subject to availability):
Cities with the fastest Internet speeds
IPTV - TV over the Internet with Bell Fibe
- Shaw Broadband 250: 250 Mbps
- Vidéotron Ultimate Speed Internet 200: 200 Mbps
- Bell Fibe Internet: 175 Mbps
- Rogers Ultimate: 75 Mbps
- Telus Optik High Speed Turbo: 25 Mbps