People are Part of the Equation

RobotSurvey results from the Pew Research Group were announced today that summarize their findings about how Americans feel about our scientific future. The survey asked questions in several areas such as how people feel about technology changes and which changes people believe will be coming.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I am a bit of a futurist in that I think technology is going to be a very positive force in human life during the rest of this century. There are amazing technologies under development that will transform our lives. Technological upgrades are so common any more that I don’t know that the average citizen stops and thinks about how technology has already changed our lives. I saw guys watching NCAA basketball games on their cellphones a few week ago and I’m sure they didn’t appreciate how many kinds of technology had to come together to make that happen and also how many billions of dollars of investments had to be made in cellular networks. In my experience, Americans have already been trained to take new technology for granted.

Which made me a little surprised by some of the responses in the survey. For example, only 59% of the people surveyed thought that the technology changes we are going to see over the next decades will make life better. A surprising 30% felt they would make people worse off than they are today. I find this interesting in that far more than 59% of us now own and use a smartphone which is one of the more recent manifestations of new technology, and yet many people still fundamentally fear new technology

And this is why I say you can never take the human equation out of planning. There are going to be technological breakthroughs that the public will reject, no matter how good they are for the majority of mankind. Let’s look at a few of the technologies that people are most skeptical about:

  • 66% of respondents say it would be a change for the worse if parents were able to manipulate the genes of their children to make them smarter, healthier or more athletic.
  • 65% think it is a bad idea to have robots become the primary caregiver for the elderly or people in poor health.
  • 63% think it is a bad idea to allow personal and commercial drones into US airspace.
  • 53% think it’s a bad idea if people wear implants that let shows them information on the world around them.

The survey also asked if people would be willing to try some new inventions that are now on the horizon.

  • 50% of people say they are not interested in trying a driverless car.
  • Only 20% of people are willing to try meat grown in a lab.
  • 26% of Americans say they would get a brain implant if it would improve their memory or mental capacity.

The survey also asked what future invention people would most like to own. Over 31% of young people were interested in a wide variety of ways to make transportation easier such as a flying car, a self-driving car or a personal spacecraft. But middle-aged people were more pragmatic and a number of them wanted a robot that could help with housework. There were a few questions on the survey that everybody agreed with. For example, over 80% believe that within a few years that doctors will be able to grow organs for people who needs organ transplants.

This kind of survey tells us a lot more about people’s hopes and fears than it does about the various technologies. People are very distrustful of many new technologies and it has always been that way. Generally there are some early adopters that try the newest stuff and take some of the mystery out of it for everybody else. Not every new technology becomes popular, but the kinds of major technologies covered by this survey are likely to become widespread once they become affordable. But the survey reminds us that we can’t assume that any technology will be automatically accepted because people are part of that equation.


Two Books on Network Security

VoIP-for-whom (Photo credit: Saad Faruque)

There are two books on network security that any network manager ought to read. It’s almost impossible to develop a network with no vulnerabilities because the dangers to networks seem to be growing faster than network administrators can keep up. I think anybody who is operating a network ought to read the following two books. They give a lot of practical advice about how to protect your network from the many threats that can damage your network and your business.

Hacking Exposed by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray and George Kurtz. The first version of this book came out on 1999 and is now up to the seventh edition. One would expect that there soon will be an eighth edition. The authors are industry experts. Stuart McClure has been the CTO of both McAfee and Intel. Joel Scambray was a senior director of security for Microsoft and has gone on to found successful security consultancy companies. George Kurtz is co-founder and CEO of CrowdStrike, a big data security company. Additionally they have brought in guest authors from other parts of the industry.

This is an industry standby and lays forth network security by discussing ways that security can be breached. The books covers two primary topics. First it describes the basics of hacking and it describes the approaches that hackers take to violate networks. This is the basic stuff that every network engineer ought to know about. It covers hacker techniques like enumeration, foot printing, database hacking, operation system detection and many other techniques. And it describes the basic network security techniques that are used to protect against each of these kinds of threats.

The books also then covers very more specific examples of hacking and this is the section of the book that gets quickly out of date as hackers change their techniques to bypass security measures. However, the real-life examples given are fascinating and provide a detailed look into how hackers think and work. But these examples are often somewhat dated by the time they make it into the latest edition. So this is not a book that tells you every step you should take with your network today, but instead is a primer to teach network engineers how hackers think. Used in that manner this book ought to be required reading for anybody operating an IP network.

Securing VoIP Networks by Peter Thermos and Ari Takanen. This new book is a compendium of the kinds of threats that can disrupt a VoIP network (or any IP network for the most part). Many of the threats discussed are specific to VoIP while others are more generic and concern general network security.

This book is probably the best basic compendium of issues that affect VoIP security. It describes each of the basic different technologies that are used to provide VoIP. It then goes on to describe the kinds of problems that can be found in VoIP networks. It lists well over two dozen major problems that range from network design flaws to hacking vulnerabilities. It includes such topics as insufficient verification, too low resources, password management, authentication, error handling and lack of a fallback system. For each VoIP network vulnerability it then discusses ways to mitigate each type of problem.

This books should be required reading for anybody who is thinking about launching a new VoIP network. It will provide you with a wealth of knowledge that will stop you from making common mistakes. But this also ought to be required reading for anybody who is going to purchase a significant amount of VoIP from somebody else. There are literally hundreds of companies today operating VoIP wholesale networks and they are not all the same. This book will arm you to ask the right questions about a potential VoIP vendor rather than mindlessly going for the lowest price.


Another Look at the Future of Television

Television (Photo credit: paul.kenjerski)

There is a report published by EY (formerly known as Ernst and Young) that identifies six trends it sees that will change the future of television.

Better Use of Omniplatform Environment. In the 50’s the early days of television adapted existing radio shows since they didn’t really understand the changes made possible by the new TV medium. Today we are at a similar cusp in the way that people get their entertainment. A large percentage of TV viewers also use a laptop, tablet or smartphone while watching TV. The smart programmers are going to find ways to take advantage of the way viewers want to see content.

So EY is predicting that some programmers will adopt a new kind of programming that crosses multiple screens simultaneously. Such shows will cater to and expect viewers to be watching with multiple screens to get the full story. They also think programmers will use this medium to involve viewers in defining the story line.

Greater Demand for Mobility. If you have been following the tech news you see that there are new technologies involving transparent and flexible screens that are going to make it possible to show video content almost anywhere. As screens get cheaper and more abundant viewers are going to demand a far greater degree of mobility than they have today.

And mobility will mean more than just having the ability to watch a TV show on a pad. It means the ability to have content follow the viewer on the move. It’s already possible for a techie to have viewing follow them from room to room in the house. But the ultimate mobility is going to happen when somebody watching a football game is going to be able to follow the content from living room to vehicle to the grocery store.

There Will Remain a Social Context to Viewing. People like watching television with other people and social viewing increases for major events like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards. People are going to continue to want a social context to viewing and EY predicts that programmers will find ways to take advantage of this. They think some of the most popular future content will be that which draws people into it for social reasons instead of just for the content.

Content Will Become Personalized. Surveys show that almost nobody likes the effort that is required to find the programming they want using a settop box. EY predicts that smart software will be developed that will help people quickly find the programming they want. Further, this software will learn the viewer and will suggest programming to each person that is similar to what they most like to watch.

There are already early versions of this concept in play, but the real breakthrough will come when the content suggested is spot on to the viewer rather than just something from a similar category to things they recently watched.

Binge Viewing is Here to Stay. As somebody who is in a household of binge viewers, I agree with this observation. In our house we each tend to watch entire TV series end to end rather than view a number of different shows. We are already addicted to Amazon Prime for letting us watch the way that pleases us. I personally have been doing this for decades and am glad to now be freed from the expensive need to buy boxed DVD sets of my favorite shows.

New Content Providers Can Succeed. The bundled content packages offered by cable companies is under siege. People have so many options to watch what they want that more and more people are leaning away from bundled cable packages. There are new content entrants all of the time such as the new programming being developed by Netflix and Amazon Prime. This means there will be opportunities for new content providers to succeed with having to have access through the existing network structure.


An Update on the Transition to an All-IP Network

Overlay network diagram: IP layer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have closely been following the transition of the PSTN to an all-IP network. Every client of CCG who has any voice traffic on their network will be affected by the changes made in that order.

On November 19 the new Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler published a blog talking about his goals for this transition. In his blog he says that he is expecting that in January the FCC will vote on an Order for Immediate Action.

Chairman Wheeler laid out some expectations for the new transition to IP. He is referring to it as the Fourth Network Revolution. Rather than summarize what he said., I quote from his blog:

 “That Order should include recommendations to the Commission on how best to: (i) obtain comment on and begin a diverse set of experiments that will allow the Commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of such transitions (including consideration of AT&T’s proposed trials); (ii) collect data that will supplement the lessons learned from the experiments, and (iii) initiate a process for Commission consideration of legal, policy, and technical issues that would not neatly fit within the experiments, with a game plan for efficiently managing the various adjudications and rulemakings that, together, will constitute our IP transition agenda.”

The following day the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force issued a statement

the following day giving interested parties instructions on how to meet with the Task Force to supply input.

I get asked by a client every few weeks about the IP transition. I think the Chairman’s blog makes it clear that the process is just starting and that we are at least several years away from getting the process started. The FCC is now looking at a goal of having such a transition fully implemented by 2018

If the FCC approves the Order for Immediate Action this will authorize the start of a few trials of the IP network. Expect such trials to be between AT&T, Verizon and a few large carriers in just a few markets. Even in those markets it is unlikely that they will want smaller carriers to take part in the trials.

As I have discussed earlier, CCG is very much in favor of the transition to an all-IP network as long as making the change doesn’t trample the rights of our many CLEC clients. Probably the most important right that a CLEC has today is the ability to interconnect with the incumbents at any technically feasible location. This right was established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and it is vital that this transition does not change this provision. We fear the large incumbents will use this as an excuse to force everybody to meet them at large statewide or regional IP POPs, at the CLEC’s cost. Such a change could greatly increase the cost to CLECs of interconnection.

We are also concerned that a change to an all-IP network will be an excuse for the RBOCs to try to get out of the historical practice of interchanging local traffic on a bill and keep basis. Historically the calling patterns from rural areas are that they send a lot more traffic to urban areas than what they receive. If such traffic must be brought to IP POPs at the ILEC’s cost or if such traffic becomes subject to transit traffic the costs to rural ILECs will increase tremendously.

CCG plans to file comments on these two issues with the FCC in this Docket and any of our clients interested in these two topics should let us know if you have any other specific concerns.


Privacy and the Internet

In the last week I have seen a number of articles talking about privacy and the Internet. This has become a hot topic after it was leaked that the NSA is gathering Internet data and emails. But the articles I am reading are starting to look deeper, and they all come to the same fundamental conclusion: there is no personal privacy on the Internet. None. Zero. Nada.

For anybody to think otherwise is a convenient self-delusion that makes you feel better about your own behavior on the web. But since the web was founded your ISP has recorded every web site and every email and every comment on a blog that you have ever written. ISPs differ greatly in how long they keep your data and how willing they are to share it with outsiders like law enforcement. But they all record everything you do.

But as the revelations about the NSA have showed us, it doesn’t really matter if you have a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ISP in terms of somebody who will protect the integrity of your data. The NSA set up data catch points at most of the major Internet POPs in the country, and in doing so snagged all of the data that comes through those chokepoint in the network.

If you are a normal person like me you probably are not that worried about the NSA having your information. After all, if you aren’t doing anything wrong what do you have to be afraid of? And the chances are, for now, that the answer is that there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s very unlikely that the NSA is processing the mountains of data that they have on average citizens. I feel somewhat certain that they are mostly sifting through that data looking for bad guys.

But there is still concern. I’ve seen stories about people who have had the police come to their house because they wrote emails with some key words that the government was looking for. The problem of living in a big brother world is that there are going to be a lot of false positives and many innocent people will be investigated unnecessarily. And that is the part when it starts getting scary if the one being investigated is you.

But the NSA aside, there are worse things on the Internet. The chances of the NSA creating a profile on you are near to zero. But the chances of Google and Amazon and a ton of other big information companies doing so is 100%. If you are on the web you are being profiled. Period. Over time they know a lot about you. Your name, address and, birthday. But also what you look at on the web, what you purchase, what you think of purchasing. What movies you watch and what web sites and books you read. But they also know more personal data like your political preferences, your health and medical issues, and whether you have any more private habits like looking at porn or visiting unsavory political sites.

Let’s face it. Over time these big companies probably know things about you that even your spouse might not know. I know that anybody who stops and thinks about everything they have ever done on the web has to be concerned.

And we all have suspicions that it goes a lot deeper than that. One of my engineers at CCG tells about typing in an email that he was thinking about buying a new pick-up truck. And within a day he started seeing pick-up truck ads everywhere he went on the web. And he can’t recall having seen them before that. You have to admit that if Google is somehow scanning your emails (something they deny) then they really know a lot about you.

But I told him that he can’t be surprised by this. Because there never was any promise of privacy on the web. And that is finally becoming apparent to many people.


The End of Carrier-of-Last Resort

The Louisiana Public Service Commission granted AT&T relief from carrier-of-last resort obligations on November 13 in Docket R-31889. This docket also allows AT&T to stop calculating price floors. Similar changes have been ordered in other states and AT&T has been asking for this everywhere they are regulated.

What might this change mean to the average consumer? Just sitting here I can picture a number of possible ways that AT&T can use this ruling:

  • They are no longer obligated to connect a new home to the copper network. In the past as carrier-of-last resort they were required to connect everybody within reason. And that meant everybody within some defined distance from the network. They were not required to connect people at the top of a mountain if their neighbors didn’t already have service, although they were required to offer for that mountaintop home to pay for the construction to reach the network. But AT&T can now say no to any new home and can instead tell a customer they only offer wireless service or no service at all.
  • AT&T could insist that every new home pay the cost of connecting to the network, and anybody who has ever seen such estimates knows they are heavily loaded with overheads and are very expensive.
  • AT&T could refuse to reconnect customers to the network. If somebody gets disconnected for late payment or puts their service on hold to go on vacation they could be told that they are not allowed to connect back to copper. Again, they could be told their only alternative is wireless or nothing at all.
  • This doesn’t yet give AT&T the ability to kick paying customers off the network, but they have already told the FCC that they want that authority in order to convert millions of lines from copper to wireless.

There are customers for whom this change might really matter. Certainly anybody who has several competitive alternatives is not going to care too much, but there are still millions of customers without alternatives. There are still many rural customers for whom a copper landline is still the only physical communications wire connected to their home. If they lose that, then satellite or wireless Internet become their only option, and many rural areas have really lousy cell phone / data coverage. It also matters because if AT&T is successful in converting people from copper to wireless the cost to customers will go way up. Cell phones cost a lot more than landlines and cellular data costs more than DSL and also has very severe caps.

The second provision of this ruling is just as disturbing. By getting rid of price floors AT&T has been given the permission to cut prices below costs. That might sound beneficial to consumers but it generally is not in the long run. Done in an extreme way, cutting prices below costs would be considered as predatory pricing. Unfortunately in this industry there is no reliable legal or regulatory definition of predatory pricing, and so any competitor claiming it would face a huge uphill battle to first define what predatory pricing means.

The ability to price below costs means that AT&T could engage in a price war in a market with competition and make up the profits from the surrounding markets. The consumers in the competitive market might benefit for a while, but AT&T’s goal with a price floor would be to put the competitor out of business.

Don’t think this doesn’t happen. In Monticello Minnesota the city built a fiber network to bring fast Internet to the City and to lower what looked to be the most expensive phone rates in the country. The incumbent provider in that City is TDS, a mid-sized telephone holding company. TDS, and then Charter Cable both responded to the City’s competition by offering special incentive packages that are half of their former price. When a telephone or cable company cuts prices in half they are either engaging in predatory pricing or they were making obscene profits before the price cuts. In Monticello I think that there was some of both going on.

In the long run the Louisiana Commission has given AT&T more tools to hurt customers and to stifle competition. AT&T certainly made the request for this change sound benign, but in the end it is really hard for a company of their size to not take advantages of the new rights they have been granted. It will be interesting to see what the LPSC does when they get complaints from customers and competitors who are harmed due to this ruling.


Goodbye St. Croix

Today I am leaving my home in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and moving to Florida. The place I am moving to, Punta Gorda, Florida looks like a really nice place and I am sure that I will like living there.

Certainly I will be regaining many of the amenities that you give up when you live on an island. Shopping for many regular things is harder here and you often have to ship things and wait two weeks for them. Food shipped in from other places is often of poor quality, particularly dairy and other perishables. But I have more than made up for this by wholeheartedly adopting the amazing tropical fruits that grow here. I am going to miss the chocolate fruit, sugar apples, breadfruit, sour sops and malay apples. I’ll miss fresh mangoes that are to die for, which are so cheap that in season you can buy them for almost nothing. I will miss buying a gallon of fresh coconut water for $20. I even love the giant jackfruit, the size of watermelons that taste amazing  but looks like an alien inside (and which Julie says smells like dirty socks).

But there are things about living on a Caribbean island that are hard. I have lived up a dirt road that is hard to traverse for half of each year. They fix it annually, but two hard rains later it’s all ruts again. The truck I just sold had less than 50,000 miles and has already gone through several front ends. And electricity and gas here are expensive. Even without air conditioning my electric bill is over $500 per month to run lights, fans and a pool pump.

The island I am leaving is undergoing hard times. It lost a refinery that had a few thousand good paying jobs, and on a place that has 50,000 full-time residents this was devastating. It’s likely that well over 10,000 people have left the island recently and there is a sense of quiet despair here. People don’t want to leave here, but they need to feed their families. And as the people are leaving, businesses are closing and even doctors are leaving the island.

But there are many upsides to living here as well. The weather here is unbelievable. In the summer the highs are around 90 degrees with nights at 80 degrees. By peak of winter that has dropped to highs of 83 degrees and lows in the lower 70’s. Sunny is the normal condition and we often laugh at the weather man who reads through each day of the upcoming forecast saying, “High around 85 degrees, low in the 70’s”. But he is always right! I am so spoiled that I break out the hoodie now when it gets anywhere near to 70 degrees. I have some re-acclimation to do, for sure.

People always ask me about hurricanes? We have only had a few in ten years and only one of those was bad. Category 3 Otto hit me hard, particularly the tornado that followed the storm and that hit my house and knocked down a ton of my trees. That storm prompted me to put in a generator since I was without electricity (and Internet) for six weeks. But I live in a concrete fortress and never really sweated the hurricane itself.   

One of the biggest upsides is that it just feels different here. It feels more like what the US felt like when I was growing up in the fifties. It just feels simpler and freer. You are pretty much free to do anything here that doesn’t hurt anybody else. You can feel that freedom –it is a tangible thing – this is a place of live and let live.

But the main reason I am going to miss living here is that it feels like home to me. I think you all know that ‘home’ feeling. During your lives you live in many different places, but only one or two places ever feel like home. I love to just sit and look out the window, listen to the frogs and birds and watch the palm leaves blow in the wind. I love my feral cats, my mongooses and my iridescent green iguanas. Being at my island house has soothed my soul and made me happy. So goodbye St. Croix. You have captured my heart and my soul and a piece of me will always be here. But it’s now time to move on the next adventure. Look out Florida, here I come.


What’s on the Internet?

Twice a year Sandvine issues a report on the state of the Internet. Sandvine sells internet tools and is the leader in network policy control, selling products that help carriers with things like peer-to-peer caching and stateful traffic redirection. As usual the Sandvine report is interesting reading.

One of their more interesting observations this year is that they are seeing a leveling off of total Internet traffic in North America. This is a very different story than is told by Cisco and other companies that have continued to project double digit growth in traffic volumes. Sandvine is not sure if what they are seeing is an anomaly and they are looking forward to their next set of measurements to see if this is a trend or a one-time phenomenon.

One of the more interesting things that Sandvine reports is the components that make up web traffic in the US. They look at both landline and wireless web traffic and, as you would expect, the usage is very different for these two segments of the market.

Following is Sandvine’s list of the top usage for fixed access usage for North America. It’s obvious that downstream traffic is largely used for entertainment. Netflix and YouTube now account together for over 50% of the downloading on the web. But then there are iTunes, Amazon video, Facebook and Hulu. Uploading to the web is a different story and BitTorrent accounts for over 36% of uploads, but only 4% of downloads (demonstrating how much larger the download stream is).

Upstream Downstream
Rank Application PCT Application PCT
1 BitTorrent 36.35% Netflix 31.62%
2 HTTP 6.03% YouTube 18.69%
3 SSL 5.87% HTTP 9.74%
4 Netflix 4.44% BitTorrent 4.05%
5 YouTube 3.63% iTunes 3.27%
6 Skype 2.76% MPEG – Other 2.60%
7 QVoD 2.55% SSL 2.05%
8 Facebook 1.54% Amazon Video 1.61%
9 Facetime 1.44% Facebook 1.31%
10 DropBox 1.39% Hulu 1.29%

North American mobile access shows a very different story. It’s obvious that people are not using cell phones to watch video content, at least to the extent that they do with landline connections. This is certainly a function of the caps on many wireless data plans as well as a reluctance to watch content on a small screen. But with that said, the two largest sources of mobile data download usage are YouTube and Facebook. Much smaller than those two are things like Netflix, Pandora radio, Instagram and iTunes.

Upstream Downstream
Rank Application PCT Application PCT
1 Facebook 20.62% YouTube 17.69%
2 YouTube 13.20% Facebook 15.44%
3 HTTP 12.64% HTTP 14.07%
4 SSL 11.11% MPEG – Other 7.92%
5 Pandora Radio 5.19% SSL 7.84%
6 MPEG – Other 5.11% Google Market 5.99%
7 Google Market 4.95% Pandora Radio 5.03%
8 Instagram 3.52% Netflix 5.01%
9 Netflix 2.19% Instagram 3.53%
10 iTunes 1.59% iTunes 3.16%
Regulation - What is it Good For? The Industry Uncategorized

Lifeline Accountability

USAC, the group that administers the Universal Service Funds, has started testing a program that is designed to stop people from requesting multiple subsidies from the Lifeline program.

The lifeline program provides a discount of $9.95 from telephone bills for low-income consumers. A consumer is eligible for Lifeline if they a earn less than 135% of the federal poverty level or if somebody in the household participates in any of a number of assistance programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, Section 8 housing, low income home-energy assistance, Head Start and various tribal and state programs.

The way this works is that the telephone company providing the service gives the discount to the consumer and then collects the funds from USAC out of the Universal Service Fund.

A consumer can elect to get the discount from either a home telephone or a cellular phone account, but cannot collect from both. Apparently there is a lot of concern in Washington that people are collecting the discounts for both a landline and a cell phone, because the FCC has instructed USAC to put together a program to make certain that people don’t collect multiple benefits.

And so USAC is currently implementing the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD). Carriers who participate in the lifeline program are required to input data about each lifeline customer including the last four digits of their social security number or their tribal ID and their date of birth. The carrier also has to provide the full address for each customer and this address will then be verified by USAC using the USPS database of valid addresses. Expect big problems in this area because rural addresses are often very erratic in the USPS databases.

As you might imagine, many carriers don’t ask for things like the date of birth when somebody gets telephone service, so they are now scrambling to get the needed information from their customers.

States are being added to the NLAD in groups. The first group of states now entering data includes Arkansas, Maryland, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Washington. Already some states have opted out of the NLAD database including Puerto Rico, Oregon, Texas, California and Vermont. Those states are going to have to come up with some version of this database of their own or else carriers in those states will lose Lifeline funding.

There is no fee to use the database, but use of it is mandatory if a carrier wants to collect from the Lifeline fund. The real cost is in the effort of each carrier to implement and keep this database current – another unfunded mandate.

I suppose that this process will turn up some cheaters and they will be asked to pare back to just one Lifeline subsidy. But one has to wonder how many customers might have been given the discount by multiple carriers without even knowing that this is not allowed? And one might suspect that there are somewhat shady carriers who are collecting the payments from the Lifeline fund without giving the discount to a customer, or possibly even having a customer. I would not be surprised to find some carriers collecting Lifeline for customers who died years ago.

I hope the FCC publishes the result of what they find through this database. As much as I hate waste and fraud, one has to wonder of the cost of implementing this kind of red-tape process is worth it compared to any savings that will be achieved through eliminating duplicate payments. These kind of processes end up becoming permanent new requirements for carriers and make it just that much harder to do business.


Cool New Technologies

Today blog is not about a new telco gadget or technology, but instead reports on three new technology breakthroughs that might eventually benefit our industry. When it comes to technology I am both an optimist and a dreamer. I am one of those people who watches Star Trek and fully expects that to be our world in a century or so, minus warp drive and beaming people around.

I have seen various estimates that say that total scientific knowledge is doubling between every five years and eight years. With that much new knowledge we are going to keep seeing amazing new discoveries and applications in fields of science from physics  to genetics and our communication and medicine a century now will look nothing like today.

Here are three new things I found intriguing:

Entangled Photons.  Telecom giant NTT has been doing research on quantum communications and they have been able to create what they are calling entangled photons. This means two photons at different places that act in total synch with each other. In a recent experiment they were able to entangle pairs of photons that were 300 kilometers apart.

This is really interesting from a communications perspective, because with entangled photons, whatever is done to change one photon happens simultaneously with the other. This leads to the possibility that locations far apart could transmit information without actually sending the information from one place to the other. Instead we would just manipulate the tangled protons at one end and those changes could be read and interpreted as data at the other end.

This research is in the very early stages, but the good news is that they got it to work. It would take a lot more space than this blog to explain why they think this works and if you want your head to hurt go read a book on quantum mechanics. It’s amazing stuff.

And if that is not interesting enough, scientists in Israel recently were able to entangle photons that were separated by both space and time. That is starting to sound like Star Trek to me and opens up the possibility of communicating into another time.

Twisted Magnetic Fields. Scientists have known for a few years that they could increase the surface area of storage media by using twisted magnetic fields, known as skyrmions. Scientists at the University of Hamburg were able recently to be able to write and then erase data on skyrmions. This technology could increase computer storage efficiency by a factor of about 20 times.

The writing and erasing would be done using scanning tunneling microscopes. Like with any new technology there are a lot of bugs to work out. But over time we will continue to see smaller and denser data storage.

Passing the Limits of Silicon. Speaking of smaller, researchers at Applied Materials, the semiconductor and chip maker, have been looking at what comes next after we pass the limits of silicon. Current estimates are that the smallest  ‘transistor’ we can make with silicon is at about 14 nanometers. However, the Applied Materials scientists have been looking at other technologies that could lower that to as small as 3 nanometers. This would reduce the size of chips by about a factor of 25 past what can be done with silicon.

The reasons that the semiconductor industry uses silicon is that it’s cheap and all of the research and tools used in the industry are based upon silicon. But if we want smaller and faster chips we are nearing the time when we are going to have to step away from silicon and start over.

Applied Materials thinks that the next possible materials to use are either silicon-germanium (SiGe) or even pure germanium. Those materials can probably reduce the effective size of a transistor down to the 7 nanometer range.

To go beyond 7 nanometers is going to require a change in topology of the chip surface. Above I mentioned using twisted magnetic fields, but this is more in the line of a physical change, and Applied Materials is betting on shaping the material in what they are calling fins. This will increase the surface area while still preventing quantum tunneling and data gate leakage.

What I love about these kinds of breakthroughs is that scientists keep pushing and probing our knowledge of the universe, with the result that we get smaller, faster computing devices that are going to transform our world.

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