A New Internet

A Wikimedia server room.

A Wikimedia server room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A research group in Europe has proposed to overhaul the way the Internet looks for data. The group was funded as part of a project called ‘Pursuit’ and their ideas are described in this Pursuit Fact Sheet.

The proposal involves changing the way that the Internet searches for data. Today searches are done by URL, or Universal Resource Locator. What URL searches do is to identify the original server that holds the desired data. When you do a Google search that is what you find – the address of the original server. The problem with looking for data this way is that everybody looking for that same data is going to be sent to that same server.

There are several problems that are associated with searches based upon looking for the original server that holds a piece of data. It means that everybody looking for that data is sent to the same server. If enough people look for that data at the same time the original server might crash. The original server can also be effectively shut down by denial of service attacks. And sending everybody to the original server is inefficient. If the original content everybody is looking for is a video, then that video is downloaded to each person who asks to see it, if you and your neighbors all decide to watch the same video, then it is downloaded individually to each one of you and will be sent through the Internet many times.

The Pursuit proposal is suggesting that we instead change the Internet to use URIs (Universal Resource Identifiers) to search for data. This kind of search is going to look for the content you are looking for rather than for the server that originally stored the data. So if you are looking for a TV show, it will look to see where that show is currently stored. If somebody in your local network has recently watched that show then the data is already available locally and you will be able to download it much faster and also not have to initiate a new download from the original server.

This is somewhat akin to the way that file-sharing sites work and you might be given a menu of sites that hold the data you are looking for. By choosing the nearest site you will be retrieving the data from somewhere other than the original server. The closer it is to you (network-wise, no geographically) the faster and more efficiently you will be able to retrieve it.

But more likely the retrieval will be automated, and you may download the content from many locations – grabbing a piece of the desired video from the different networks that currently hold that data.

This is not a new concept and networks that use switched digital video have been using the same concept. In those systems, the first person in a neighborhood node that watches a certain channel will open up a connection for that channel. But the second person then shares the already-open channel and does not initiate a new request back to the TV server. This means that a given channel is opened only once for a given node on the network.

There are huge advantages to this kind of shift in the Internet. Today the vast majority of data being sent through the Internet is video. And one has to imagine that very large numbers of people watch the same content. And so changing to a system where a given video is sent to your local node only one time is a huge improvement in efficiency. This is going to take the strain off of content servers and is also going to relive a lot of the congestion on the Internet backbone. In fact, once the data has been dispersed the Internet the original server could be taken out of service, but the content will live on.

There are some downsides to this kind of system. For example, one often hears of somebody pulling down content that they don’t want viewed any longer. But in an information-centric network it would not matter if data is removed from the original server. As long as somebody was recently watching the content it would live on, independent of the original server.

There are a lot of changes that need to be made to make a transition to an information-centric web. This is going to take changes to the transport, caching systems, error control, flow controls and other core processes involved in retrieving data. But the gigantic increase in efficiency from this change means that it is inevitable that this is going to come to pass.

The Future of TV – The Viewer

The Twilight Saga (film series)

The Twilight Saga (film series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probably the biggest change in the TV landscape is that viewers are changing, or at least their expectations for the viewing experience. For the first time in the history of the industry, the consumer is in the driver’s seat by their ability to collectively determine which content is popular. This must be driving the executives at cable companies and media production companies crazy.

For most of the history of the industry, the content providers were in charge. For most of the history of TV the studios or cable networks would choose the content and determine when it would be seen. And the process was a huge chess match trying to get the most eyes to product hits. New content that was scheduled opposite an existing hit show were dead on arrival.

Not all consumers fit well with the process of having to watch shows at pre-set times. I am an admitted space cadet and I have never been able to watch a TV show regularly at a pre-set time. And so, when TV shows started showing up on tape and then DVDs, I scrapped television and would just buy the series I was interested in to watch at my leisure. I saved money by not having cable TV, but buying DVDs for shows was expensive and so I would watch only a few old series per year. And I bought movies. Lots and lots of movies. But I was in the minority and I was an early cord cutter due to my personal spacey habits and my willingness to pay a premium price for alternate content.

But then along came new technologies that let people drop out of the treadmill of watching shows at pre-determined times. First came TIVO followed by video-on-demand that let people record and watch shows later. And more lately has come OTT programming on the web. So now, people have an immense amount of content that they can watch at any time. Both my wife and I are the kind of people who like to watch a whole TV series back-to-back and so OTT programming satisfies us for the most part.

And if that is all there was to the change in the industry the cable companies and content providers would not be worried. They would continue to monetize the ability for people to watch their content whenever they wanted to, and in the end their finances would not change too drastically.

But that is not the end game. If you want to see the end game, spend a few days watching how 14-year olds watch video. The way they watch content is the future:

  • They rarely watch just one thing at a time, at least for very long. They may watch something on a TV screen, but they will watch their tablet and smart phone at the same time.
  • They don’t have long attention spans, regardless of the content and getting them to watch a movie the whole way through is difficult.
  • They like to watch content made by themselves and their friends as much as they like professional content.
  • They don’t want to watch something end-to-end. They will not go back and watch a Twilight movie they have already seen. Instead they will watch compilations of their favorite scenes from the Twilight movies that they or somebody else has strung together on YouTube.
  • They love the 7-second clip content on Vine. No adult can handle Vine for more than a short time. Vine produces memes more than content, but kids find this entertaining.
  • They love watching together with other teenagers, be that live together or virtually together.
  • They don’t even need cable for the news. Take the example of the Boston marathon bombing. There were hundreds of people in the area going live on the web talking about what was going on there.
  • And they don’t want to pay for content. Not so much because they are 14, but because they believe that content ought to be free.

It is the 14-year old girls that are scaring the industry because they presage a new way of interacting with content. These kids are not going to grow up and buy traditional cable subscriptions. They are not even that likely to buy the alternates like Hulu or NetFlix. They are largely happy with free content or short clips of industry content. The cable companies are hoping to snag boys with ESPN and sports content, but they don’t know what in the hell to do with the girls.

What Do Households Want?

The telecom industry has spent decades bringing residential customers the products we think they want. This has resulted in the ubiquitous triple-play bundle of telephone, data and cable TV. But one has to only spend a little time with a Millenial to know that customers are no longer satisfied with what we have been selling them. While many customers are still buying the traditional products, more and more people are actively looking for alternatives.

And alternatives are showing up. I have one client who has been serving over 20,000 cable TV customers for many years. But for the last year they have been steadily losing 200 customers each month and it doesn’t take a lot of math to see that in a decade they won’t have any cable customers left.

So I am advising clients to start looking at delivering products that people want today and into the future. To help figure out what those products might be, I think you have to start by understanding what customers want today.  I offer the following list of I have made a list of what I think households want today from their telecom provider:

The ability to use multiple devices shared across multiple networks. Customers want to a variety of devices to access the web. They want to seamlessly move from desk top to cell phone to pad to TV to game box. Customers want to be able to move back and forth between the cellular and home WiFi network for voice. Anyone who can facilitate this ability will have an edge.

Faster download and upload speeds. Households want to ability to operate multiple devices at the same time. This requires faster speeds and in some cases QOS.

Mobility. Customers want mobility in both directions, both into and out of the house. They want to be able to start a phone conversation on a cell phone and seamlessly transfer it to a landline when they get home or to the office. They want to be able to access data and do work at home or wherever they are.

Choice of video. Customers want the option to buy only the video they want to watch. And they want to watch it on multiple devices.  

Security and alarm services. Many households want reliable alarm services. They also want to easily operate cameras they can watch remotely.

Integrated entertainment. Customers want to share entertainment content. They want to watch what they want in different rooms and on different devices. They want to be able to move seamlessly from TV to PC to pad to phone. 

Use of cloud-based services. As more and more data is stored in the cloud, customers want an easy way to access and manage the cloud.

The ability to make impulse purchases. Customers want to be able to buy a TV show, a movie, a song and then experience it immediately. People are shifting from buying large monthly subscriptions (cable TV packages) to buying entertainment in small doses.

Help making things work. Households are faced with a confusing array of possible technical solutions and they will value anybody who can make their video, computers, wireless networks and other devices work seamlessly together.