Internet to Deliver Ubiquitous, Invisible Connectivity

June 2001
By Christian B. Sheehy

Wireless links to commercial virtual portals to open global computing era.

The worlds of wireless and Web-based technology are converging in a new generation of linked networks that could produce a vast computing and communications infrastructure based on the interaction of currently exclusive technologies. The integration of these independent communication architectures will result from a gradual dissolution of the physical boundaries of today’s Internet, enabling the realization of a broader view of everyday computing.

As the gap between wired and wireless technology shrinks, the user’s mindset is evolving as well, from one that based expectations on experiences with devices such as the television and telephone to a mindset with expectations based on the use of platforms such as cellular telephones and laptop computers. Next, the incorporation of wireless functionality into World Wide Web architecture introduces the possibility of interaction between independently networked hardware. This wireless subnetwork would create a unified global computing architecture that could deliver a completely new set of integrated user experiences.

Operating beyond the confines of the desktop-tethered Internet, this supranet, as Gartner Group researchers are calling it, would link stovepiped communication architectures using emerging Web-based protocols such as unified messaging, voice extended markup language and various wireless applications. For businesses, the advent of a supranet would bring both the opportunities and challenges of creating totally new forms of interaction aimed at giving the customer coherent and useful experiences.

This transformation is well underway, according to John Batchelder, research director for Internet application technology at the Gartner Group. The Gartner Group is a computer research and consulting company in Stamford, Connecticut, that regularly conducts studies on current and future Internet trends. Batchelder sees the Internet evolving from a widespread to a ubiquitous enabler. Today, for example, access to the Web is as readily available as gasoline; people can find it almost anywhere, but they have to go to it. However, in the next five years or so, the medium will have become transparently omnipresent in much the same way as radio. User connectivity will no longer be based on location or physical infrastructure, just an On button, he predicts.

With the increase of both business and recreational Internet traffic, the global Internet community is already planning for the gradual convergence of Web and wireless communications media as a means to support device interconnectivity. The marriage of asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and Internet protocol (IP) applications to produce multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) represents the latest Web technology consolidation. Based on MPLS, wireless devices for receiving and transmitting are being modified to act as data transceivers that accept and route functional commands according to message content and situational context.

By 2005 this convergence will have progressed such that the present Internet infrastructure supporting location-to-location business and recreational applications will give way to a communications tool that combines the capabilities of radio, telephony and television. As the evolution continues, this supranet will increasingly interconnect physical devices and electronic software components in support of human interaction. “Once fully realized, the supranet will be the primary guarantee of mainstream global-class computing,” Batchelder emphasizes.

However, the trend toward a global computing architecture that will support more users than any existing communications network is raising security concerns about overall backbone stability and the increasing migration of services to the user’s edge. “As businesses move to serve clients’ needs, the walls of enterprise are breaking down,” Batchelder explains. “Companies will begin performing more shared transactions, swapping published doctrines in support of zero-latency processes that will help build closer relationships with their clientele.” According to Batchelder, as industry opens more Web data portals to consumer access, strict management of these databases will be required to maintain optimal service. “With a greater interface between buyers and sellers, the commercial Internet is facing the issue of system security to protect the integrity of corporate network infrastructures,” he explains.

“With 80 percent of data traffic traversing private networks, users today remain uncomfortable with communicating on an unsecured public Internet. Naturally, network service providers are addressing the needs of this majority more than those of the remaining Web-based 20 percent,” Batchelder points out. As MPLS becomes the norm, these percentages will shift in favor of a larger public client base. Without service provider support, the increased demand on local, mobile and broadband Ethernets could pose serious security risks for the new infrastructure, he explains.

In the new era of true Internet globalization, Batchelder envisions the proliferation of industry portals. These databases of proprietary intelligence would be provided to customers on a one-way secure-access basis. “As more customers become Internet-equipped, industry must ensure that all clients can access their product infrastructure,” Batchelder explains. “Because only so many buyers can use a single portal, more portals need to be available to allow for higher traffic flow.” Advances in dense wavelength division multiplexing and optical networking will provide increased bandwidth for terabit routing and switching.

The development of directories that can walk clients through the mobile maze of gateways that accommodate new applications will be another major step, he adds. Also, a unified data distribution intranet will enable businesses to expand storage capacities among consolidated data networks and to increase information availability to consumers. System classification, data storage support and dictionary/search capabilities are other applications that will help enable portal accessibility, he comments.

In response to the bandwidth issue, companies are creating new software programs that offer a variety of low-bandwidth applications. “To successfully integrate global business networks and wireless and Web applications, a coherent mobile environment based on a common suite of appliances, platforms and gateways sharing space efficiently must be built,” Batchelder remarks. “This can only happen through increased network cooperation among industry partners and consumers.”

A combination of gateway applications such as extended markup language, hypertext transfer protocol and simple object access protocol will enable the transformation of corporate Web backbones as services move to the user end of the network. “As more users plug into the network, the threat of congestion in a centralized hub environment increases,” Batchelder points out. “To avoid this situation, businesses will make more interface portals available to customers, and in doing so, move more automated services out into the network. This decentralization will open up previously constricted connections, enabling information to travel more freely and directly.”

Service-hub decentralization from within industry will open avenues to businesses and consumers by giving the Internet-ready public greater access to a company’s internal marketing schema. However, enhanced industry-to-industry and industry-to-consumer system integration will require a more layered form of security to safeguard processes. Firewall applications at the edge of a network will be absorbed, becoming an inherent part of greater domain protection.

On an international level, U.S. code division multiple access (CDMA) and time division multiple access network formats will merge into a single switching standard to accommodate the MPLS transition. In Europe, the global system mobile infrastructure will need to conform to wireless CDMA to meet current third-generation standards. “Without the existence of a global computing architecture, cooperative processes between international businesses on an all-Internet level will not be realized,” Batchelder says.

At the application level, the bandwidth constraints of wireless networks are another obstacle to true ATM/IP convergence. Overcoming packet latency while simultaneously introducing more users to networks will become an even greater challenge as wireless and Web meld. “Business portals will offer consumers greater access to company files using point-to-point, satellite and content delivery network applications,” Batchelder offers. “As consumers access these portals, services will migrate from inside the corporate infrastructure to the network-user edge, increasing the speed and reliability of transactional processes. Eventually, zero-latency will become the norm as processes that were once delayed by secure network boundaries are free to occur in relative real time.”

A significant side effect of increased Internet connectivity between industry and consumers will be the loss of personal anonymity. Preserving privacy rights will become a major political pursuit as the Web offers greater capabilities to the public. Ultimately, limiting the power of an all-pervasive supranet to the bounds of its intended purposes will likely remain in the hands of end users, he concludes.