Internet Forecast Calls for Cloudy, Mobile Future

October 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine

 
Telecomm leaders explain that the present is driving what will come as they identify several common trends.

From the first graphical user interface to high-definition video streaming over handheld devices, computing has advanced exponentially during the last 30 years. The groundwork built over three decades is spurring on a new generation of development dedicated to enhancing content for more users at faster speeds. And though the current application space enables individuals or small groups with little capital to become big players, two of Ma Bell’s titan offspring are setting trends as well.

At AT&T, billions of dollars go toward research and development each year. Like many organizations, the company identifies cloud computing and mobility as key features of the future Internet. Thomas Harvey, senior vice president of AT&T Government Solutions, explains that security is a serious consideration for those technologies from both a government and a private-sector perspective. Ensuring the safety of the information and resources of his clients is one of his major focuses.

“Today all your apps pretty much reside on your phone,” Harvey says. “As you continue to have more penetration of PDA devices and they have Internet access, it provides additional opportunities for vulnerabilities. Moving those to a cloud really helps drive security.” Instead of storing data on tools that can be violated or lost, all the information remains protected in an online environment.

Harvey says that in the government realm, cloud is an especially big topic as agencies strive to save money, increase efficiencies and advance green initiatives. “The government has a cloud-first policy that they’re moving forward with,” he states, adding that it addresses both wireline and mobile services.

AT&T is creating a technology called the Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) that bases applications in the cloud and helps leverage apps that customers want. As the company rolls out this cloud, security comes up again, this time as the biggest concern for government users. “Security has become such a critical issue, and it does take up a lot of my mind share,” Harvey explains. As the Internet and computing advance, the company grapples with how to ensure security postures within networks to provide the right protection for assets. “Security is of the utmost importance to us,” Harvey states.

In addition to developing and securing the cloud, Harvey is examining the future of mobile technology. “When you look at access to the Internet, it is definitely evolving,” he says, with mobility applications driving the change. As with the cloud, mobile Internet can help the government meet its cost and efficiency goals, enabling options such as telework.

The military has made a big push in recent years to equip personnel with mobile devices. Harvey says the Defense Department will continue to leverage mobility and digital applications in the future for both battlefield and in-garrison situations. He believes that users will share common platforms, but the technology they run will vary because of the different needs of sets of users.

To help enable all the offerings of the future, AT&T is striving to ensure it can provide the necessary access to all the resources. “When you look at mobility, it’s truly about capacity and being able to support the broadband technologies and capabilities that our customers ... are looking for,” Harvey explains. Over the next few years, the company will invest billions to enhance the abilities of its network. It also will employ HSPA+ throughout the network. This standard enables downlinks of up to 84 megabits per second. Another technology of the future that is about to make its AT&T appearance is 4G LTE. The company will begin rolling out these services to a few markets soon with most deployment complete by the end of 2013. “Bandwidth is driving a lot of apps, and bandwidth is going to be needed to be a player in this field in the future,” Harvey states.

Such mobility options will enable users to have key capabilities and functionalities at their fingertips for personal and professional uses. “I think mobility is about efficiency,” Harvey says. In the past, people had a broadband connection for the Internet, a phone and a device to watch films. Now, all those services are available on one device that fits into a pocket. Harvey believes that mobility will drive innovation even further.

One of the confusions with such forward thinking is the blurring lines between the current cutting-edge and the future. Harvey explains that most of what is upcoming already is taking shape. Cloud computing, enterprise, mobility—these encompass what is being done and what is to come. “Cloud is here today, and from the government perspective it’s going to expand in usage,” Harvey says. Not only will storage and computing needs move to the environment, but also software and Web hosting will transition.

Because AT&T has a hand in so many aspects of communications including acting as an Internet service provider and mobile service provider, it has the ability to leverage strengths and people across the spectrum. Its experience with the public and private sector allows employees to identify common or unique problems. “One component is making sure you know your customer and where the market is going,” Harvey says.

Though he believes standardization across the board “would be great,” custom solutions oftentimes are required, especially in government security. In June, Harvey’s business unit received the authority to operate from the U.S. General Services Administration for implementation of Managed Trusted IP Services (MTIPS) on the Networx contract vehicle. MTIPS allows federal agencies to connect to the Internet through secure Internet protocol portals in complete compliance with the Office of Management and Budget’s Trusted Internet Connections. Even within the government, different organizations have different needs, but Harvey still stresses that finding standard procedures will benefit users moving forward. “When you can do that, it benefits everybody,” he says.

Verizon, as with AT&T, offers a range of communications services to customers in the public and private sectors. Sonya Cork, the vice president of the Defense Department sector of Verizon Federal, says future Internet connections will be faster, greener, more reliable and more available. In the wired world, this translates to fiber optic technology such as the Verizon FIOS offering; in the mobile world it means the transition to LTE.

Steve LeFrancois, the chief technology officer for Verizon Federal, echoes the need for speed and availability. He says, “Bigger on and off ramps are critical and have to be available all the time.” LeFrancois explains that FIOS today is testing rates of 10 gigabits to residences and enterprises and that LTE could reach 100-megabit download speeds. These large pipes will enable the content people will want to access soon. “By 2013, we see 60 percent of all mobile data traffic will be video,” he says.

To be a player in what it sees as the upcoming Internet, Verizon has made significant investments in several areas. Corks states, “Wireless and mobility are really the next wave of how our lives will change in the future.” In addition to spending money on those, the company also invests in cloud computing and security. Cork says they will enable mobility solutions to be more viable especially in the business world. The technology also is creating and adapting to a mobile work force. As more digital natives become professionals, they expect to access data quickly from anywhere. “It’s information at the speed of thought,” Cork says. “That’s how they’re used to it. That’s life to them.”

Warfighting’s Internet future also relies on mobility. The security might not be right yet to integrate smartphone-type platforms with mission command systems, but these devices “augment what [troops’] mission command systems can give them today,” she states. As the Defense Department prepares to remain relevant in the future, it is focusing on how to create an information advantage.

This demand for access and the increased expectation of video for private and government users makes it difficult for hard core computing to keep up, resulting in more functions moving from a device to a network. LeFrancois explains that pushing more apps into the cloud is important because it enables constant availability and pervasive connectivity. People want to take their mobile devices and continue computing as they leave one place and arrive at a destination. But what they should carry is only the display, not the actual information. He says that the right security and connections make these actions viable in the future. And though mobility may be the buzzword, LeFrancois says that “fiber is still a very important piece of the puzzle” because eventually, all those mobile devices have to tie into a fixed infrastructure somewhere.

Currently, apps, app stores and app development are hot technology, but LeFrancois believes they also will be the future as they convert into network-based apps for enterprises. And more open development platforms will arise that will resemble what developers use to support the enterprise today.

Verizon is hoping to spur such sharing. In July, it opened the Verizon Innovation Center, which brings together large and small members of the LTE ecosystem to create the next generation of connected products. Though a major goal is to develop solutions that enhance Verizon’s 4G LTE wireless network, it also involves a laboratory space that enables developers to create products that drive the overall growth of the technology.

Pushing the cloud are a range of service capabilities and models. But LeFrancois believes the “biggest message for our government clients is you’ve got to start somewhere.” Whether they begin with major applications on their backbone or another option, the “only way you’re going to be able to drive efficiency in government is by embracing some of these capabilities,” he adds.

Of course, any advancements also come with a potential for misuse, and LeFrancois says security challenges will continue to exist. Verizon is working to help customers monitor their technologies for threats better. “There’s always risk in any enterprise, and this is just being able to mitigate it the most efficient and cost-effective way,” he explains.

Cork says that Verizon applies much of what it learns internally with customers and vice versa, leveraging knowledge across its many experiences. “They benefit from investments we make in our own network,” she says. “We’re not creating silos customer by customer.” Verizon pulls together its knowledge of transmission, the cloud and more to create robust offerings. “Synergy is the future,” Cork states.

WEB RESOURCES
AT&T Government Solutions: www.corp.att.com/gov
Verizon Federal: www.verizonbusiness.com/solutions/government/federal
LTE Innovation Center: https://www.lte.vzw.com

 

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