Scaleable and seamless extension of the Internet to mobile devices, the
solar system in open space, and user-friendly names for online resources
are some of the next frontiers of today's Internet, according to its
leading developers and shapers.
Other pressing issues such as governance of Internet infrastructure and
bridging the digital divide in emerging economies also figured prominently
in the one-week summit INET 2001, hosted in Stockholm recently by the
Internet Society (www.isoc.org), a global umbrella organization dedicated
to the open evolution and promotion of the Internet.
"The Internet will have to extend beyond planet Earth in order to support
the exploration of the solar system. No standards underlie communications
of previous missions of spacecraft," said WorldCom vice president Vint
Cerf, co-founder of the Internet Society and co-inventor of the TCP/IP
protocol stack, who is widely regarded as the "father of the Internet."
But communicating across such vast distances will cause days and even weeks
of communication delays, thus calling for a hierarchy of inter-Internet
protocols, long-haul radio backbones, and inter-planetary gateways.
"You can say that these delays are astronomical - because that is indeed
what they are," Cerf said.Numerous umbrella organizations such as the Interplanetary Internet Project
(www.IPNsig.org) and Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems
(www.ccsds.org) serve as coordinating platforms for companies and
government labs involved in such research.
Back on planet Earth, a significant expansion of the Net is being driven by
mobile devices and convergence. The global Internet population of around
400 million users is expected to cross the one billion mark in a couple of
years.) serve as coordinating platforms for companies and
government labs involved in such research.
"This is the year - 2001 -- when the worldwide figures for mobile
subscribers will surpass the number of landlines. We are seeing a
significant convergence between the wireless and Internet worlds," said
Hakan Eriksson, VP of research at Ericsson.
"By 2005, most mobile handsets will have microbrowsers," he predicted.
Pockets of wireless Internet development such as i-Mode in Japan and WAP in
Europe will converge with WAP Release 2001 and GPRS networks.
m-Payment services will effectively create "credit cards with antennas," as
mobile Internet devices take on multiple forms: wallets, cameras,
navigators and walkmans.
"Just as 1981 marked the advent of GSM and 2001 marks the launch of 3G
services, so also 2011 will mark the launch of 4G," Eriksson said.
By the end of next year, over 100 billion SMS messages will be sent
worldwide each month, and much richer messages will be facilitated via MMS
(multimedia message service).
Ericsson, along with Motorola and Nokia, is promoting a new standard for
mobile Instant Messaging (IM) as part of an initiative called Wireless
Village to enable interoperability between the instant messaging services
of Microsoft and AOL on the one hand and wireless users on the other.
IPv6, the next generation of Internet Protocol, will address some of the
problems with the wireless Internet based on the current IPv4, such as
insufficient address space and inadequate support for mobile users; it also
has provisions for better security and quality of service.
But better standardization between handset makers and inter-provider
service agreements across boundaries between technologies will be needed.
And consumer services based on 3G will really take off only with proper
revenue-sharing agreements between network operators and content providers,
as exemplified by the 30 million subscribers of Japan's wireless Internet
operators DoCoMo (i-Mode), KDDI (EZWeb) and J-Phone (J-sky).
While Internet users seem to expect free content in the narrow-band
environment, broadband and wireless content are expected to be more
promising in terms of drawing service fees.
"In regions like the Middle East and northern Africa, the mobile subscriber
base will exceed the landline base by year 2003," said ITU analyst Michael
Another wave of convergence is being driven by the emergence of VoIP (voice
over IP) services. Asian countries like China, South Korea and Malaysia are
actively embracing VoIP - telephony over IP networks is now a central plank
of telecom development in China -- while many other countries
unfortunately are actively barring such services.
But as online resources proliferate across the global Internet, it is
becoming increasingly complex and unwieldy for users to refer to Web
documents by lengthy URLs; instead, URNs (Universal Resource Names) based
on names rather than addresses are being proposed as a solution to the
document explosion problem.
"Work is being coordinated on XML-based query languages and meta-data
protocols like the Common Name Resolution Protocol (CNRP)," said Leslie
Daigle, a Canadian who chairs the URN Working Group.
Challenges lie ahead in designing the NameSpace Identifier (NID) in a
manner which can balance complexity with mass uptake, and in configuring
the NID registry, naming authority and resolution server.
The electronic commons of the global Internet also throws up a complex host
of issues revolving around domain name registration, multilingual name
registries, fair regulation, e-commerce taxation, intellectual property,
global cyberlaws, cultural preservation, and protection of the public
Numerous international organizations are leaping into the fray here: ICANN,
IETF, IAB, OECD, OAS, UNESCO, WTO, ITU, Internews Network, Electronic
Privacy Information Centre, Centre for Democracy and Technology, Global
Business Dialogue on E-commerce, and Global Internet Project.
"It is becoming difficult for civil society in many countries to take part
in the global decision-making for Internet governance," said Jeannette
Hoffman, a cyberactivist from Germany.
Music exchange sites like Napster have raised serious questions about the
role of intermediaries in the content and entertainment industries, who
will have to find out new ways to add value to digital products.
"Huge markets are opening up in digital media management tools for
protection of digital rights during content creation, distribution and
sales," said Mike Nelson, Internet strategy director at IBM.
Numerous business models for free and paid-for content as well as hybrid
configurations will co-exist, he said.
But free expression of ideas must not be threatened on the Net, cautioned
John Perry Barlow, former lyricist of the U.S. band Grateful Dead, and a
strong proponent of free speech in cyberspace.
He expressed strong reservations about the way the media and technology
industries are commoditising creative works with terms like "content" and
In either case, sites like Napster which facilitated over 500 million
file-sharing transactions per week during some periods may just be the tip
of the iceberg, as digital content exchange could continue on an even
larger scale on the person-to-person (P2P) level via wireless-enabled
personal digital assistants (PDAs).
In the post-dotcom era, concerns remain about business models and the pace
of adoption of e-commerce; many companies are now focusing more on making
use of existing resources efficiently than on rapidly increasing market
share and brand profile.
"But e-mail adoption by even the most conservative businesses shows that
e-business is irreversible," according to Greg Adamson, an Internet
consultant with ICL in Scotland.
For emerging economies, another complex set of policy issues revolves
around overcoming the digital divide.
Numerous such projects for community access, local capacity building, and
sustainable knowledge networking were highlighted at the conference:
HealthNet for medical workers in Africa, Linux-based SchoolNet in Cameroon
which is used by students in the daytime and local community members at
night, Pan Asian Networking's telecentres in the Philippines, the
AkashGanga online dairy kiosks for milk cooperatives in India, the Gobi
Business News network for online media in rural Mongolia, and multi-purpose
telecentres for teachers and farmers in Uganda.
Initiatives and organisations active on this front include the G-8
countries' DotForce proposal (www.dotforce.org), WorldSpace Foundation, Pact (www.pactworld.org), Global Knowledge Partnership, and International Institute for Communication and Development (www.iicd.org).
While profit-oriented cybercafes (eg. India's growing chain of cybercafe
operators) will help grow the Internet market in urban areas of developing
countries, the telecentre model for rural areas may need more funding and
support from government agencies and public bodies.
At the level of national IT policy, some of the smaller and more nimble
countries of Europe and Asia - most notably Ireland and Singapore - have
positioned themselves well as hubs for the global Internet economy, said
Rex Hughes, Internet analyst at the University of Washington, which runs
the Internet Political Economy Forum (www.ipef.org) along with Cambridge
University and the National University of Singapore.
"Both Singapore and Ireland were primarily agricultural in economic makeup
just decades ago, but have re-engineered themselves for the knowledge
economy - for instance, by investing significantly in broadband Internet
infrastructure," said Hughes. They have also produced notable global
players in areas like e-learning (SmartForce in Ireland) and soundblaster
In Europe, suburban pockets like Kista in Stockholm have positioned
themselves as major hubs for innovations in the wireless and broadband
"India, Brazil and South Africa have now reached critical mass in terms of
innovation in low-cost devices and access models," observed Mike Jensen, a
network consultant based in South Africa.
Examples include the low cost device Simputer and wireless local loop
technology CorDect in India, and affordable smart-cards for health
transactions in Brazil.
"But much more cross-fertilising of such ideas is needed between Asia,
Africa and Latin America," Jensen advocated.
"There seems to be a crisis of leadership and a policy vacuum when it comes
to deciding how to use the Internet and other IT innovations for
development in emerging economies," said George Sadowsky, executive
director of the Global Internet Policy Initiative (www.gipiproject.org), aimed at injecting consensus and informed decision-making in the currently
fragmented policy environment.
Formulating national, regional and global policies to harness the Internet
will be a key focus of next year's gathering of Internet professionals,