Internet revolution is only three per cent complete: IBM

We’re in the midst of a revolution – one that will have as far reaching an effect as electricity and that has already been as disruptive as the printing press.

This at least is what Washington-based Mike Nelson, the director of Internet technology and strategy at IBM Corp. believes about the Internet. But whereas electricity took 300 years to go from the lab to mass adoption, the Internet has skyrocketed from the ARPANET, the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Project Agency’s wide area-network established in 1969, to adoption in e-business in one-tenth the time, Nelson said.

And the Internet has already reduced the cost of disseminating information by 99 per cent, as did the printing press. But we still have a long way to go, according to Nelson. The effects of the Internet have not yet been fully realized.

“We’ll know when we get there when we stop talking about going on the Internet. We don’t talk about connecting to the electric grid. The Internet revolution is less than three per cent complete.”

IBM wants to be central to that revolution and is developing technology that it hopes will be a part of the next generation Internet (NGI), which ComputerWorldCanada got a glimpse of at a recent tour of IBM’s Pervasive Computing Lab in Austin, Tex.

“The fact of the matter is, two-thirds of the crazy ideas that we have won’t go anywhere. But that’s why you prototype, prototype, prototype,” Nelson said.

The trial products on display at the lab ranged from an Internet fridge that lets you see what’s inside without opening the door to a snazzy blue sports car that plays MP3 songs sent wirelessly to it from a workpad in the model living room.

The fridge keeps an inventory of the food you have on hand and then displays recipes that can be prepared with that food. The networked car could theoretically have weather information sent to it and warn you if you’re heading into a storm, and then suggest alternate routes or nearby hotels.

Businesses will also benefit from these types of technology, said Shahla Aly, the vice-president of telecommunications and wireless at IBM Canada in Markham, Ont.

“The killer app from the enterprise perspective might in the end be wireless access to enterprise data,” she said.

But whatever the specific technologies, Nelson believes the NGI will have seven characteristics. It will be fast, always on, everywhere, natural, easy, intelligent and trusted, he said.

The NGI will be both wire-based and wireless, he said, and be built on broadband networks. It will be reliable and scalable, ubiquitous, and become a natural way to communicate and collaborate with others. Different devices will also seamlessly integrate with each other, he said.

Mobile e-commerce through wireless devices will become important in the future, Aly said. She pointed out that the abandonment rate for shopping carts is not as great with shoppers who are connected wirelessly.

“In terms of where we are in e-business, we’re where the automobile was in 1910,” she said. Back then, there were insufficient roads, cars broke down quite often and their way was often impeded because one didn’t have soul ownership of the road.

In a few year’s time, more handheld devices than PCs will be linked to the Internet, she said.

According to Toronto-based IDC Canada, early this year every wireless phone shipped by manufacturers will be wireless application protocol (WAP) enabled. “WAP-enabled devices are just a thin edge of the wedge, which dovetails with the coming of 3G wireless network,” said Lawrence Surtees, a senior telecom research analyst at IDC.

And 3G will bring with it a plethora of new applications, he said.

“What’s there now is primitive and sort of hamstrung by a lack of spectrum.”

But realistically, 3G is still about three years away, he said. “Some of the wireless network guys will tell you 18 months. But I say three years. They have to get the standard fully iron clad, they gotta get the stuff out of the lab into beta tests and then start to deploy it.”