Unsure bets

If there’s one thing that the network biz has had in excess it’s unbelievable success stories. Unfortunately, most of these stories were written well before the results were actually in.

It’s hard to count the number of times this and other publications, professional pundits and telecom research firms have declared victory in the telecom arena before a race actually started. SNA, APPN, ISDN, ATM, IPX, IP, PKI, a whole bunch of wireless variants, CLECs, DSL, cable modems, switches, routes, a pile of optical technologies, Fibre Channel, Lucent, Nortel, Cisco, network-based storage, peer-to-peer networking, the Grid, and untold-other-seemingly-important-at-the-time technologies and companies were all touted as going to take over the world.

But most have faded almost as fast as they appeared. The full story has not yet been written on some, but I strongly doubt that any of them, other than maybe IP, will ever live up to the hype.

This is not a phenomenon limited to professional prognosticators. I spent most of last week with someone who is absolutely convinced that third- or fourth-generation wireless (3G or 4G) will alleviate the need for all other forms of access technology. In his mind, there will be no need for any type of wired broadband access service with 10s of megabits flowing through the ether. And he would brook no disagreement with that view.

With such a success-free history, why do folk of all types persist in making their assertions and predictions? We can ignore those who are in marketing and are just trying to sell a product (or raise venture capital) but that leaves a bunch of people who should have learned from history but seemingly have not.

Next are the analysis firms. You know the ones that predict billions of dollars in sales in three years for a product that has not yet made it to the market. I have no idea where they possibly have gotten the data on which they make their predictions – it seems most likely that it is data-free analysis. And they will keep at it as long as people will pay them for the results of the “analysis.” What a different world it would be if these firms got paid partly upfront and the remainder three years later based on the accuracy of the predictions.

That mostly leaves amateur psycho-historians who, like amateur lawyers, assert with great vigour the imaginations of their own mind, reporters for trade publications who blindly quote the wild predictions, and folks like me who write for those trade publications. The reporters’ actions can be understood by the combined pressure of deadlines, few real facts and good marketing people. But I see little excuse for us writers to fall for the marketing. (“Marketing” is not the word I would use if it were not for the polite nature of this publication.) But too often we do.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@sobco.com.