Over the past five years, the growing amount of media content consumed online has forced changes to the core infrastructure of the internet, DeepField cofounder Craig Labovitz explained at GigaOM’s Structure: Europe conference Wednesday. Until 2008 or so, according to Labovitz, the “core” of the internet consisted of 10-15 companies that provided the long-haul backbones that carried the bulk of the data traffic. Since then, the explosion in the amount of media content being delivered over the network, particularly bandwidth-intensive video from Netflix and others, has forced a reconfiguration of the basic plumbing, with content now stored in massive data centers and delivered via distributed content delivery networks.
The growth in online media consumption shows no signs of slowing down, however, forcing network operators to continually adapt their infrastructures. On October 8th, GigaOM will sponsor a special workshop during the Telecommunications Industry Association’s annual convention in Washington, DC, to explore the ongoing impact of online media consumption on the network. I will be moderating the workshop, which will feature research presentations and round-table discussions focused on how media providers envision using the network over the next few years, what their infrastructure needs will be, the impact of quality of service on consumer engagement with media content, and how network providers can respond to the growing demand.
The GigaOM workshop will be held on the first morning of the three and a half-day conference that will focus broadly on the future of the network. I recently interviewed TIA president Grant Seiffert about the conference and the association’s evolving role in the telecom industry (Disclosure: I served on the Advisory Group that helped develop topics for the conference.)
GigaOM: The theme of this year’s conference is The Future of the Network. What are you trying to get at with that theme? How did you decide on it?
TIA president Grant Seiffert: This is an incredibly dynamic and disruptive time for the ICT industry. For the first time in the history of telecommunications, consumers are spending more on mobile data than on mobile voice services. The insatiable demand for data and other dramatic changes – the rapid development of cloud and M2M, developments in software-defined networking, exponential wireless growth and the transition to all-IP networks – are placing unprecedented demands on the network. And of course, without the network, there are no devices or services.
“The Future of the Network” was the clear choice for this year’s theme – last year, we highlighted the incredible innovation taking place in our industry, and this year we’re taking the next step and bringing together thought leaders, decision-makers, technologists, engineers and policymakers from around the world to plan for the growth and design of tomorrow’s network.
GigaOM: Tell us a bit about the conference itself. Who is coming? What are they looking for? Who is exhibiting? Why Washington?
TIA: We are expecting a diverse and influential group of industry executives, analysts, technologists and policymakers to explore the critical issues, trends and challenges that are shaping the future of communications – and the network on which we all rely. We’ve assembled more than 250 ICT executives, including keynotes by FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, members of Congress, and the leadership of AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, Bell Labs, CenturyLink, China Mobile, GENBAND, Frontier, Neustar, Samsung Mobile, Amazon Web Services, Sprint, Verizon and The Weather Company. We believe there is going to be something for everyone – technologists, business strategists and those focused on policy.
Our industry Advisory Group guided us to focus on addressing questions about the future of the industry. The questions we’ll tackle include how can the industry work together to address broadband capacity, given the exponential increase in mobility, video and cloud usage. How can operators and service providers thrive by focusing on customer relationship management? How can we reduce costs through energy efficient practices or through software defined networking and virtualization? What are the outlook and policy implications for cybersecurity? How will ICT companies ride the wave of the Internet of Things? And how will the media take advantage of their existing connections to the customer?
We’ve created a forum for learning and business interaction in 10 pre-conference workshops, six educational tracks, a CTO Roundtable, a “Women in ICT” Breakfast, a Policy Day and a Solutions Zone — which will offer a welcoming environment to discuss leading-edge solutions with our sponsors, including Adtran, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Dell, GENBAND, Intel, Juniper, Panasonic, POLYCOM, Tellabs, Verizon, and more.
We chose Washington this year because public policy is playing an increasingly important role in charting the future of the network. On a daily basis, our industry is impacted by policy decisions, from spectrum management to cybersecurity to international trade, so it’s more important than ever for the industry to understand the legislative and regulatory environment. Being in the nation’s capital will give attendees greater access to key members of Congress, government officials and policy influencers. We also want to emphasize the importance of government and industry working together to create a policy environment that encourages investment, innovation, global competitiveness and job creation.
GigaOM: Apart from the conference, what have been the main points of focus for TIA this year and where do you expect to focus next year?
TIA: As our economy continues to recover, ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in the global ICT marketplace is an important area of focus for TIA. Increased access to international markets, robust investment in research and development, and a sensible corporate tax rate are all essential for innovation, creating jobs and growing the economy. And importantly, increased investment in STEM education and immigration reform will serve to strengthen our domestic workforce while attracting the best talent from around the world. We’ve also continued working on initiatives in the areas of broadband deployment, spectrum availability and reallocation, global cybersecurity, green ICT and smart grid, accessibility and public safety communications.
Standards development continues to be a vital aspect of our work, particularly in the quickly growing area of M2M communications. This work, along with the policy areas I’ve outlined, will continue to be important areas of focus for us next year. We expect that our work will take on even greater weight in the coming years, as the role of the network increases in importance – and the demand on the network increases in intensity.
GigaOM: Given the increasing importance of the network to a wide variety of industries, how is TIA’s role as an organization evolving? What are your members looking for from TIA?
TIA: TIA members, who are the high tech manufactures and suppliers that support the network, don’t get the same attention at mobile device makers or carriers, but the role they play is only growing in importance. This is particularly true with the advancement of cloud computing and M2M communications, and the incredible demands being placed on the network by the explosion in mobile devices.
As an organization representing these companies, we deal with issues every day that are increasingly complex and their resolution increasingly important. For instance, we’ve recently been leading an effort to develop consistent and effective international standards around M2M and The Internet of Things. We stepped into this role because we recognized that, if M2M isn’t done right, billions of dollars and significant economic opportunity will be lost. These new technologies, and many others in our industry, are advancing at an incredible pace, and our members rely on us for this type of leadership.
The same is true of our public policy advocacy work – as technology and telecom become more and more central to our lives and to our economy, it’s vital that public policy keeps pace. One area in which we have been extremely vocal is the need for greater spectrum availability. There is so much at stake for consumers, business and our economy as our nation heads towards a potentially debilitating spectrum crunch.
GigaOM: How would you describe the technology scene in the Washington area? Many of your members have policy shops in DC, but what about the indigenous, non-policy related tech scene. Is Washington becoming more or less of a technology hub?
TIA: There’s no question in my mind that D.C. is becoming more of a technology hub. The landscape has certainly changed – it used to be dominated by a few big players such as AOL or defense-related tech companies, but we’re now seeing a more diverse group of small and mid-sized entrepreneurial companies emerging.
And in fact, because of this, TIA recently made it a priority to encourage the development of these companies. When we built our new offices in Arlington, which opened last March, we built flexible workspace that could be used by start-ups that are working to solve some of the ICT industry’s pressing challenges. We already have a couple young companies working out of our space, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide space, mentorship and support for the D.C. start-up community.