It is the first time in 30 years that client hardware has been the trend:
- The 1950s were about mainframes.
- The 1960s were about minicomputers.
- The 1970s were about PCs.
- The 1980s were about local networks.
- The 1990s were about the Internet.
Gadgets are important. The iPod is important. The Blackberry is important. Cellphones are important. You will also note that networks do play a role in the evolution of all three. The iPod is relatively meaningless without its Internet connection, the other two are cellular clients.
But the networks themselves have not progressed, not in the U.S. We have Internet 2, designed as a specialized research network linking major institutions. But on the whole the speeds our data travels at would be quite familiar to someone 10 years ago. ADSL was not unknown there, cable modem service was being planned, and cellular really has yet to exceed a fast modem's speed.
This fact should be a source of shame. Real innovation in the network space has been stopped -- despite Moore's Law making networking ever-cheaper -- by law. Bell companies and cable companies hoard the data-handling capacity they have, squeeze out competitors by defying (then changing) the law, and squeeze-out wireless by dominating there with pure financial muscle.
So what happens now?
We are now facing a series of crises that will decide whether the U.S. has any role in how technology evolves in the next decade:
- Phone companies are trying to eliminate wireless competition, by having all spectrum owned, thus hoarded.
- Cell companies are going to find out over the next year whether rising data service revenues can make up for declining voice revenues.
- Copyright owners are trying to extend the U.S. anti-innovation regime worldwide.
All these efforts will fail. People will not continue paying more-and-more for the same old thing. Equipment makers are not going to accede willingly to Bell demands on wireless. Laws will not stop piracy -- only innovative business models will.
If the U.S. dominated the world technology market today the way it did a decade ago, however, this would not be the case. The Bells and copyright industries have succeeded in rolling the U.S. government, and strongarming the hardware business. They could even trample Moore's Law, were it not for international competition.
So God bless Korea, and India, and Singapore, Taiwan, and even China. God bless the innovators. May your good work keep forcing us forward.