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Between Scylla and Charybdis
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Between Scylla and Charybdis

How much differentiation potential do the performance capabilities of the networks really offer?



Even the most modern telecommunications networks are struggling to keep up with the promises made by marketing departments. As we watch, the need for presence and speed at all levels of the network is outstripping reality which, of course, is restricted mainly by commercial conditions. We are approaching a situation in which a familiar problem is mutating into a life-threatening condition for operators.Is this really the case, and – if so – why is it happening now? How can network operators escape the clutches of the problem without falling into the cost trap?

Sigbritt Löthberg, a 75-year-old senior citizen from Karlstad in central Sweden, has the fastest Internet connection in the world (http://www.thelocal.se/7869/20070712/): 40 Gbit/s (to be exact: 42,949,672,960 bit/s). Theoretically, this allows her to access about 1,500 high-definition (HD) tele­vision programs at the same time or to download a full-length film in HD quality – meaning an entire DVD – from the Internet in about two seconds (provided that a couple of other conditions which are far from insignificant are fulfilled – but more about that later). This obviously differentiates her from all other Internet users. Just think for a moment about the endless gnashing of teeth filling the forums and turning the operators’ hotlines red-hot. The matron can count her lucky stars that she has a son – Peter Löthberg, a familiar figure on the Swedish Internet scene – who works for a well-known network equipment provider and who wanted to prove something to the established operators. Whether the good woman really needs all this power (of course not!) is irrelevant. Nor do we know what all of this costs. But we can be absolutely certain that there is not an operator in the world who could afford to provide this service – don’t forget that the lady lives in central Sweden, evidently a region with low population density.

Naturally, the service in this extreme example makes use of the very latest in state-of-the-art optical fiber technology, a fixed network connection. Anyone who has such performance at his disposal does not have any more worries about bandwidth. Fixed network lines employing optical fiber, copper, or coaxial cables now in use are far from achieving this kind of performance and by no means still on the safe side. The dilemma of Scylla – standing for customer dissatisfaction or even churn in our example – or Charybdis – costs for adequate network expansion – really becomes visible in the sector of mobile broadband communication. We are speaking here of an especially narrow strait which makes life easy for monsters: mobile communication requires valuable resources(frequency) which are available in a very limited scope. Obviously it will not be possible to make any gigantic leaps under these conditions. But that doesn’t appear to bother anyone in the least: one mobile network generation after another follows hard on the heels of the previous one, all of them promising performance which can compete with fixed network connections. But we know from our experience with the first generations of mobile broadband access that there is a huge gap between wishful thinking and reality (DMR Petry/Knospe, DMR 04/2007NG Mobile Networks, What Is Yet to Come?, page 32-37;  DMR Petry/Schultz, DMR 01/2009Speed Is Not Sorcery, page 56-63). So what do we advise the poor seafarers: follow in the footsteps of Ulysses and sacrifice some of the sailors to save the ship, or hope with ­Jason and the Argonauts that a higher power like Hera, the wife of Zeus, will step in and guide them safely through? No, we ­prefer the example of Aeneas, who managed without outside help at all and cleverly avoided the monsters completely. So let’s go all the way back to the beginning: we will study the risks, assess them realistically, and find ways to master them.

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