Net neutrality should be about user experience

stopI just read this article about how Cisco believes that net neutrality rules need to allow for bandwidth shaping.

I believe they’re missing the point entirely.

Right now the issue is that infrastructure owners are playing games with the prioritization of bits, in order to provide leverage for charging tolls to content providers (I’m coining the word “trollboothing“, if it doesn’t exist already, to describe this). The result is a loss for consumers of content, because their internet experience is degraded (sometimes severely). Continue reading

That was quick…

Usually it takes a bit longer between when I predict something in writing and when somebody actually invents it.

Last year I wrote a short humorous SF story (you can read it on my other blog here) that features a spacecraft that uses weak magnetic fields to guide plasma around its surface.

I just spotted this story on Slashdot.

Okay, okay, they’re talking about a slightly different use case, and they aren’t speculating about physics.

Still…

Decomposing the Bus

If you take public transit, this scenario will be familiar to you.

After a lengthy wait in the freezing cold (or sweltering heat), the bus finally arrives. It was likely held up by rush-hour traffic.

You fight your way onto the bus through a mob of people trying to get off. When you eventually get on, you find yourself packed in like a sardine in a can, with somebody’s heavy bag poking into your back.

As the bus lurches away (throwing everyone into each other), you see a crowd of angry people, through the window, who couldn’t make it onto the bus.

So here’s a thought for you:

What if it was possible for you to get on the bus before it had even arrived?

What if it was possible for all of those other people to get off of the bus after it (and you) had already left?

Continue reading

The strategic implications of tiered network access

This week, the US Supreme Court struck down the FCC’s ruling on network neutrality, which defines telco companies as common carriers, who are therefore forced to treat all network traffic equally. In theory, this opens the door to things like tiered network access (where certain kinds of traffic get higher priority), or even attempting to bill large web media properties (i.e. YouTube and Netflix) for the traffic which they carry over their network.

Network problems - Flickr Creative Commons - Jeremiah Roth

Network problems – Flickr Creative Commons – Jeremiah Roth

I believe that the telcos are unlikely to move quickly on this, and will likely initially do some small (and very quiet) experimentation on a local basis.

The reasons are three-fold – firstly, the FCC may yet respond with an updated ruling that complies with the Supreme Court (this is apparently well within their power); secondly, large experiments run the risk of a massive consumer backlash; thirdly, the ultimate strategic outcome is actually quite hard to predict.

The third item on this list is most interesting from a business strategy perspective. Let’s try to game out some possible longer-term outcomes, shall we? Continue reading

Google buys Nest

Google just announced that it has bought Nest (producers of smart thermostats, and now smoke alarms too). Both sides (for now) are indicating that they’ll take privacy seriously.

Its clear that Google is chasing a strategy with the “internet of things”. Willing to bet they’ll make further purchases or create new products along these lines in the very near future – think connected burglar alarms (Rogers won’t be happy), smart door locks, or light bulbs that compete with GE’s connected product.

Its also clear that this is going to push other large tech competitors to do much of the same, for fear of falling behind. Expect much investment and many buyouts in this sector this year.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I recently read an interesting book called Dogfight, about the war between Apple and Google over the cellphone market. If you haven’t read it, it covers some of the background behind the development of the iPhone and Android, and the strategies that both companies employed to fight each other.

The major IT companies have long been converging, in the sense that their offerings overlap more and more over time, and the strategic maneuvering of the past few years has gradually made way for something more like trench warfare – gradually improving their products in the hopes of outselling the rest, while relying on the entrenchment of their own platforms. Obtaining a new customer in this environment is zero-sum – the customer must be leveraged away somehow from a competing platform. This is one of the reasons why I wrote some while back that I was bearish on big tech companies in the immediate future. So far, the results of my predictions have been mixed, but I think we’ve already seen them start to play out. Continue reading

Direct magnetic drive

I’ve been thinking about alternative power-trains lately. I believe I’ve come up with something that is at least partially novel, and that might have applications for nanotechnology (I don’t think it scales up, unfortunately).

The basic idea is a modification of a standard electric motor (linear or rotary – I’ll show examples with use-cases below). The thought I had was whether it was possible to make the “fuel” for the motor directly power it, rather than using electromagnets powered by electricity. Continue reading

Partial automation of self-driving vehicles

Take a look at the scene below, and imagine it from the perspective of a self-driving car.

Street scene 1

Linked to original image on Flickr.

There’s a lot going on.

  • There’s the outlines of the road (i.e. potential paths, some of them legal routes for the vehicle to take);
  • there are traffic lights and other signs, all of which need to be identified (and then also checked for context – i.e. “does this sign apply to me?”);
  • there are other cars on the road and pedestrians (each of which may suddenly change direction);
  • as well as innumerable other non-traffic-related distractions (trees, shops);
  • and (perhaps most importantly) the desired destination of the passengers, which may also change rapidly (“hey, there’s a sale on in that store”, “you just missed a parking spot!” etc).

Continue reading

Inflection Points, Driverless Cars and “Soft” AI

Earlier this week, Nissan announced that it would have several models of driver-less cars on the market by 2020. Now GM and Honda have made several similar announcements. This could be an inflection point, where the driver-less car becomes somewhat inevitable (barring legislative ramifications, or a particularly gruesome accident). Continue reading