Cisco, ATandT and the New Internet

Opinion: AT&T is spending serious money with Cisco to improve its Internet capabilities. Let's just hope they're spending enough.

One of the oldest jokes about the Internet goes, "Imminent death of the Internet predicted, GIF at 11." Just the acronym "GIF" gives you an idea how long people have been predicting that the Internet was about to be overwhelmed by traffic.

To prevent our cable and DSL modems from delivering Hayes 1200-baud SmartModem-like performance, the major telecoms, such as AT&T, have been investing in serious infrastructure upgrades. In the most recent one, AT&T announced that it was buying Cisco CRS-1 core routers for 25 of its major Internet backbone sites. At $500,000 to more than $1 million per CRS-1, that's serious mullah even for AT&T or Cisco.

What do you get for that kind of money? A single CRS-1 port, according to an independent test by Light Reading, can deliver 40 Gbit/s (gigabits per second). In another test, Light Reading was able to test two fully loaded CRS-1 chassis and the pair reached a rather stunning 1.2 Tbit/s (Terabits per second).

Now that, my friend, is fast.

I just hope it's fast enough.

You see, while I don't think the Internet will be dying anytime soon, I do think the Internet is getting to be like the DC beltway at rush hour: way too much traffic, not enough lanes.

It wasn't so long ago that spam made up the single-largest component of Internet traffic. Then, along came Napster, and then BitTorrent and by 2005, people were estimating that two-thirds of all Internet traffic was from P2P (peer-to-peer) networks like BitTorrent and Gnutella.

Today, it's almost certainly worse. When Napster came along, people were P2P-ing songs that weighed in at a few megabytes. Now, people commonly use P2P to trade the latest episodes of "Desperate Housewives" or "House" or legally buy and download TV series such as "Family Guy" from iTunes in several hundred megabytes packages.

And, coming soon, thanks to the adoption of H.264 in the latest version of Adobe Flash and VC-1 in Silverlight, we're going to see a lot more HD (High Definition) movies and TV shows being traded over the net. A typical movie in 720p HD will be somewhere around 1.5 GB in size.

Oh, and did I add that QuickTime, which also uses H.264, Flash and Silverlight will also let vendors stream HD IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) over the Internet? That's a lot of traffic. An AT&T-sponsored study this August estimated that by 2010, 20 households could generate more bandwidth demand than the entire Internet handled in 2005. Yes, they said 20.

I'm not sure I believe that. I figure it's more like 200 homes.

I can almost feel sorry for Verizon, which is facing a possible class-action lawsuit for allegedly discriminating against P2P traffic. It's not easy to move that kind of IP traffic with the specter of lawsuits and network neutrality bills, which would explicitly forbid ISPs and backbone providers from charging extra fees based on bandwidth consumption.

Even if there were some way to magically filter out the illegal traffic in copyrighted movies and porn, it really wouldn't make any difference. Apple has already shown that there's a real market out there for songs, TV shows and movies at a reasonable price. Vuze, a legal video Internet distributor, plans on using BitTorrent to deliver its HD goods to its customers, so you can't stop traffic just because it uses a particular protocol.

Like it or lump it, the multimedia Internet is here. I expect to see Cisco, Juniper Networks and the other top-tier, high-speed network companies to do extremely well for the next few years. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, all of the major telecommunication companies and network providers, have no choice in the matter. They will have to upgrade their Internet infrastructure and then upgrade it again.

The question we, as users, will need to answer is: "How much will we be paying for top Internet service?" After all, we all know who in the end will be paying for that shiny new infrastructure.

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