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Networks Without Infrastructure

We often hear that the internet will eventually have to support between 50 and 250 billion unique items – be they manufactured, grown or virtual. But while we very much believe in a future of ever-smarter products and ever-deeper connectivity, is a massively expanded version of today’s internet really the most likely scenario?

Networks with infrastructure

Every day, the definition of the internet becomes a bit less clear – which should give pause to those who believe in imposing blanket internet regulations.

There is already increasing network speciation, with countless private, commercial, company, institutional and government clouds that can be fixed, mobile, permanent, transient, open, private, walled, secure, visible or invisible. Every day, the definition of the internet becomes a bit less clear – which should give pause to those who believe in imposing blanket internet regulations.

But the bigger question is whether every car, traffic light, plant and toothbrush really needs to be continuously connected and addressable in the conventional internet manner. Or will we need to pursue our smart planet objectives in other, fundamentally different ways? We think the latter. We very much doubt whether future extensions of today’s network infrastructure will be able to economically and functionally support the coming hyper-connected society.

In much of the developed world today, 3G and 4G networks have been over-promoted, over-sold and under-resourced to the extent that they typically handle less than 10 percent of internet traffic. Indeed, many mobile operators now offer free WiFi accounts to divert traffic away from their core infrastructure. WiFi currently supports 50 to 60 percent of the overall internet workload, and fixed-line connections 30 to 40 percent.

Thus, while it is fashionable to talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Cloud, we actually need to move towards what we call Clouds of Things. For example, vehicles on a highway should directly talk to each other – car to car, truck to truck – sharing traffic, weather, road and journey updates as proximity allows. Short-range Bluetooth or 60, 90,120 and 180GHz wireless systems can do the trick, with frequencies reused every few vehicles along the road.

Thus, rather than every vehicle trying to access the same 3, 4 and 5G resources, just one or two vehicles would now and again receive an update, or make a report, and then pass on anything useful via the vehicle-to-vehicle network. Such changes – and the required industry standards – will create the potential for major new forms of competitive advantage for car makers and technology suppliers alike.

This networks without infrastructure approach is applicable in countless other areas. The medical devices in our bathroom cabinet, doctor’s office, medical centre and hospital could follow a similar paradigm, as could our homes and offices.The same is also true for the components inside machines, vehicles, aircraft and production plants and so on. These systems need to talk to each other far more than to the outside world, meaning that a local net, mostly disconnected, will often suffice.

Building clouds of things is relatively simple and low cost, and can be done now without a huge increase in network bandwidth and connectivity expenditure.

Building clouds of things is relatively simple and low cost, and can be done now without a huge increase in network bandwidth and connectivity expenditure. This approach also comes with important security advantages. For example, sharing files inside an office via email, Dropbox and apps using low bandwidth internet services makes no sense when a local wide-band device-to-device network is so easy to set up using Bluetooth and sharing apps. In this case the security advantages are significant and obvious: a hacker would have to be in close proximity to the group.

The biological parallels

The reliability, resiliency and survivability of biological entities is achieved at the expense of efficiency, and through dynamic adaptability and the sacrifice of the expendable. Activities not continually linked into the main nervous system are common, whilst ongoing learning and sharing abound. The internet, our machines, working practices and the need for ‘smarts’ and AI are now pushing us in a similar direction.

But, of course, this new paradigm also introduces new security opportunities and challenges for users, defenders and attackers in the form of new options and degrees of freedom. Fortunately, both these freedoms and the attack surface are significantly shaped to the user’s advantage if we can only think and do things differently – a topic we will explore in future research commentaries.


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Research Commentary

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David Moschella
Research Fellow
David Moschella, based in the United States, is a Research Fellow for Leading Edge Forum.  David's focus is on industry disruptions, machine intelligence and related business model strategies.  David was previously Global Research Director of the programme. David’s key areas of expertise include globalization, industry restructuring, disruptive technologies, and the co-evolution of business and IT.  He is the author of multiple research reports, including Disrupting the Professions through Machine Learning and Digital Trust, 2016 Study Tour Report: Applying Machine Intelligence, There is Now a Formula for Machine Intelligence Innovation,  Embracing 'the Matrix' and the Machine Intelligence Era and The Myths and Realities of Digital Disruption. An author and columnist, David’s second book, Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth, was published in 2003 by Harvard Business School Press.  The book predicted the shift from a supplier-driven to today’s customer-led IT environment.  His 1997 book, Waves of Power, assessed global competition within the IT supplier community.  He has written some 200 columns for Computerworld, the IT Industry’s leading publication on Enterprise IT, and has presented at countless industry events all around the world. David previously spent 15 years with International Data Corporation, where he was IDC’s main spokesperson on global IT industry trends and was responsible for its worldwide technology, industry and market forecasts.    


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