Feet and Horizons

Juniper added to its content portfolio today, acquiring the intellectual property of a video delivery firm called Blackwave.  This is a smaller deal by recent Juniper standards, but it’s potentially critically important.  Network operators are getting more sophisticated and demanding in their content plans, moving just from optimizing traffic to demanding reasonable monetization strategies.  Anyone who actually owns/hosts video has both a caching issue and an issue with delivery storage and stream management.  Players like the MSOs have much more of the latter, as do any telcos with VoD plans.  Thus, Blackwave rounds out Juniper’s content repertoire, adding the second dimension to video and potentially making them a premier player in the content monetization plans now emerging.

The question with all of this good stuff remains; can Juniper create a whole from the sum of the parts?  Contrasting their approach with that of competitors, Juniper takes a bottom-up path toward strategic issues and that risks getting to the goal long after it’s been claimed by someone else.  Competitors take the top down, claiming high ground but often failing to deliver on time.  The best approach, of course, is to have everything needed when it’s needed, but nobody seems to have grokked that one as yet.  The recent flood of M&A from Juniper are an opportunity to do something truly revolutionary, but you can’t have a revolution nobody knows about.  The Silent Majority may as well be a minority.

There’s been a recent flap about a report that China rerouted a bunch of US traffic through China, capturing and potentially (so they say) examining both government and corporate information.  China denies the story, and the real issue here in my view is the lack of any discipline in the way the Internet operates as a global network.  There’s always been an issue with route advertising in IP networks; someone can advertise a route falsely and thus capture traffic.  Making the Internet into a “real” global public network means making it relatively immune to this kind of hijacking, and whether the China allegations are true or not, there is potential for harm because of either accidents or malice, and both have surely happened before.  BGP security and management of domains isn’t an easy process, but we certainly have the components to make the Internet more bulletproof, and it’s time we tried to do that.  A key requirement is some overall enforcement of reasonable practices, though, and the only way that will happen is if the ISPs themselves say they won’t peer with anyone who doesn’t follow the rules, nor accept routes/traffic from or through them.

AT&T is moving to HSPA+, faster than 3G but slower in terms of potential than 4G.  Like T-Mobile, they may advertise their move as 4G and spawn the usual market debate on what that really means and whether AT&T is being deceitful.  Truth be told, all marketing these days is deceit, and our surveys show clearly that people don’t understand what xG means anyway.  This reinforces a point the FCC’s broadband inquiries have made; we need some objective way to measure broadband and thus to compare offerings.  Verizon’s early comments on 4G services suggest they’d launch at a lower speed than AT&T’s HSPA+ (now the rumor is that Verizon will upspeed 4G before launch), and that would mean that “old” wireless could be faster than “the latest”.

Whatever the name we give to higher-speed wireless broadband, it’s clear that it’s going to change how we use broadband services.  I’ve been analyzing how people’s behavior and their communications tools interact, and it’s a kind of feedback process rather than a simple linear progression.  Tools have always guided human processes; you don’t connect boards the same way once the hammer and nails have been invented.  But human processes drive the development of tools because their adoption can’t be too much of a behavioral leap of faith.  The big opportunity for the network of the future is the exploitation of this feedback process, the development of an ecosystem that can support the evolution of social behavior and ubiquitous broadband as they feed on each other to establish a new norm.

That’s what’s missing, in my view, in the announcements by vendors in the space—in this week and in weeks past.  Collaboration or wireless or content or 4G or any other technology or approach is relevant not for what it can do at this instant, or what it might be able to do in some indefinite future, but in how it navigates the path between those points.  Facebooks’ Zuckerberg, who I don’t think is possessed by any dazzling set of insights in most of his interviews, did say recently that Facebook’s value was to build businesses around the social graph, the chart that maps behavioral links.  I think he’s half right.  Business practices and social behavior will transform our tools and be transformed in return.  If Facebook could be the incubator for the evolution, it has a great future.  But it’s hard for things to make money in the present and prepare for the future because the people in the company are always blinded by their next paycheck or quarterly report.  The world has a lot of potholes to fall into, and if you never take your eyes off your feet it’s going to be hard to avoid them as you move into the future.

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