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New model wanted

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 21 Q2 2011

Those overpaid layabouts in what used to be called the broom cupboard have finally come up with a prediction. And it’s a good one. Whatever next?

peek ahead

News just in that the internet is unsustainable. An outfit called A.T.Kearney (it's a "strategy consultancy", and yes, now you ask, we have heard of it) has just put out a report entitled "A Viable Future Model For The Internet". Gist of the argument is that the internet, in its present form, is, well, unviable. There's too much traffic and too much content, and the problem is getting worse - A.T.Kearney suggests that "the industry will need to invest €8 billion per annum above its current trend rate just to maintain current service levels and prevent the Internet choking on the rapid growth in video content".

Expletive deleted! €8 billion! Pretty soon we'll be talking real money. This is hot news for data enthusiasts everywhere. Just when you thought we were all getting submerged under the, ah, e-truckloads of market data being generated every milli micro nano picosecond, we discover - you will have noticed the v-word in that quote - that the real problem is people uploading videos. It's the holidaymakers. All those bloggers. All those magazines running online TV channels news organisations providing real-time online footage from the scene of whatever's just happened.

It's probably also that pesky cloud, if we want to be fashionable about this. And social networking. Hollywood and downloading and the D-I-Y film industry. The democratisation of the information superhighway. It's all - to get full value from this month's column, you should panic now - too much!

Unless, of course, it isn't. Here at Peek Ahead, we pride ourselves on delivering insights of a depth (and subtlety) that is (are) only achievable after long years of painstaking study and/or a quick glance at Wikipedia. And we've come up with the insight that A.T.Kearney's report is just a touch too Malthusian for our taste. Thomas Robert Malthus, you will no doubt remember, was born on Valentine's Day 1766, in Surrey, England [Unless you're making some kind of a subtle point about the dangers of over-research, I suggest you get on with it. Ed.] and believed that population growth was limited by the availability of subsistence.

You've only got so much food-production capacity, so you can only have so many people. You've only got so much bandwidth, so you can only have so much internet. If you overdid it in, er, people-making, disease and famine would sort you out. Too many videos, and the whole system crashes. But Malthus was rather too straight-line by modern forecasting standards. If he had put out a report with A.T.Kearney, our ahead-peeking forbears might (we like to think) have queried the absence of chapters on "Ye Improvementes Inne Ye Agriculturalle Productionne" and "Ye Inventionne of Ye Tractor" and perhaps even "Ye Flying Groceries Half Waye Rounde Ye World to Ye Supermarkete Shelves".

Adding more bandwidth is like adding more fields - fine up to a point, but sooner or later, your peaceful roof garden has to go. We take a different view: the bandwidth problem is big, significant and difficult, and we're all in favour of an €8 billion upgrade to our connection. But consider this. There is - and you can look this one up for yourself - a widely held and respectable view that an early sign of a new medium's long-term viability is its take-up by retail providers of, ah, less respectable material. That observation was made about the web, in that some of the, um, the, er, the, um, y'know, the early video content -

What we're trying to say is this. Retail take-up, in all its forms, is the key indicator of long-term viability. The fact that retail customers want to watch videos of - the fact that people want to watch videos online ensures the internet's future. But that retail demand is also the most powerful driver for evolution. Ye Peeke Aheade couldn't have predicted the invention of the tractor, because Thomas Robert and his pals wouldn't have understood the term. But the back-page team at Clockeworke Trayder might have predicted new ways of exploiting fields as well as just - more fields.

We take A.T.Kearney's report as an indicator that somebody, somewhere is about to invent something that will solve the internet's capacity problem once and for all. The pressure is coming from retail now, so it's inevitable. You read it here first, and in due course, no doubt you'll watch it on video. Yea verily!