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Is the Internet dead?

October 27, 1998
Web posted at: 4:40 PM EDT

by Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld Columnist


(IDG) -- At a recent Wall Street Journal conference at New York's World Trade Center, two telephone company CEOs actually said the Internet is "dead." I want to assure you that it is not -- bogging and collapsing maybe, but not dead. Here come the Internet's next generations.

CEO Bill Esrey talked about Sprint's ION. With acronyms including SONet, ATM, and DSL, ION will become the kind of network that Sprint customers really want, not the old Internet, which is "dead" really.

CEO Rich Notebaert, who once wrote an op-ed in the Journal saying the Internet is "dead," scoffed at the idea that Ameritech and other telephone companies "don't get it." And then he actually let it slip again -- I was just 15 feet away -- and said the Internet is "dead."

I am not making this up. "Dead."

Of course, maybe it depends on what the meaning of the word "dead" is.

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Maybe these CEOs mean that the current Internet must soon be replaced by a next-generation network, the one they are building for us right now, so the current Internet is, well, dead.

As I tried to explain in New York, the Internet is distributed in several dimensions. And one of the Internet's beauties is that it can evolve separately at many points along these dimensions. And evolve it does.

There is in fact not one Internet 2 (see There are many next-generation Internets, each evolving at its own pace, and some of these are evolving very rapidly indeed. This apparently confuses telco executives.

Here are some "nextgen Internet" evolutions.

The Internet is incorporating one service after another. The original Remote Login Internet was followed by the File Transfer Internet, the Electronic Mail Internet, and the Newsgroup Internet.

Then, with the World Wide Web, we got the Web Publishing Internet. Now, it's the Electronic Commerce Internet. What next? The Telepresence Internet?

These Internets aren't arriving neatly one after another, which is complicated. Perhaps telco executives would find it easier thinking of the Internet as an integrated services digital network -- ISDN for short.

Now, that's dead.

Along another dimension, the Internet is built in protocol layers. Releases of your e-commerce applications appear above the layer at which HTML is becoming XML. HTTP evolves below that, TCP below that, IP below that, Ethernet and ATM and SONet below that, wave division multiplexing below that, and optical fibers below that.

And then there are the major nextgen Internets.

The Gigabit Internet is arriving as the 45Mbps circuits mostly comprising the Internet's backbones are upgraded to 2.4Gbps and beyond. This upgrading is in full swing thanks to rapid advances in wave divided optical fibers.

The Direct Access Internet is arriving as dial-up kilobit circuit-switched modem access is replaced by continuous megabit packet-switched access. This upgrading starts ramping in 1999 thanks to fierce competition among UADSL, DOCSIS, and many local-access dark horses.

The IPv6 Internet will, among other things, expand IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits thereby solving the Internet's own Y2K-like problem.

The QoS Internet will be able to carry more than just today's best-efforts service. With high enough quality of service, the use of voice and video will grow rapidly. Then perhaps we'll see the Telephone and Television Internets.

The Pay-As-We-Go Internet will have various metering and billing mechanisms allowing Internet users, or their advertisers or governments, to pay for the resources they consume. This will help coordinate growth of the Internet by using price to communicate between supply and demand, and it will create playing fields for fierce competition on price and new technologies.

If the Internet is dead, long live the Internet.

Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979. Send e-mail to See

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