Put Everything on the Internet! Cancel all other Services!
08.05.2015 by Andrew M. Seybold
If you want to trust all of your communications, entertainment, and data as well as your programs such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs to the Internet, then go for it...
The title of this commentary should not be taken seriously unless you believe the Internet has infinite bandwidth, it is a robust network, and it will always be there for us when we want and need it. If that is not you, I would suggest that like me you continue to keep your phone on a pair of phone company wires for as long as it supports wires, keep your cable company providing your TV (or Direct TV for TV) and Internet services, and store a back-up copy of your most important information on a separate and removable hard drive, if possible, in a different location from your home or work computer.
If you want to trust all of your communications, entertainment, and data as well as your programs such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs to the Internet, then go for it—but with an understanding of the following real-world facts. The first is network congestion. Today it is showing up at ISP (Internet Service Provider) gateways as well as when the Internet is shared by an entire neighborhood such as with cable-based Internet. Tomorrow, it could just as easily be the Internet backbone that starts slowing down due to being overloaded in certain parts of the United States or the world. Recently it was necessary, for example, to run another fiber cable in the Atlantic from the United States to Europe to bolster Internet capacity across the ocean. It was not too many years ago when Australia and New Zealand were facing running out of bandwidth, even before there was video streaming. That problem was not fixed, at least for a while. Below I have provided some information from a recent study on congestion on the Internet and you will see that today it is a real problem and tomorrow it could be even worse. Next is the issue of network outages that are occurring across the United States not only because of storms or earthquakes, but deliberate destruction of fiber cables. Read on.
In the past year in Arizona, Northern California, and elsewhere there have been scores of fiber cuts made purposely to disrupt service. Not surprising, most service providers only use one fiber cable and one route to carry multiple services. If that fiber cable is cut on purpose or perhaps accidentally by a backhoe or other machine, it could easily shut down your cable, Internet, cell phone, and other broadband services. It can and has disrupted emergency traffic to 9-1-1 centers (Public Safety Answering Points or PSAPs as they are referred to). Most of these cuts have resulted in service outages ranging from eight hours to more than two days. The length of the outage depends on where the fiber was cut or if a piece was cut out of it, and how quickly the actual location of the cut can be tracked down so it can be fixed. Recently Northern Arizona was without multiple services including completion of 9-1-1 calls, cell sites being down, and many customers without Internet, cable TV, or phone service. The outage lasted for eighteen hours before the cut (which was deliberate) was found and could be repaired.
Likewise, the eleven or more recent fiber cuts in Northern California were all deliberate, and Northern California and Arizona are not the only places where fiber is being cut on purpose. The people who do this and put others in harm’s way because they cannot reach 9-1-1 rank right up there on my list of folks I would like to see locked up along with those who fly drones over wildfires preventing air tankers and helos from doing their jobs and the idiots who think it is funny to blind a commercial pilot with a laser as he is preparing to land a plane with several hundred passengers in it (but I digress). The bottom line is that these things are happening today, and in many cases the fiber that is cut is the only route to carry services from point A to point B, or at least one of the major highways to do so.
We should all know that in addition to services simply not being available, the speed and capacity to each person can vary depending on the type of Internet service we have. This is not true with DSL service that is direct to each house, albeit much slower than other methods, and it is not an issue if you are lucky enough to have fiber. However, if you have cable Internet or wireless Internet service the number of users on your portion of the network and what they are doing can and will impact the data speeds and capacity you experience. Everyone who uses cable Internet knows, for example, that after school lets out and the kids get home and start using their own connections, our data speed drops, sometimes a lot and sometimes not so much. But with the advent of more and more people cancelling their cable TV or Direct TV service and relying on the Internet to provide their TV, Netflix, and other forms of video entertainment, data speeds will fluctuate even more.
At present I live in a community with 122 houses, all of which are fed with a single cable connection for the entire neighborhood. I do not know how many of the 122 houses have cable but if 50% do (61) and if a portion of them stream an HD TV show or video at 8 p.m. on a given night, our data speeds take a real dive. Now a recent report called the Internet Health Test published by mLab cites congestion not only where the Internet is shared but also at some of the Internet Service Providers’ (ISP) gateways to the Internet. The report shows congestion on various ISPs’ networks in different cites with the worst congestion being across Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon in New York City:
There are more devices devouring more data than ever before, and now there is this new mentality that everything we want and need in the way of communications, data, applications, and entertainment can simply be routed to us over the Internet and our local Internet service provider regardless of where we are or what we are doing. People are giving up their cable TV (but not their cable Internet), Direct TV, and wired telephone. They are storing all of their personal and business data in the “cloud” and many are even using applications that live in the cloud as well. In reality, these people have moved back in time to the days when the computers were mainframes and we all used dumb terminals to access our applications and data. The difference was that in those days we were only able to use our dumb terminals while sitting at our desks because our terminals were hard-wired to the mainframe.
Today our “terminals” are much smarter, have lots of onboard storage, and can hold a lot of applications, data, pictures, music, and videos. Even our TVs are smart and many are attached to a DVR and the Internet. Many of us use phones that are Voice over IP (VoIP) and run over our data connection, and we have very high-speed Wi-Fi in our homes (forgetting that the maximum speed available for Wi-Fi is limited by the amount of Internet speed available). Below is a moment in time of the Internet backbone status and how much it was carrying at that time. It will be very interesting to see if this Internet, the one we are using today, will be able to sustain growth that is projected to double and triple in each successive year for the future. Further, many of those predictions were made before the U.S. population fell in love with the Internet of everything!
Courtesy Internet2 Network http://atlas.grnoc.iu.edu/atlas.cgi?map_id=301
Now add to this the fact that essentially all IPV4 IP or Internet Protocol addresses have been assigned (used up), and we will be switching to a mixture of IPV4 and IPV6 addresses to reach the next level. Considering every smartphone, tablet, and IoT (Internet of Things or Machine-to-Machine devices), there are more devices than there are people and it is easy to see that we have run out of IP addresses that were predicted to last us for another ten years or so.
New Reality of Communications
I am not making any dire predictions here, I am only being cautionary about my own activity and my ability to function for some period of time without the Internet by making sure my devices are capable of storing my work, my applications, and perhaps a few good books and a couple of movies just in case an Internet outage or overload condition lasts more than a few hours.
What I have just described is the new reality of communications. If we are truly to trust all of our communications, entertainment, work product, and interaction with others to the “Internet,” we need to first be aware that the Internet from our device through to what we are connecting to is not, by any means a mission-critical network. Then we need to realize that a single person with a hacksaw or wire cutters can take away most of our services for a lengthy period of time. Understand that our ISP’s gateway(s) to the Internet may in fact be congested at some point in time or more often as there is more demand for HD video streaming, and that the Internet itself is not a pipe that has unlimited or elastic capacity. Every type of cable, be it fiber, coax, or copper, and every type of wireless be it commercial broadband, Wi-Fi, or what people are calling 5G, which is really a 4G backbone with thousands of micro and mini-cells, all need to be connected to the network. I am not at all sure the vision of 5G can actually be realized with the “unlimited” access being promised in an affordable manner, but that is yet to be seen.
So is one of the FCC Commissioners correct that we don’t need the Internet? I for one don’t think so. We all use the Internet every day of our lives and over the course of the past few years we have seen it go from a techie network to a consumer and business network, and it is certainly what makes our smart wireless devices “smart.” When we are at home we use the Internet to find things we want to know about as we do on the road. But this new trend that seems to be to gaining momentum is to trust the Internet for everything we do—our email, voice communications, text, pictures, and now streaming video from many TV stations and Netflix, and for our data and applications. In other words, our entire life is being moved to the Internet.
Yet no one seems to be asking if the Internet is really the best communications pipe for us to trust with all of our personal, business, and entertainment lives. The Internet is hacked all of the time; all of my information concerning my clearance with the federal government is now in someone else’s hands. My credit cards have been compromised multiple times and now we are hearing that hackers can take over commercial airlines and cars driving down the freeway.
I for one will not trust all of my services, personal data, and entertainment to one pipe that is not mission-critical in nature, and was never intended to be so. It was designed to provide communications between researchers at multiple universities and we have turned it into what many believe is the only way to communicate. The issue for me is when it stops being available because someone cut a fiber cable or because my ISP has too much demand for what it can provide, or if the Internet itself slows down because it is overloaded, what options do I have available to me? In my case, I have my data and applications stored locally and I have downloaded enough books, videos, and music to keep me entertained for several weeks. How about you?
Andrew M. Seybold