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section heading icon     overview

This guide considers the internet and the broader global information infrastructure. It includes a discussion of key technologies, sectors such as internet hosting and management issues such as private networks and VoIP.

section heading icon     contents of this guide

The following pages cover -

  • issues  - what are the key issues and processes in developing and maintaining standards for global information networks
  • primers  - introductions to network technology, ie background for understanding legal, economic and other questions
  • engineering & standards  - a map of the engineering bodies - the IETF, ITU and others - along with perspectives on their operation
  • addressing  - what is involved in identifying points on the network, such as websites, and why that's currently perhaps the most contentious aspect of the internet. It covers the DNS, ICANN and ENUM
  • infrastructure  - the shape of the global infrastructure: pipes, routers, ISPs
  • traffic & access  - pricing, access and who deals with domestic and international traffic, particularly important if (like Australia) your country runs an information deficit in traffic across the Pacific
  • Australia  - a map of official and other bodies in Australia concerned with the network: ACMAA, SPAN, TIO, ATUG, auDA and others
  • advocacy  - advocacy and professional/technical bodies that increasingly influence how the network is managed
  • convergence  - the web, voice and broadcasting networks
  • broadband  - a look at broadband, the revolution 'just around the corner'
  • wireless, pans and piconets - Wi-Fi, Wi-MAX, satellite and other technologies
  • private - corporate private networks (aka VPNs), proposals for a 'private internet' devoted to kids or other users, and writing about the 'deep web'
  • voice - internet telephony, aka VOIP
  • ISPs - the internet service provider industry: technology, business, regulation, statistics, studies
  • hosting and processing - server farms and other hosting developments and e-commerce facilitation services
  • devices - end points on the GII: personal computers, phones, PDAs ...
  • mobiles - questions about mobiles (cellphones) in advanced and developing economies
  • dark fibre - overcapacity and undercapacity in national and global telecommunication infrastructure
  • neutrality - debate about network access and traffic prioritisation

Specific issues, such as domain name disputes, are examined in more detail in other guides and profiles on this site.

The Governance guide for example explores the regulation of cyberspace at the local, national and international level. There are supplementary profiles on Wireless Access, on ICANN, on auDA and on Cybercafes & Telecentres.

section heading icon     orientation

What has been characterised as 'cyberspace' or as 'The Internet' involves the interrelationship of four layers -

  • the physical infrastructure layer - the communications links (much of which predate the net) such as copper wire, wireless and optic fibre, the switches and devices such as personal computers, mobile phones and servers
  • the logical layer - connecting the physical infrastructure, eg Internet Protocol (IP)
  • the applications layer, eg web browsers
  • the content layer

The web is one part of the internet, an international network of networks that includes the global information infrastructure (GII) and various national information infrastructures (NII).

Although the GII is independent of particular proprietary hardware or software, it reflects broad standards.

Those standards are developed and administered by national and international bodies. Some are government agencies; others are commercial or non-government organisations that operate with government endorsement.

As a result, responsibilities and processes can be confusing. The following pages identify standards issues and processes, highlighting what they mean for Australia and New Zealand.

This guide provides a map of the overseas bodies that develop or authorise those standards and highlights emerging technologies such as the wireless web, the basis of m-commerce. It describes local regulatory agencies such as the ACA, industry groups and advocacy bodies. A separate profile highlights the evolution of the net.

section heading icon     laws?

Investment in networks - which as highlighted in the discussion of the dot-com bubble resulted in pain for many service and equipment providers - has reflected what are claimed as six 'empirical laws'.

In reality those 'laws' are trends which have some value as predictors of the future in the short-term but may not always apply and may be affected by consumer/investor behaviour.

They are -

  • Moore's Law - a restatement of the 1965 prediction by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors that could be placed in a computer chip (the complexity of an integrated circuit) would double every year. Moore updated the prediction in 1975 to doubling every month and in 2003, amid forecasts regarding the imminent 'death of Moore's law', suggested that another decade of growth was possible
  • Metcalfe's Law - articulated by ethernet developer and 3Com founder Robert Metcalfe, suggested that the value of a network is approximately the square of the number of users of that network (a suggestion often illustrated with the example of facsimile machines). Arguments that Metcalfe's Law overstates the value of adding connections has led some observers to suggest that the value of a network with n users is n times the logarithm of n (rather than n squared). Observers have commented that hard drive capacity (or more broadly memory) in personal computers has broadly increased by an order of magnitude every six years, prompting the rejoinder that increase may not be indefinite and that file sizes have increased at a comparable rate
  • Cooper's Law - from wireless innovator Marty Cooper, reflects his observation that the number of voice calls over radio spectrum (including mobile phone calls) had doubled every 30 months for roughly 100 years, with the "effectiveness of spectrum utilisation in personal communications" improving by "a factor of around one trillion since 1901" and a million times since 1950. Cooper predicted that would continue
  • Edholm's Law - from Nortel technologist Phil Edholm, suggests that data rates for 'fixed', 'wireless' and 'nomadic' communications increase on similar exponential curves, with the slower rates trailing the faster rates by a predictable time lag.
  • Gilder's Law - from polemicist George Gilder, reflects observation that early digital network bandwidth doubled every nine to twelve months (forecast in 2000, before anxieties about hard money and dark fibre took hold, to continue for at least 25 years). Gilder concluded pre-Crash that internet traffic was doubling every 100 days and would continue to do so in future, justifying delirious investment in connectivity providers and equipment suppliers.
  • Goodhart's Law - offers a caution about conclusions from such laws, variously articulated as "whenever government attempts to regulate any particular set of financial assets, they become unreliable as indicators of economic trends" or "any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed on it for control purposes". It has been restated by Marilyn Strathern as "when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure".

Sceptics add Godwin's Law (articulated by the EFF's Mike Godwin) - "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one".

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version of October 2004
© Bruce Arnold
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