What's coming for the Internet: Evolution

CHICAGO'Vinton Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, is a little wary of making predictions on the future of networking.

'After all, the 32-bit address space was my decision in 1977,' Cerf said. He has spent the past 10 years advocating the adoption of the next version of the Internet Protocols, IPv6, in part because of the need for more address space.

But Cerf, senior vice president for technology strategy at MCI Corp., agreed to make a few predictions for reporters at the SuperComm trade show Monday. What he predicted was evolution, not revolution.

He said the increased address space offered by IPv6 would be needed by the growing number of networked devices hooked up to the Internet over the next decade, from cars to appliances.

The Internet will become a more transactional environment, with transactions taking place between companies and across industry segments, not just between customers and retail businesses. And search engines will continue to become more important as their ability to handle unstructured data improves.

'We leave a laptop at the dinner table at home,' Cerf said. The computer is linked to the home's wireless network. 'It's there to help when the conversation runs into a roadblock. I'm a big fan of having information available.'

But his clearest vision was for the future of MCI, the rebranded WorldCom that emerged recently from bankruptcy.

'We have to move up the stack in the company's product and service offerings,' he said. That means offering more IP applications and managed services rather than just network access. 'I'm a big fan of applications that lie above the IP layer.'

Cerf sees a large demand in the federal market for such services. He said the 2001 Govnet proposal of a secure, dedicated government network, which has been quietly shelved by the Bush administration, illustrates the need.

'The ability to provide resilient functionality on a dedicated network was so expensive that it makes more sense to offer the services over resilient, interconnected public networks,' he said.

Cerf said MCI wants to move from being a network services provider to a network-centric services provider. New revenue will be driven by value-added applications rather than by driving traffic to MCI networks. The company will be agnostic about how the customer gets to those new services, whether over MCI's own networks or over someone else's.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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