Is the next killer app really a killer, or just a dud?

CHICAGO ' If there is one theme at this week's NXTcomm telecom trade show, it is that infrastructure industry, service providers and content providers are integrating into a single industry, driven by the consumer demand for bright, shiny objects.

Randall Stephenson, CEO at AT&T, the granddaddy of infrastructure companies, said in his opening keynote address that entertainment was the driving force behind the expansion of networking services by carriers. If the company doesn't have an entertainment offering, he said, 'We're not going to get into the front door with customers.'

Cisco chairman John Chambers declared video the killer app for the next generation of networks and services, and Bob Wright, co-chairman of General Electric, represented content providers at the show as the parent of NBC Universal. His big announcement was NBC's plans for 1,000 hours of live online video coverage of next year's Beijing Olympic Games.

Concepts for services to be offered by major companies, including Motorola and Cisco, were mostly trivial: faster ways to watch more TV and listen to more music in more places. The technology to enable this is interesting, but how significant is it, really, that you could start listening to the Eagles' 'Hotel California' in your car and then go into your house and watch a high-def video of the performance on your TV? Or order baseball tickets online and download them to your cell phone? Or pause a TV show you are watching in the living room so you can pick it up in the bedroom where you left off?

It is tempting to dismiss these innovations as trivial. But they are not trivial to the companies promoting them. They are investing billions of dollars in upgrading and expanding high-bandwidth networks with the expectation that these and other services will generate a demand and a return on their investments. They are betting that a lot of people are eager for new choices in how they access entertainment.

There is some lip service being paid to issues such as public safety and medicine, with predictions that doctors and first responders will benefit from these technologies, as they no doubt will. But the darling of the next generation of network services is YouTube, the online provider of user-generated videos. YouTube, and not public safety, homeland defense or financial services, is driving the next generation of network services.

It is a bit disconcerting to see this merger of major industries driven by the quest for more ubiquitous entertainment. But entertainment is a powerful business incentive and technology driver. If more and better videos spur the creation of a tightly architected, flexible, high-bandwidth global internetwork of wired and wireless links capable of delivering any kind of content anywhere, there no doubt will be other uses for it and the capability can be used to deliver meaningful services.

Of course, by the time those services come online, the networks will probably be overburdened again and we'll all be looking for the next, next generation of networks.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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