Telecom Luminaries Shine Light on Net's Future

Two of the telecom industry's executive forces, MCI WorldCom Inc. CTO Fred Briggs and Nokia Corp. President Pekka Ala-Pietila, spelled out their visions of the Internet's future at CTO Forum here Tuesday.

Kicking off the two-day conference, Briggs unveiled a few insights into the future of MCI WorldCom's Internet plans, positioning the company as much more then a telecom provider.

"We are going to become an e-commerce enabler; that is clearly our direction," Briggs said.

To back up that claim, Briggs told of plans to build a 3-million-square-foot hosting and co-location facility in which companies can build and host portals and e-commerce sites. In addition to the actual hosting, MCI WorldCom sees itself providing value-add services, dubbed MicroServices, on either an a la carte or turnkey basis. Among the examples Briggs presented of MicroServices were things like Web call centers, Web 411, or voice browsing.

Briggs likened the Internet and the change it has wrought to the great railroad build-out of the United States.

"We are not the first to see this kind of change," Briggs said. "Look at the first great network, the railroad, which made local markets national, created time zones and stock markets, and created entire cities."

Briggs cites the next major driver of Internet growth to be connected devices, predicting 1.5 billion IP chips to show up in devices as disparate as alarm clocks to refrigerators.

Briggs also addressed the things MCI WorldCom is doing to reduce the cost and difficulty involved in providing Internet access, which he estimates accounts for 63 percent of MCI WorldCom's costs. In addition to building out "fiber, and lots of it," Briggs talked about a forthcoming technology called VDSL (very high bit-rate DSL), which could offer homes as much as 50Mbps through an existing copper line for about $100 a month. Briggs said MCI WorldCom is putting VDSL into trials this year.

Following up Briggs was Nokia president Ala-Pietila. Ala-Pietila discussed what he calls the "Mobile Information Society," which he believes is the next step of evolution on the Internet.

As an example of what Nokia terms "M-life," or the evolution of "e-life" into mobility, Ala-Pietila showed an internal Nokia video demonstrating the possibilities of mobile communications in the near future. In the video, tiny phones with full color screens were capable of real-time video-conferencing, voice recognition, location-based services, and instant multimedia messaging.

Ala-Pietila was quick to point out that the devices and capabilities shown in the video were not being offered now, but the technology is in place for them all to become reality.

One device, a combination phone, PIM (personal information manager), and Internet browsing device no thicker than the thinnest cell phone captured the audience's imagination.

"That is an example of what we will be able to do with 3G," Ala-Pietila said.

"But the end-device will not look like that. We wouldn't show our future plans publicly."

Finally, showing the differences between Nokia's wireless interests and MCI WorldCom's varied interests, both speakers were asked whether they thought universal devices that could be used for voice and Internet anywhere in the world were on the horizon. Briggs answered quickly, "not in my lifetime."

Ala-Pietila said, on the other hand, "very soon."

CTO Forum is an InfoWorld sponsored event.

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