The Law of Networking Gravity & It’s Implications for 2020

We’re in the exabyte era, where the Exchange of Everything meets the Exchange for everything, where the data generated by humans, machines and pervasive systems will eclipse in a single day what we saw in 2000.

Massive investments in network infrastructure to move them from virtualization (a transitional move) to cloudification (a transformation move), and from 4G to 5G will support the “great expectations” from enterprises, organizations and individuals.

In a much more complex real time hyper-connected and hyper-contextual universe, we’re going to see continued disruption in who builds and operates networks, as Google continues to invest in Spectrum, as AWS continues to build cloud data centers, as incumbent telecom companies invest in software-defined services, and as the public Internet itself grows.

As access to broadband adds users and applications to the most ubiquitous and resilient network in the world, the Internet and the private Extranets it will support in increasing breadth and depth, cybersecurity will continue to grow, as will automation and AI needed to efficiently manage access control, quality of service, traffic prioritization and new billing models.

What will all this – including the massive predicted growth of IoT and Industrial IoT solutions – mean for capacity planning, in the core and at the edge of modern networks?

This is where the law of networking gravity comes into play. 

It’s like the theory of relativity.

The bits will travel to the greatest mass and that will always be fiber.

Wireless is great to reach people who aren’t tethered, but spectrum is limited and expensive.

5G is going to cause the second massive build out of fiber networks. 

Newton’s law of universal gravitation says that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force which is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. This physical law ops a part of classical mechanics and was formulated in Newton’s work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“the Principia”), first published in 1687.

For the foreseeable future, Fiber optic networking will be the most effective way to transmit data whether 500 feet, 500 miles or across oceans, and is the largest mass of available capacity. With increasing requirements to compute closer to the physical edge of the network (your smartphone, smart device, ultra-low latency trading application, factory floor or connected car) and this is pushing innovators to leverage the Law of Networking Gravity at the edge, which can occur in any network path, and make it possible for those bits to find the most efficient way – and that means not just performance but value, with the notion of “least cost routing” moving to “best value routing” to keep the economics healthy.

Two other laws help illustrate the inevitability of the Law of Networking Gravity impacting all major connected systems.

Metcalfe’s Law, which states that a network’s impact is the square of the number of nodes in the network, played out in the early days of the movement of the Internet up from a DARPA project into the public and commercial spheres. If a network has 10 nodes, its inherent value is 100 (10 * 10). The end nodes, or endpoints at the edge, can be computers, servers or human beings.

Metcalfe’s Law was conceived by George Gilder, one of the great visionaries and drivers of the Internet, but is attributed to Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet. It speaks to both the growth in the number of connections as well as the value. A single device at the edge of the network is worthless unless it is connected to another device and millions of devices or people.

Those of you who were around when I was back in the day will recall that, over time, Metcalfe’s Law converged with Moore’s Law, which early on describe the “network effect” and inspired new networks and applications, for example eBay and Facebook, Amazon and WhatsApp, that drove value based on having the most users, with critical mass that become difficult to compete with.

The Internet is closing in on the half-century mark, and while it has served us well, there is enormous room for innovation and disruption, including how traffic will be exchanged, how IP sessions will be handled and secure, and how networking peering will work.

New innovations based on higher expectations will demand a level of performance that the Internet was never designed to support. Simultaneous consumption of rich media in real time on the consumer front, and the rise of autonomous systems on the industrial front is putting a severe strain on the Internet as we knew it.

An Internet that can provide more bandwidth and lower latency to many users at once—and do it securely, monitored and managed with software, will deliver a stronger Internet structure, which changes the way information and data are generated, organized, shared, stored and put to work in a constantly connected and computing world. It will scale but none of this will happen without more fiber.

Competition for premium transmission sets the stage for The Law of Networking Gravity, and the only way 5G, 6G and beyond will succeed is when we deploy more fiber, better fiber, better equipment and software associated with that fiber, and do so in a collaborative way – within industry consortiums, among educational institutions, supporting mission critical utilities and government systems – connecting the edge, the cloud, applications with all those bits finding their best way.

Protocols will evolve, access technologies will improve, spectrum will make a huge different in mobile computing, and with the right investments in fiber with new business models, the Internet will evolve into its second half century into a faster and more secure service that billions more users can rely on for decades to come.