Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Mail May Matter Longer Than We Think.

A recent story in Business Insider identified another reason why the information superhighway could face bottlenecks not dissimilar to those that drivers experience during rush hour in Los Angeles. The article quotes the ATT filing on its purchase of T-Mobile in which ATT explains the impact that the
iPhone and similar smart phones have on network demand. 

"The filing says:

A smartphone generates 24 times the mobile data traffic of a conventional wireless phone, and the explosively popular iPad and similar tablet devices can generate traffic comparable to or even greater than a smartphone. AT&T’s mobile data volumes surged by a staggering 8,000% from 2007 to 2010, and as a result, AT&T faces network capacity constraints more severe than those of any other wireless provider.

Those dates aren't a coincidence. 2007 is when the iPhone was introduced as an AT&T exclusive.

AT&T warns the problem is getting worse as more consumers use video and enterprise apps on their smartphones, and guesses that its network will carry more traffic in the first five to seven weeks of 2015 than it did in all of 2010."

ATT's statement suggests that no one including Apple and ATT's network engineers had a clue about the revolution that they had started.   The forecast for 2015 suggests that the network will carry more than seven times the traffic in 2015 than it did just last year.   Given how poorly forecasters estimated the initial growth in network demand, one wonders whether current investments in network capacity can create a network robust enough to meet needs of mobile users.

Network capacity will not be the only constraint slowing expansion of digital communications.   Currently, iPv4, the addressing system that provides a numerical identifier to every connection to the Internet is close to reaching its maximum capacity.  According to ZD Net, Asia has reached the limit of iPv4 web addresses, and it would not seem unreasonably to assume that that the Europe and the united North America could come next.

A replacement addressing system, IPv6 would raise the number of possible addresses to 4.2 billion to 340 undecillion or addresses.  However, most Internet users whether they use a mobile or computer based access points are using legacy systems that can cause challenges when using iPv6 web addresses.  As ZD Net reports: 

There may be some operating system out there with picture perfect IPv6 support, but I haven’t met it yet. Each has some quirks and some problems. As time goes by, more and more people insist on full-featured IPv6 support that will change. In the meantime though don’t be surprised if you run into problems every now and again with IPv6 and say Windows 7. I’m not picking on Windows 7; every operating system will have some troubles until everyone is on board with IPv6.

The same article notes that switching to another operating system like Linux or Apple's OSX will not solve the problem either.

Linux has long had IPv6 support. To set it up properly, though, you’ll need to get down and dirty with shell commands. Carla Schroder, a Linux and networking expert, has recently written a pair of quick IPv6 Linux guides: IPv6 Crash Course For Linux and Another IPv6 Crash Course For Linux: Real IPv6 Addresses, Routing, Name Services. With these you can get your basic Linux client and servers setup without tears. I expect the Linus distributors to provide GUI-based tools for essential IPv6 set-ups in the near future.

Apple already provides automated IPv6 support in Mac OS X. Under the hood, it uses the KAME open-source IPv6 stack, which also supports the BSD Unixes. To do more with the Mac OS X IPv6 support, check out the Ipv6INT page, Apple Mac OS X IPv6. As they note here, “The IPv6 documentation in Mac OS X is very sparse.” On the Mac server sides, there are some grave omissions. For example, as far as I’ve been able to tell there’s no support for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol version 6 (DHCPv6).

But the problem goes beyond just operating systems as SOHO networking equipment from major manufacturers all have spotty abilities to use the new addresses.  ZD Net reports:

Today, Linksys does not offer any SOHO/consumer hardware that supports IPv6. Cisco tells me though that The Linksys E4200 we just launched and Linksys routers [the rest of the E series] that will be launched this year will support iPV6.” This will be delivered via a free firmware update. I still don’t know if older Linksys hardware will be retrofitted with real IPv6 support.

Netgear supports IPv6 in much of their equipment, but I haven’t been able to find an easy way to find out which switch, router, or what have you supports IPv6 or not from their Web site. For now, the only thing I can do is recommend that you take a long, hard look at each prospective device’s release notes.

With D-Link, you can at least do a search on IPv6 and get a product list. This network vendor currently supports a wireless router, the DIR-632, and half-a-dozen Gigabit switches.

Curiously, enough Apple’s AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule support IPv6. The bad news is that they do it with 6by4 or, the smarter move, you can set IPv6 support up manually.

Buffalo Technology, like Netgear, also supports IPv6 on some of their equipment, but makes it even harder to find out which equipment supports it. Here, you’ll actually need to dig into the user manuals to find out what’s what. That said, the company has a series of routers–WZR-HP-G300NH, WHR-HP-G300N and WHR-HP-GN-that use the alternative DD-WRT firmware and these do offer some IPv6 support.

So we have a situation that home/small business users find themselves facing a situation that easy access to the Internet may become more difficult and the computer and networking hardware that they use cannot keep up with the changing technology without expert assistance.  

What does all this technical talk have to do with mail?  It means that overcrowding of mobile and web-based communications may make mail a critical backstop during what will likely be a decade or more long transition to greater network capacity and computer and networking equipment that can easily handle new web addressing standards.   This does not mean that consumers and businesses will slow the push of  many forms of mail-based communications, and in particular transaction related documents (i.e. statements, checks, payments and bills) to electronic alternatives. But it does mean that mail will continue to provide a critical communications role for those that do not want to be lost among the thousands of communicators crowding the information superhighway until speed of that highway slows to a crawl when network capacity or addressing problems makes the Los Angeles rush hour analogy appear apt.

But the link between the digital and physical delivery world is not limited to traditional business roles.  Recent reports by the Inspector General of the Postal Service suggests that there may be a digital role within the postal ecosystem and even possibly a digital role for the Postal Service that allows digital and physical delivery to coexist .  It is for this reason that an upcoming conference, Postal Vision 2020 will be bringing together some of the greatest minds in digital and print communications to discuss the future of print and digital communications.   The symposium to be held June 15, 2011 and the Marriott Chrystal Gateway Hotel in Arlington, VA.  To learn more click on the Postal Vision 2020  link.

1 comment:

bernardmarkowicz said...

Great post. I think that mail is here to stay because it increasingly completes the customer experience. Marketeers are learning how to better integrate channels to present us with more effective, personalized and useful advertising, combining knowledge of our demographics, needs, and previous purchases. At the same time, the impact of email is diminished by inbox congestion, spamming, schemes, and fraud. Still, much can be done to improve the effectiveness of the mail as a marketing channel today and in the future, such as more reliable service and intelligent customer opt-in.
Bernard Markowicz