17th level Hacker

Innovation Disconnect

I see stories like this one about 4G cell phone services being worked on with gigabit data rates and this one with doubts about consumers really wanting digital homes and overall I’m left wondering about the ability of the market to deliver innovation. Would I like gigabit data rates to my phone? Of course, why not? Would I be willing to pay the equivalently scaled up cost of $200K per month in order to do so ($20 per month for 100Kbps being vaguely equivalent to $200,000 per month for 1,000,000Kbps or 1Gbps)? No, of course I wouldn’t. In many ways the technical achievement in these fields has outstripped the ability of markets and products to deliver them to end users. Innovation is good, seemingly unrelated discoveries sometimes lead to fantastic breakthroughs, and the only way to get that to happen is to let the passionate people keep hacking away on the things they love. But there’s also a very real sense of doubt when I hear about this stuff. I was supposed to have gigabit wired connections available at home. It was supposed to give me instant access to all the world media at the click of a button. I think it would be fair to say that vision was unrealistic. So when I hear that I could get gigabit to my handset soon I can’t help but think “Wow, I would like to just consistently get my 100Kbps all the way from Palo Alto to San Francisco on the train without constant service drops.” And think sarcasticly that the real driver for the enhanced data rate is that telcos think their profits will scale with the data rate because now people can download more ringtones. When in reality if they want to sell more ringtones the limiting factor has nothing to do with bandwidth. It has to do with user interface and cost and customer awareness and compelling product. I would guess that bandwidth is somewhere down around 20th in terms of contributing factors.