An evening with Vint Cerf

An evening with Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf is a legend in the industry. Widely known as a “Father of the Internet,” Vint is the co-designer with Robert Kahn of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the Internet. Google Kirkland hosted an evening with him and as expected it was a packed house. Of course, the fine dining experience was part of the deal.

The topic of the talk was “Tracking the Internet into the 21st Century”

It is always inspiring to hear the best minds speak, especially someone having such a deep historical perspective as Vint. The full-house was glued to their seats as he took us on a journey from the starting point of creating a network and a protocol that will form the backbone of the what we know today as the Internet and then ended the talk with an update on his work on Interplanetary Internet.

However, what was fascinating was he started his presentation with the “potential” of mobile as an access means. He referred phones as programmable devices and Information appliances rather than mobile phones. His strong emphasis on mobile esp in the developing world gives insights into the reason (and it is quite obvious) for all the recent activity at Google w.r.t. mobile. Mobile as a commerce and payment device where people can exchange minutes (as currency) and buy goods, complete transactions offers a great opportunity esp. if geo-location services are involved.

He complained about the inability of US to provide symmetric broadband services to its masses while other countries are zipping it by in terms of penetration and broadband availability. He didn’t think streaming video is going to be a big issue in the future (though it consumes 36% of the HTTP traffic (which consumes 45% of the Internet traffic) as people will just download the file instead of streaming with multi-gig network pipes.

He also talked about the democratization of content where people can contribute a single word to wikipedia or a whole page to a blog and as such the barriers to participation have dropped down to zero.

Then, he got into Interplanetary Internet, something you don’t hear everyday. But, the experiences, and the technical decisions made were quite fascinating. The Delay Tolerant Networking protocol they developed for communicating with various nodes in the solar system also got adopted by the DOD and is currently in use in Iraq. And, the application it is being used for is Chat.

He was quite funny and thoughtful with life full of experiences and achievements.

At the end of the talk, I asked him – “You talked about the potential for mobile but given that the current state of closed gardens unlike the evolution of the Internet, how do you see the potential being realized?” Of course this was in reference to the all the 700MHz discussion that is consuming the industry right now. It is a pivotal moment in the industry and the consequences could be enormous.

He gave a pretty thoughtful response and this coming from a guy who spent several years in the telecom world (yes, he is with Google right now but he is very genuine and Carriers should talk to him to take history lessons)

“Our industry needs to realize that their new business models that will evolve that will benefit everyone in the ecosystem, if we are more open, have more open platforms, open networks, open devices. We are participating in the 700MHz debate and we are trying to persuade people that by opening the network, new opportunities will emerge. The current state of affairs is of course closed gardens. The alternate route is when more devices use alternate networks and more smart devices are introduced. I was kind of disappointed by iPhone, they could have done so much by opening up the device”

Overall, a great evening and I was fortunate to participate in the discussion.