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Webreference.com: WorldNet: ISP Technical Requirements


ISP Technical Requirements

Of AT&T, AOL, and ISPs

ISP technical requirement #1:
Automatic Updating

The first technical requirement for a successful on-ramp intermediary is the ability to keep customers continuously at the cutting edge, without effort. Because such continuous updating requires access to the user's hard disk, establishing trust and confidence with the user will be a crucial business requirement. Who will succeed? The major on-line services are already doing some level of automatic updating (especially Prodigy) and have established some level of trust and goodwill with their customers. However, they have not been very nimble. Often their updated browsers are two to three months behind what is needed to take full advantage of the newest resources. AT&T's WorldNet will also have the advantage of a well-known and trusted brand name, and promises to ease the newbies in with free browsers at sign up. If they can add to this a no-hands, continuous upgrade policy, they could be very hard to beat. However, AT&T's track record with the fast moving consumer end of the computer industry does not inspire much confidence here. Finally, the ISPs lack of history and brand recognition puts them at a considerable disadvantage. To overcome it, they will need to outdo the other two through speed and customized service.

Improved bandwidth is its own enemy

Serve 'em fast: In addition to demanding access to the latest toys, the newer users will demand faster response times. Getting to the multimedia pages, all stocked up with the fanciest browser apps, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, with nothing to show, can be very frustrating. To some extent speed will come with greater bandwidth (faster communication lines). But, improved bandwidth will also be its own enemy. For the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to expect that faster service will only cause more people to sign on. Further, as content providers see bandwidth improvements, they will inevitably start serving up ever more bandwidth intensive resources (more movies, better sound quality, virtual worlds, and the like). Like highways which continue to suffer traffic jams even as more and more lanes are added, simply adding bandwidth will not be the answer. The current Internet model where (virtually) every individual user must make a separate, single trip to every content provider is simply too wasteful of scarce resources (which will continue to remain scarce for the foreseeable future).

ISP technical requirement #2:
Provide faster access through smart caching

Cache space = shelf space

The second technical requirement, therefore, is the ability to provide faster access to on-line content despite chronic bandwidth problems. Smart caching of content will be crucial (storing those pages which are most likely to be asked for by the users on a local computer operated by the intermediary). In this model, each on-ramp intermediary will act as a wholesaler/retailer of information (rather than products), and the scarce resource provided by the intermediary will be cache space (rather than shelf space). However, because the Web is so large no single entity can hope to archive it all. The crucial business skill required of the intermediary will be to understand the kinds of sites its users most like to visit so fully that it can almost perfectly anticipate where they want to go next and provide it instantly from its local cache. Further, they will need to establish close relations with the content providers to ensure timely updating of content, and traffic preparedness for special events.

For example, the day after AT&T announced WorldNet it was virtually impossible to get to its site, even at 1 a.m. EST! Cache servers, forewarned of the announcement, ready to serve up the content locally, would have improved matters for all parties. The current dissatisfaction expressed by many customers regarding the speed and level of service provided by ISPs shows that those who master both the technical and business skill will benefit first through greater customer loyalty, and then from "commissions" charged to content providers (much as manufacturers pay margins to retailers for providing access to customers in the "real" world).


Comments are welcome

Copyright © 1996 Prof. Sunil Gupta and Created: Apr. 17, 1996
Revised: May 21, 1997

URL: http://webreference.com/worldnet/isp.html