One of the most astute players in the tech world these past 40 years, Andy Grove, the great former CEO and co-founder of Intel, remarked on these characteristics a decade and a half ago.
Back in 1995 he observed: “”The computer industry does its stuff delivering increased performance and reducing prices because it’s a competitive and open industry with hundreds of companies in it, but the telecommunications industry has a government monopoly legacy which is not used to delivering its services in a competitive economy. We need improving bandwidth and declining prices and neither trend is being served sufficiently.”
How true that statement remains today. Where is LTE? Where is Wimax? Where, in most places, is 3G?
In 1998, another prescient observation from Grove was his reaction to the idea of the ‘Network Computer’ (a thin client device which got its programmes and information from the Web – what we now call Cloud Computing) which was, in the mid-1990s, being promoted by Larry Ellison of Oracle.
“What’s made this industry very exciting”, observed Grove in 1998, “is that people speculate on new platforms, and new applications, but the world’s population has shown – generation after generation – is that they prefer the attributes of local control to those of a dumb terminal.”
When asked if Ellison’s idea was driving the adoption of networked computing, Grove responded: “The sun doesn’t rise because the rooster crows.”
Networked computing was happening, he explained, not because of anything Ellison said, but because a couple of hundred million people around the world had computers technically capable of accessing the communications networks.
Nonetheless, Grove enthusiastically promoted the idea of the networked computer and, asked if he was promoting networked computing just because it helped sell more microprocessors, he replied:
“I get paid to serve Intel’s interest but I don’t get paid enough to lie. It’s clearly in our enlightened business interest that consumers’ eyeballs move over to the PC from the TV but we actually believe this stuff. It may only be a skip and a jump from you saying ‘there’s Grove giving a marketing message’ but I believe the message to be true. We walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”
Grove has turned out to be right. Everyone talks about The Cloud today but the most successful devices, like the iPhone, have masses of space to store apps, information and programmes. Everyone, it seems, still prefers local control to remote access.
And why? Because the other part of Grove’s observation is also still true – the capabilities delivered by the computer industry (which now includes smartphones) still vastly out-perform the capabilities provided by the telecoms industry.
Although the telecoms industry has LTE and Wimax in its locker, it is typically slow and reluctant to deploy them, while a decade after the 3G licenses were sold, coverage remains spotty at best.
Which is why people don’t want to rely on such links for their basic computing needs.