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The pervasive Internet

New services and applications make digital content, applications and services available in an integrated, personalised way to users via a diverse range of devices and access networks. New services are equally accessible through wireless networks to mobile phones, through corporate LANs to PCs, or by broadcast to digital television.

All the major players in the industry are investing significant amounts of time and money in transforming the global data network that we call the Internet, into a pervasive medium that connects users to personalised universes of dynamic content, applications and services, via any smart, connected device. The consequent changes will be profound:

• applications as we think of them today will no longer be built. Pervasive computing applications will be collections of co-operating e-services that deliver personalised groups of functions to support users’ own favourite activities – the way they like them

• devices will be disaggregated. New modularised personal computing platforms, enabled by new technologies, will be composed and re-composed dynamically by users as they move between different locations and roles.

This vision of the ‘next-generation’ is a long way from what the Internet is today – a medium for transporting messages and relatively static web content between traditional PC computing platforms. It is truly a paradigm shift.

New initiatives

Pervasive Internet initiatives are already being explored by both suppliers and corporate users. For suppliers, the main drivers are:

• the threats of commoditisation and increased competition from globalisation and deregulation

• the opportunity to sell existing assets (or incremental enhancements to these) to new markets

• the opportunity for competitive differentiation through the provision of high-value services.

Corporate users of pervasive computing technology are interested in making their corporate IT systems and applications pervasive. Corporate pervasive computing technology users’ main reasons for exploring pervasive computing opportunities are their desire to reduce operational costs and increase company productivity.
Consumer interest in access to applications, services and content through new smart, connected devices is another major factor in market development. Consumer interest is being driven by three factors:

• increased mobility of workforces and consumers in general

• the increasing expectation in many developed countries (largely driven by past technology innovations) of 24-hour service availability – whether the service in question is a local shop, a television programme or a website

• general interest in the Internet (largely driven by ISP and merchant advertising), combined with an antipathy (by some) to personal computers.

Expect fundamental change

The emerging pervasive movement will prove as disruptive to the IT software and hardware industries as the client-server movement of the early 1990s. Moreover, it will affect the broadcast media and telecommunication industries equally significantly – something which the client-server movement never did.

Change in access networks and devices:
Different access platforms vary widely in their capabilities, and will continue to do so even when and if the current technology constraints (such as battery technology and access network bandwidth) are removed. In the future, soft constraints – primarily, the usage contexts in which people like to use devices – will play much greater roles in determining the variation in device capabilities and form factors.

Change in content, applications and services:
Today’s ‘uni-channel’ (for example, web-based, TV-based or phone-based) applications will gradually be replaced by integrated multichannel applications. Despite the considerable investments on the behalf of service providers that are required to make this transition, there is considerable pressure from the application and content-provision communities, and device-manufacturer communities to move forward. Specialisation of content, applications and services according to a user’s location, access platform type, preferences, language and so on will become the norm for new offerings.

Change in industry structures:
Moves at both the tops and bottoms of the main supply chains that are contributing towards the pervasive computing movement – IT, public telecommunications and broadcast media – are enabling service providers of all kinds to consider developing and delivering multichannel services. However, delivery of these new services brings complex challenges to industries. Increasingly, players (possibly from multiple industries) will have to co-operate online, possibly with competitors, to enable the services that users want.

This online co-operation cannot happen without information sharing, to enable the sharing of revenues and responsibility for quality-of-service. Technology has an enabling part to play in addressing both these issues, but it is not the whole answer. There are many geographical and market issues that need to be addressed by suppliers: and suppliers can only address these issues through partnerships, to fill gaps in their expertise and execution capabilities.

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