You stand a much better chance of getting what you want if you ask for it. So join me in asking for multimegabit Internet plumbing that we can buy in 1998 for our small businesses, schools, libraries, and homes.
Let's not ask for more of the dial-up kilobit modems that separate most of us from the Internet. Nor for bleeding-edge technology. Nor for fractional gross national product infrastructure investments. Instead, let's ask for simple interim repackaging on the low end of the tried-and-true packet-switching Internet access technologies now in use at larger businesses.
Let's ask for Internet plumbing consisting specifically of "basement boxes", which I'll call imps, and access facilities, called coppertone.
I'm estimating that $A250 per month should more than cover amortisation of basement imps, compatible equipment at ISPs, and maintenance of multimegabit coppertone between them. On top of that, we'll likely pay less than five cents per giga-packet-metre for any Internet traffic our imps pass upstream.
Why am I calling our new little Internet boxes imps? Not because it's an abbreviation for "Internet multimegabit packets", but because 27 years ago the first big Internet boxes were called IMPs. Big IMPs then, little imps now.
Back when IMPs were IMPs, Internet 1.0 was called Arpanet. Each Arpanet site - mine was No. 6 - got a router, an integral four-port hub, and a pair of 50Kbit/sec modems.
The router was a $US100,000 minicomputer called an interface message processor (IMP). The IMP and its modem cabinet were the size of refrigerators. IMP hub ports ran at 100Kbit/sec, typically to a time-shared host and teletypes.
Well, there's been progress since 1970 - for example, personal computers and LANs. Hubs on the front end of today's routers have 10Mbit/sec ports and cost as little as $150. We don't mesh Internet sites directly to one another anymore but go instead through ISPs. And the telopolies have over that same period developed and introduced several daring new colours for their 1959-vintage Princess telephones.
When you wish upon a star
So let's ask for today's imp to be a low- cost combination hub, router, and diskless administration server. I see it as a book-size, wall-mounted box with a power cord, eight RJ-45 Ethernet ports, and some lights. Inside would be a processor, RAM, ROM, and flash memory. Each imp would have a serial number out of which a unique Internet address could be synthesised.
The imp would be the hub of a LAN operating through twisted telephone pairs (preferably category 5). The imp would route packets between its LAN and the Internet.
The imp would discover its configuration and establish administrative contact with any connected ISPs. Through such contacts, Internet addresses, domain names, firewall filters, and similar administrivia could be assigned with no (zero) local intervention.
Of course, not everyone has more than one PC, but many early adopters do. So it would be a mistake for our imp to be a card. Even if you start with one PC, you'll be thinking of two within a month. As your LAN grows, imps could plug additional imps into their Ethernet ports.
Imps will access the Internet through their Ethernet ports. Typically, a few feet away would be one or two imp-compatible packet media boxes. One such box that I think we should be asking for most urgently has a power cord, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, and an RJ-48C High-Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line (HDSL) port. Another would have a cable TV modem instead of HDSL. We should ask for many imp-compatible choices. And we'll need inexpensive multimegabit coppertone to our ISPs.
So, how do imps sound? Would you buy some as specified? How would you alter my spec? Do you know about any products that are close? RSVP.