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The Evolution of Communication Networks

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

When the telephone network became a commercial offering in the waning years of the 19th century, its architecture was quite different than the switch-centric, hub-and-spoke system that we have today. In that first iteration there was no concept of switching, the mechanical or electrical process of setting up a temporary connection between two parties for the duration of the call.

To talk with David on the telephone in those days, I would have had to have a dedicated circuit installed between my house and his. If I also wanted to be able to call my son or daughter, I would have to have additional circuits installed from my house to theirs.

This leads to what is known in the world of network topology as the “n times n minus one over two problem.” N is the number of people who want to be able to communicate with each other, and the little equation yields the number of circuits that must be installed to allow n people to talk with each other. Five people require ten circuits, but beyond that the number goes exponential. For a small city of 35,000 people like Burlington, Vermont, where I live, the number of circuits required to connect the city this way would be somewhere north of 600 million.

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The Future of Higher Learning: Classrooms Optional

By Jason Kohn, Contributing Columnist

Reading David’s post on “TEDTalks” got me thinking about how we conceive of the classroom and what the future holds for higher learning. How important is the traditional college experience in a world where ubiquitous broadband networks let us see and interact with teachers virtually, from anywhere in the world?

In his 1854 essay “The Idea of a University,” John Henry Newman argued why, even in an age when knowledge was widely accessible in books, the college experience was still vital:

“The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already. You must imitate the student in French or German, who is not content with his grammar, but goes to Paris or Dresden: you must take example from the young artist, who aspires to visit the great Masters in Florence and in Rome. …we must come to the teachers of wisdom to learn wisdom.”

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Broadband and the Global Networked Economy

Ongoing investment in essential telecommunications infrastructure matters to everyone, whether they know it or not. This fundamental assertion will be a reoccurring theme in my commentary. My belief is deep-rooted, and it goes back to the beginning of my work experience. As a young man, my first job in the telecom industry was at The Commercial Cable Company, a subsidiary of ITT Worldcom in London, England.

Back in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to join what was then a leading international record carrier, that was also an early pioneer of unique data services. I was schooled in the application of electronic teleprinters, private line services and store-and-forward message switching systems. I quickly learned about the socioeconomic benefits gained from deploying telecom facilities, while assigned to support the communication needs of numerous private and public institutions.

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Video Revolutions: Accidental and Intentional

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

Walter Cronkite once said that it was no miracle that men walked on the moon. The actual miracle, the news anchor believed, was that millions of people sat in their living rooms and watched it happen. Perhaps the real miracle was that television became a success at all, given all the tribulations that accompanied its upbringing – and continue today. Compared to the computer industry, where standards reign, the television industry is a mass of confusion.

Since its earliest experiments, television has captured the imagination of the public. But before it became a success, it was a legal and technological battleground. There were patent infringement lawsuits over who actually invented television. A battle over color television technology went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1950s. And even today, instead of one video format for traditional broadcast TV, the world uses three: NTSC, PAL, and SECAM.

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How Online Video is Fostering Global Innovation

Viewing “TED talks” online is one of my favorite sources of inspiration. TED is a small nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started in 1984 as a conference, bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED).

In a presentation earlier this year, TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, says the rise of online video is enabling a worldwide phenomenon he calls “Crowd Accelerated Innovation” — a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of the printing press.

He adds, to tap into its power, organizations will need to embrace radical openness.

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