Software Beats Network In My Book

Remember rock / paper / scissors?  It’s a beautiful kids game that unlike tic-tac-toe regularly results in a winner.  Paper always beats rock.  Rock always beats scissors.  Scissors always beats paper.  But what happens when you only have two – say “software” and “network”.

Whenever I’m at a Silicon Flatirons event, I always get into an argument with someone from the telecom world about “what the Internet is.”  Most of the time I try to listen patiently for about 30 seconds as the telecom person explains to me how without them there would be no Internet and the applications that exist are merely “traffic” on “their network.”  They then try to tell me crazy things like “no one will ever need more than 100 Mbps” and say snarky things like “who knows, maybe Google will spend more on their 1 Gbps buildout then they did on the 700 MHz spectrum.”  I try to remind them that when I was 13 someone told me “you’ll never need more than 48k of RAM” and then again when I was 18 someone told me “you’ll never need a hard drive bigger than 10MB".”  Oh, the things people say in the throws of competitive pressure.  Innovation?  Who needs innovation.  Let’s take a big helping of regulation instead.

As someone who has been involved in creating software in one form or another for the past 25 years, I know I’m biased.  I happily live in my little parallel software universe, generate huge amounts of data that travels over these complex networks, and pay a lot of money each month for the privilege.  If you add up all of my bills – Comcast in multiple houses, a Qwest T1 to my house just outside of Boulder (since Comcast doesn’t get there), a Verizon MiFi, AT&T for my iPhone, Tmobile for Amy’s Dash, Verizon for a Droid we don’t use, lots of connectivity to my office, and probably some other stuff I don’t even know about, it’s a big number.  Oh, and that doesn’t even count all the connectively that the companies I invest in use.  You’d think – for all this – the network would be the driver of my behavior.

But notice the different providers above.  Comcast.  Verizon,  AT&T, and Tmobile.  I know my friends at Sprint must feel left out – I’ll have to figure how to get something on the Now Network.  Oh yeah, I’ve got DirectTV in one location (the one with the T1) because of – er – no Comcast to my house.  These companies are all household names for me because they spend ridiculous amounts of money on advertising – not because I love them.  Do you love any of them?

I had an interesting experience in New Orleans over the weekend.  After a day, I turned to Amy and said “have you noticed that almost everyone is walking around with an iPhone?”  I was amazed by the incredible the penetration of the iPhone.  I followed this up with “I wonder what they are all doing since I can’t get a signal on this thing worth a shit.”  Then, during the marathon on Sunday, I noticed that the vast majority of runners who had a device had one of three devices: (1) A Garmin GPS watch, (2) an iPhone, or (3) an iPod.  That was it.  Every now and then someone had a different phone.  But the number of runners with iPhone’s was remarkable.

I can assure you there weren’t using the phone for the network.  It’s pretty funny to watch someone at mile 15 of a marathon on the phone saying “Hello – can you hear me?  Damnit – fucking AT&T.”  Yes – I heard that once.  During mile 15.

I predict all those iPhones were out there because of the software, not the network.

  • As a fellow software bozo of some 25+ years, I love software; nearly as much as I loathe my many networks. Yes, I bitch because Outlook 2003 isn't "out of beta," but I know how to restart it when it fails me and the scope of failure is encapsulated in something over which I can exert some modest control.

    Unlike my network providers, who want to be known as service providers, who aren't.

  • I'm guessing a lot of these people were using iPhone apps to track their pace and distance. For example, http://runkeeper.com/

  • Yup – good guess.  I saw Runkeeper on a few of them.  The other thing – of course – was music and the occasional phone call.  There was also a cool txt-based system by Competitor.com where you could have your pace txted to friends – this was used for groups that trained but didn’t race together.

  • The network becomes relevant when it's slow or down otherwise it's a utility. Did Edison have to defend the light bulb?

  • I had an interested debate on Twitter the other day about Apple's software chops. I argued that the majority of Apple's revenue is actually attributable to software. Sure, Apple designs and sells hardware but it actually makes software. Macs and iPhones are simply delivery mechanisms for Mac OS, iPhone OS and iTunes.

  • whether your readers agree with you the stock market has since forever software started. freaking networks only slow software down. well said bradley 🙂

  • Steven

    AT&T sucks but unfortunately I surrender because although TMobile was a better carrier, it was much easier to not constantly worry about the lack of updates and waiting weeks or months for a hack available for the iPhone. So I agree its entirely on the iPhone and its software capability there.

    Comcast is the biggest piece of shit ever, but unfortunately again, it doesn't really have many competitors I know of and unfortunately, we're stuck with shit service.

    As for your issue on Sprint, I use a wifi card that you can travel with and get internet anywhere on your laptop. If you travel a lot and don't already have one, that's something sprint is good for. It's roughly $60/month.

  • Please tell me that you're kidding about the 100 mbps. Every time someone involved with computer technology has said a thing like this, it's proven to be wrong, starting with Cambridge mathematician Professor Douglas Hartree, around 1951:

    I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree, who had built the first differential analyzers in England and had more experience in using these very specialized computers than anyone else. He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built — one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them.

    (According to this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Watson)

  • albeit a little less connected.

  • I've always thought this was true – i think it is an important insight.

  • Thx for the suggestion on sprint but I've already got a verizon device that does that.

  • 3 in the UK may be an exception. They've done a nice job marrying the power of their network with Web services into vertical offerings, much like Apple, RIM, and Google have done with their devices and apps. The wireless network can be smarter than the wired network, if the network provider is smart enough to apply the smarts vertically.

  • software is what makes the internet… dns? software. router firmware? software. tcp/ip protocol? software. web servers? software.

    without software we would not have the internet.

  • And without the internet, we'd still have useful devices (as Brad pointed out wrt the iPhone).

  • Please tell me that you're kidding about the 100 mbps. Every time someone involved with computer technology has said a thing like this, it's proven to be wrong, starting with Cambridge mathematician Professor Douglas Hartree, around 1951:

    I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree, who had built the first differential analyzers in England and had more experience in using these very specialized computers than anyone else. He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built — one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them.

    (According to this Wikipedia article:

    Nope. I'm not kidding. Directly stated to me by two very senior folks in the cable / telecom ecosystem.

  • Will they ever learn?

  • Brad,
    I propose that there is indeed a trio in your Rock/Paper/Scissors analogy: Software, Network, and *Hardware.* After all, it's the accelerometers, multi-touch screen, form factor, etc that enable all that great software to be so darned compelling.

  • I don't think so.

  • I cannot imagine a rational case for claiming that the network is more important than the software it enables.

  • Interesting.  I’m going to ponder that for a little while.  The hardware definitely matters – as does the network, but I think they are both still subordinate to the software.  But something to chew on.

  • Chris

    So if you feel that the software is more important than the network I assume that you do not use your smartphones for anything WAP? How many times have you tried to watch a streaming video/audio on your mobile device and turned it off because of all of the buffering, stalls and pixelation? The software that allow users to use the video/audio are great but if the user experience is not enjoyable then the software doesnt matter.
    Can I also make the assumption that all of your phones are only utilizing the different carriers 2G/Edge networks? Based on your opinion there is no need for all of these carriers to spend milions of dollars to move from 3G to 4G or heck why did they even move away from 2G. If you are happy with Edge/2G then dont take my bandwidth on the 3G network.
    Billions of text messages are sent and received each day. Software enables users the ability to compose those messages on their devices. How popular would messaging be if there was no way to acutally send and receive those messages over a network. It would be a bunch of people using software to write messages on a device…. isnt that nothing more than a Palm PDA from the 90s.

  • Satish

    Dont you think for every one person who bought the iphone inspite of the ATT network there are 10 that did not buy the iphone because it was on the ATT network and stuck with a BB because they could get it on Verizon? Don't you think apple inspite of its neat hardware & software lost out on atleast 200-300% of its current iphone business by picking the wrong network?

  • ActNow

    Satish, I agree with your point.
    I hate Verizon but there reception is better most.
    I would have immediately gone with iPhone 2 yrs ago if it was on V.

    I've been using Comcast broadband for 12-15? yrs.
    The speed into my home is terrible compared to V-wireless (vois) which many of my neighbors have.

    I sure hope G shames Comcast into supplying faster service.

    I believe we are ranked 15 globally in internet speed.
    That is terrible considering it started here.
    That is what happens when the gov't gives out exclusivity.

  • I don’t think your ratios are close / correct.

  • Satish

    Was exaggerating a just a little to make my point. :P. well i agree the ratios are not close but I would have bought an iphone if it were on the verizon network. Same for my wife. Both of us use BlackBerries. I just wanted to say that there are people who would have loved to use the iphone but dont only because the ATT network stinks.

  • I've always thought this was true – i think it is an important insight

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