Network Working Group Poorer Richard
Request for Comments: 1216 Almanac Institute
1 April 1991
Gigabit Network Economics and Paradigm Shifts
Status of this Memo
This memo proposes a new standard paradigm for the Internet
Activities Board (IAB) standardization track. Distribution of this
memo is unlimited.
The history of computer communication contains many examples of
efforts to align the capabilities of processors to that of
communication media. Packet switching is the classic case of a
careful tradeoff between the costs of memory, processing, and
With all of the attention and publicity focused on gigabit networks,
not much notice has been given to small and largely unfunded research
efforts which are studying innovative approaches for dealing with
technical issues within the constraints of economic science. This
memo defines one such paradigm.
2. Contemporary Network Economics
Recent cost estimates predict a continuing decline in the cost for
processing, memory, and communication. One recent projection put the
decline for $/bit and $/MIP at 99% per decade and put the decline for
$/bps at 90% per decade. Scalable parallel processor designs may
accelerate the cost declines for CPU and memory, but no similar
accelerated decline should be expected in the cost of communications.
Such a decline would imply eventual declines in the cost of 56Kbps
service used for voice, resulting in a negative rate of return for
telecommunications carriers, an unlikely eventuality even if free-
market forces are carried to their logical extreme.
Increases in processing power create additional demand for
communications bandwidth, but do nothing to pay for it. While we
will sell no paradigm before its time, the 9% difference,
particularly after compounding is taken into account, will bankrupt
the internet community unless a paradigm shift takes place.
3. The ULS Paradigm Shift
The ULS paradigm shift breaks the downward spiral by concentrating on
end-to-end datagrams and virtual circuit services operating in the
.01 uGbps region, namely Ultra Low Speed networking.
"The worlds best technological paradigm shifts are useless unless
they (a) are economically viable, (b) have clear applicability, (c)
are technically feasible."
--Milton John in "Paradigms Lost"
3.1 Economic Viability
Cost projections indicate that individual ULS circuits can be
provided at a cost of <$.03/month due to the unusually high
multiplexing that will be possible on Gbit links. The 10 THz
bandwidth of existing optical fibers will be able to support on the
order of 1 TUser, handling population growth, and even internet
growth, for some time. Moreover, if $.03/month is a significant
barrier to entry, substantial discounts appear to be economically
3.2 Clear Applicability
A fundamental principle of networking is that network speed must
match the application. We have identified a number of critical
applications that are matched to ULS technology. Below we itemize a
few of these, but we provide a brief description for only the first;
the match for the others should be equally obvious.
- Low priority facsimile: A large percentage of documents and letters
are sent via facsimile not because they need sub-minute delivery,
but because they carry signatures or graphics. In these cases, a
three-hour delivery (comparable to the value reliably achieved on
many of today's packet-based email systems) is sufficient. With
proper compression, this delivery time can be achieved over a
- Real time data (e.g., tracking glaciers)
- US postal service
- Contracting for research
To be truly viable, ULS networking must scale, and indeed it does.
With some effort, we envision extending the technology to the
extremely-low-speed regime. Applications that scale from the ULS
applications above are:
- Real time data (e.g., gravity wave detectors)
- Italian postal service
- Congressional budget process
3.3 Technical Feasibility
The hardware issues are well in hand. The remaining issues are
protocol related. To examine them, we must extrapolate backward from
some well known networking principles.
"Gigabit networks require new protocols."
The clear inference here is that ULS will require old protocols, so
as we recede into the future, we should expect the following:
ULS will require minimal development. Although we may need research
in storage technology to recover the software from old media such as
decayed magnetic dump tapes, paper tape, and partially recycled card
decks, this effort will be more than offset by the savings.
ULS protocols will be well documented, amenable to verification, and
suitable for MSI implementation in Silicon, or even Germanium or
relays. In particular, the alternating bit protocol  is a leading
"Bad news travel fast."
Therefore, ULS gives preferential treatment to good news. While this
will delay the delivery of bills, notices from timeshare
condominiums, and contest announcements, it will also produce
immediate productivity gains on several mailing lists.
3.4 Problems Requiring Work
ULS is not without problems.
Some other well-known protocol suites are well ahead of ULS in
exploring the desired performance operating point. We note our
concern about the dearth of domestic (U.S.-based) research and
development in this important area. This is particularly disturbing
in light of the level of work now underway in other countries.
Efficiency is a problem:
- All ULS protocols incorporate slow-start.
- Lower data rates mean fewer errors.
- Whereas modern protocols use 32 bit sequence numbers,
acknowledgment fields, etc., ULS headers can be quite small (1 bit
sequence numbers for the alternating-bit protocol). Thus the
header/data ratio shrinks.
The net result is "creeping efficiency" which tends to push us away
from the proper ULS operating point. While we have no definitive
solution, there are several promising palliatives:
- Forward Error Insertion (FEI)
- Negative window scaling factors
- New protocol layers
- Multiple presentation layers
The road to Ultra Low Speed (ULS) technology is long, slow, and easy.
REFERENCES and BIBLIOGRAPHY
 Lynch, W. "Reliable full-duplex file transmission over half-
duplex telephone lines", CACM, pp. 407-410, June 1968.
Security issues are not discussed in this memo.
Dr. Poorer Richard
Center against Misoneoism
Campo Imperatore, Italy