title: Not so sure bets


by: Scott Bradner


If there is one thing that the networking biz has had in excess is unbelievable success stories.  Unfortunately, most of these stories were written well before the results were actually in and turned out to be totally unbelievable.


It's hard to count the number of times this and other publications, professional pundits and telcom research firms have declared victory in the telcom space before a race actually started.  SNA, APPN, ISDN, ATM, IPX, IP, PKI, a whole pile of wireless variants, CLECs, DSL, cable modems, switches, routes, a pile of optical technologies, Fiber Channel, Lucent, Nortel, Cisco, network-based storage, peer-to-peer networking, the Grid, and untold other seemingly important at the time technologies and companies were all touted as going to take over the world.  But most have faded almost as fast as they appeared. The full story has not yet been written on some of these but I strongly doubt that any of them, other than maybe IP, will ever live up to the hype that has been piled upon them.


This is not a phenomena limited to professional prognosticators.  I spent most of last week with someone who is absolutely convinced that third or forth generation wireless (3G or 4G) will alleviate the need for all other forms of access technology.  In his mind there will be no need for any type of wired broadband access service with 10s of megabits flowing through the ether.  And he would book no disagreement with that view.


With such a success-free history why do folk of all types persist in making their assertions and predictions?  We can ignore those that are in marketing and just trying to sell a product (or raise VC money) but that leaves a bunch of people should have learned from history and seemingly have not. 


Next are the analysis firms. You know the ones that predict billions of dollars in sales in 3 years for a product that has not yet made it to the market.  I have no idea where they possibly have gotten the data on which they make their predictions  -- it seems most likely that it is data-free analysis.  And they will keep at it as long as people will pay them for the results of the "analysis."  What a different world it would be if these firms got paid partly up front and the remainder 3 years later based on the accuracy of the predictions.


That mostly leaves amateur psycho-historians who, like amateur lawyers, assert with great vigor the imaginations of their own mind, reporters for trade publications who blindly quote the wild predictions and folks like me who write for those trade publications.  The reporters actions can be understood by the combined pressure of deadlines, few real facts, and good marketing people.  But I see little excuse for us writers to fall for the marketing. ("Marketing" is not the word I would use if it were not for the polite nature of the publication.)  But too often we do.


disclaimer:  Harvard does OK in the marketing department but the above disbelief  is mine and not the University's.