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Vint moving up the stack


By Scott Bradner


In a great move, Vint Cerf has just moved up the OSI stack from Layer 3 (Networking) to Layer 7 (Application).  Maybe he was just escaping the fate of becoming an internal body part of a local telephone company and the prospect of having to work with them on Internet-related technical issues.  Maybe Google offered him a deal he was too smart to turn down.  Whatever the reason, the move is a great symbol of a value move that has been accelerating with the move to converged networks.


According to the FCC, the telecommunications business in the US was about $295 billion in 2004.  I could not find a table that said how much of that is taxes of various types.  If my home bill is any guide it could be as much as a quarter of the non-wireless part and a bit less than 10% of the wireless part.  Certainly, telecommunications has been a good cash cow for governments.  


But what is the future of this business?  If long distance and cell phone prices provide any guide, the revenues will go down by a factor of 5 to 10 over the next 5 years - mostly due to competition.  If instead you use local phone service as a guide the price will go up by a factor of 3 over the same time period.  My bet is on steep reductions.  There is just too much competition in the voice business with cell phones and from the Internet (VoIP, video chat and email).   I also expect that telcom companies will be in for some very lean times with a number more going through consolidation, bankruptcy or just going out of business.  Of course, governments could fix the decline in their revenue by raising tax rates. 


Vint was instrumental in creating the Internet-as-transport-system that we are just learning how to use to its full potential.  He helped define the technology, helped deploy the ARPANET, helped nurturer the IETF ( as the Internet standards organization and the Internet Society ( to help bring the Internet to most of the world, and, recently, helped manage ICANN (, the coordinator of key Internet functions.  Thus Vint has concentrated on the transport and political layers of the OSI stack.


Now Vint has moved directly to the application layer, to just where the most exciting action is and will continue to be as long as the telcom industry lets it be.  Google exists because the Internet is open.  No one needed to give Google permission to run over the Internet and Google did not need to work out payment plans to compensate the telcom industry for the use of "its" network.  In my mind, I pay for Google to use the Internet, at least the path to me, with my what I pay my ISP.


I cannot imagine a place more suited to Vint. Google is easily the most dynamically innovative company in the whole Internet space. I expect Vint will suddenly feel much younger.  Back in the early days of what became the Internet, where everything was possible and nothing was predictable.


disclaimer:  For good students at Harvard anything is possible and little is predictable, just as it should be.  But I know of no university opinion on Vint's change of employer.