Europe is no longer the poor relation in the IT world, but in a better position than any other region to win the technology rat race.
This was the message from 3Com chief executive Eric Benhamou in his keynote address to the Networld+Interop show in Paris today - a sharp contrast to the heavy criticisms he has made in the past of 'Fortress Europe'.
Now he claims deregulation and competition, particularly in the wireless world, mean Europe is almost level with the rest of the globe in the information economy.
Benhamou said: ?In 1992 I gave a similar speech in which I described Europe as being Fortress Europe and missing the boat - refusing competition and keeping monopolies. Today Europe is in the running. It has put in place liberalisation measures.?
Europe's stronger position in the global information race is partly down to the problems of other regions though - the economic nightmare in Asia and the stalling of US efforts to open competition in local loop telephony, he explained.
He praised Europe?s success in encouraging competition in the mobile communications industry, where there are at least two operators in each EU country. This contrasts dramatically with the US, where the lack of a single access standard means mobile phones are practically useless if people cross states.
However, Europe?s lack of a robust Internet backbone is a major hindrance to success in ecommerce or IP telephony for European businesses.
Benhamou said: ?The Internet in Europe does not work as well as in the US because the US has a strong backbone for the Internet. In Europe each ISP has its own Internet backbone, which does not talk to the backbones of other ISPs in other countries. Europe needs its own backbone. If you don?t you have unpredictable quality of service and will not be able to drive ecommerce or IP telephony.?
He quotes the UK?s ?Racing Post? magazine as an example. It takes UK readers a few seconds to access its Web site, but French surfers experience twice the delay and in Hong Kong the wait can be 80 seconds.
?This is totally unacceptable,? warned Benhamou. ?Of course the speed of light cannot be accelerated but this does not explain the difference in delay. It is because the European Internet network has not been properly architected. If you optimise Internet service locally you are missing the point."
He said that Europe must also change its pricing policies from being cost recovery based to market driven. Monopolies have grown up from deciding tariffs based on the cost of delivering the service to users and how much profit they want to make out of the sale. The market or competition should dictate tariffs, he said. The arrival of new entrants in the market will help change this. ?I want to see more new entrants - they are more risk takers," he said.
Despite giving Europe a pat on the back, the majority of Benhamou?s message was unsurprisingly about convergence and where it fits into the ?new economy?.
He described this economy as having three laws - Moores? law - processors double in power every 18 months; Metcalfe?s law - the more people who share networks, the more valuable the network becomes; plus a new law that is unattributed - that the density of light wavelength in a single strand of fibre will double every 12 months, boosting bandwidth dramatically.
Information is the key currency in the new economy and Benhamou uses online bookstore Amazon.com as an important example. Unlike many of its high street rivals, the company knows the addresses of its customers, what they like to read, when they prefer to buy and how they like to receive their purchases, all using information gathered in many different ways, but always using networks.
Of course this is achievable through networks where voice, data and multimedia converge, he continued, and 3Com is focusing on four areas of improvement here.
The first is to drive down the cost of administering networks; the second to achieve 99.99 per cent availability; the third to change from a store and forward model of moving data in batches, to real time; and the fourth to manage networks at a policy level based on the user and which facilities they have access to.
?I am the first to admit that our industry has not done a good enough job to ensure high availability of networks,? he said. ?We are closing the gap and this is a key aspect of our strategy.?
He also highlighted the work to develop Internet 2, a pilot to improve the Internet initially trialled at educational establishments in the US. He said that the infrastructure has been built and now the work is focused on applications. He envisages students around campuses using handheld devices (3Com Palmpilots, naturally) to query the location of their next lecture or to find out which team won the recent football game.
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