Telecom technology decentralization usually wins

A. Michael NollTelecommunication technologies trend toward decentralization over time. There are many historical examples of this movement toward decentralization.

Wireless telephony originally was supplied from a single centralized antenna serving a large geographic area. Today's cellular wireless utilizes many small antennas, each serving a small cell. Cellular is a decentralized approach to providing wireless telephony.

The original concept of the electronic newspapers (Videotex) consisted of a large centralized database containing a vast amount of information. Instead, the World Wide Web evolved with millions of decentralized databases. In this way the information is stored closest to its creator. Search services (such as Google and Bing) allow all these decentralized databases to look like one giant source of information.

Telephone switching started with a switch located centrally at the central office. Today, switching is accomplished through the decentralized routers of the Internet.

With time-shared computing of the past, many users shared a single centrally located large mainframe computer. However, computing became decentralized with many users each having their own personal computer.

History shows that decentralization usually wins over centralization. This is because decentralization places services closer to the user. Decentralization also seems to be more robust--centralized intelligence can be a target for failure.

A. MICHAEL NOLL, a regular FierceTelecom columnist, writes frequently about telecommunication technology and business. After retiring from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, he now looks backwards in his spare time to see and write about the bigger telecom industry picture.