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December 8, 1999


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'There are two things needed: one, an idea, and, two, the idea must be sold': The Internet's creator Vinton Cerf was in New Delhi 'There are two things needed: one, an idea, and, two, the idea must be sold': The Internet's creator Vinton Cerf was in New Delhi

Vinton G Cerf -- the creator of the Internet, developer of TCP/IP, and currently vice-president, Internet Architecture and Technology at MCI WorldCom, Email this story to a friend. believes that he was like an architect, figuring out the structure of his creation.

Then he rolled up his sleeves and helped build the space, getting the details right. Thereafter he turned into a salesman and
The big draw
E-prosperity woes
convinced people that they were on to a good thing.

That was Cerf himself, speaking about his past work and the forseeable future of the Internet.

Cerf lacks the frazzled looks and abstracted air considered the trademark features of a quintessential nerd and spent some time facing an inquisition from Neena Haridas.

Where do you think the Internet is heading?

Well, they say a year in the Internet business is like a dog year -- equivalent to seven years in a regular person's life. In other words, it's evolving fast and faster. When we started in the early 70s, we were running the Internet at the speed of 50 KB per second. Thanks to the technological advances today we have a speed of 10 GB per second -- almost 1000 times better.

And with new protocols coming in place we will be running at a speed of 40 GB per second in 2001. When I think about the Internet, I feel as if I'm living in a science fiction story. I have to pinch myself.

What do you think will be the growth drivers of the Internet?

There will be several growth drivers, of which the most significant will be the development of wireless access. This will mean the Internet becomes something like a telephone. You see, the telephone is never really switched off. Now when we have convergence of technology -- broadcasting, communication and information technology -- the Internet too will never be switched off. What this means is increased access.

Another growth driver will be the development of infra-red communication, which will again increase speed of the Internet and also access.

The third significant growth driver is the evolution of the servers. Today, we have developed a server with two chips, making the server size smaller than the plug that it is connected to. When the size decreases, along with the speed, the costs come down. This, in turn, will increase Internet access as more people will be able to afford it...

Do you think TCP/IP will become a universal mode of communication?

During the development of the Internet and its predecessor, Arpanet, most of the world understood the power of technology. We were very much focused on what we call 'Internet process communication' -- the interaction of software in different computers to accomplish a task. The absolute magnitude of the scale of the system wasn't apparent until the later 80s.

Opinions differ but I consider that TCP/IP protocols are what makes the Internet it is... I think it will grow more ubiquitous and will grow massive in capacity. It will be able to differentiate services, so that low delay service, needed for telephony and video games, will be available. It will become far more mobile as radio-linked devices become IP-enabled.

Can you tell us more about the IPv6 that you have developed?

Well, to begin with it will be much faster. Today we have a 32-bit protocol, but version 6 will be a 128-bit protocol. This means that every molecule that make up human habitation on the earth can have an IP address. That is the size that this version will be able to provide.

Everybody in India is very excited about the Internet and e-commerce. What is your reading of the market?

In India, one thing that I have often heard is 'lack of infrastructure.' I do not agree with the philosophy that without infrastructure there is no future for e-commerce. Infrastructure is secondary on the net. I wish Indian cyberprenuers would look at opportunities outside the geographical borders.

Even if you do not have infrastructure, there are countries that do, and you should able to exploit that. I visited Bangalore recently and am very impressed with some of innovative projects that netizens here have embarked on. I think there is a good lesson for the rest of the country here.

What is your view on India's venture into Internet on cable?

I have had some personal experiences on this here. And I am not disappointed. The Internet on cable is happening in India, but I want to remind you that there are other media that should be looked at. India should not rely on cable alone.

Realistically, what kind of convergence do you see happening in India?

Like I said, science fiction does not remain fiction for long. And certainly not on the Internet. We already have Internet-enabled cameras and cellphones. Back home we have developed an Internet-enabled toaster. I see more and more consumer goods getting Internet-enabled. In fact, somebody has developed kitchen equipment that is Internet-enabled. Now, the question can be: 'Why would anyone want an Internet-enabled microwave oven?'

The point is that with an Internet-enabled microwave oven, the manufacturers can simply download a new programme into when the consumer wants to update his gizmo or solve a malfunction online. All these things are possible in India too.

There are two things that are needed: one, an idea, and two, the idea must be sold. If these two factors are in place there will be someone out there to make it happen. Why, I think soon we will have clothes that can monitor the health of a person, or books that can update themselves.

Well, I foresee one problem with such books -- if you have read it and liked a particular topic on page 236, when you go back to the book after its regular self-update you may not find the topic on that page!

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