The Life Of Always On

For nearly half a year, I’ve been living large online.

I’ve been using an ADSL modem from BellSouth to get 1.5 Mbps, always on connectivity to the Internet. It works under the new “G.Lite” standard, and it’s the equivalent of an 80386 experience in an 8086 Internet world.

Many people have this kind of experience today. Most offices with LANs have a version of it, and so do nearly all college campuses. If you’re the kind of with it, focused, totally happening and classy e-commerce executive targets (I’m sure you are), you’ve got this too. Once you plug into the network, you’re on the network. Conventional pages download instantly, and you’ll wait just a few seconds for an MP3 file or a program patch.

The biggest change I’ve found with G.Lite is I no longer think of the Internet, except when the G.Lite modem goes down (as it did today). I’m an old fogy, so most of my network use is email or searching for news, but I’ve also noticed some changes in my children.

My 11-year old daughter, for instance, likes to go to CDnow.Com and play its 30-second song clips over-and-over (even when she owns the CD!). My son likes to go to CartoonNetwork.Com, Nick.Com or Nabisco’s CandyStand and play the online games. (When he was just working with a modem, he downloaded them.)

Carlene Hempel’s recent Charlotte News & Observer story on MP3 users focused on a college student with always on connectivity. If you’re using a modem, an MP3 song might take 20 minutes to download, and you’ll wonder what the fuss is about. The MP3 boom is all about always on.

My long time friend, Tony Bove, is taking advantage of always on to make a new career. All those years when he was editing magazines, he really wanted to be a rock star.

Suddenly in mid-life he is one, as harmonica player and vocalist for the Flying Other Brothers Band. He has played alongside his idols, like Bob Weir, and their first commercial CD, called IPO, is due for release next month. Free downloads of songs like “White Shoe Shuffle” helped fuel his breakout. All those college kids – the key demographic for any new artist – can now find him and dig him.

We’re all accustomed to the idea of “Internet Time,” a sort of universal fast-forward based on the idea that once it’s on the Net it’s everywhere. But this always on revolution isn’t happening in Internet Time. It’s more like the take-up rate of those 386s – the leading edge has it, the mass market wants it, and it could take two or three years for the channel to supply it.

I’m further convinced of one more thing. Once the mass market starts getting its G.Lite (or cable modems), the demand will grow for something even faster, like full 8 Mbps ADSL (and its cable equivalent). The computing bottleneck, which ten years ago depended on Intel and its manufacturing partners to get the “latest and greatest” PCs into the channel at popular prices, has shifted.

Now we’re waiting for phone and cable companies (or, to be more hopeful about it, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs), wireless CLECs and their ISP partners) to get us the connectivity we crave.

So here’s your first Clue for the 21st Century. Everyone wants always on, and they’re going to get it.

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