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What are the 4 laws of IT innovation?

By Catherine Knowles, Fri 14 Nov 2014
FYI, this story is more than a year old

In order to stay ahead of the IT game in this rapidly changing technological world, you’ve got to embrace innovation - there’s no bones about it.

Get by with a little help from your friends: Melcalfe, Moore, Edholm and Shannon.

Metcalfe’s Law

This law states the number of possible cross-connections in a network grow as the square number of computers in the network increases. What a mouthful.

In other words, the community value of a network grows as the square of the number of its users increases. The more users, the larger and more valuable the network.

This law is often used to describe the growth of the internet, or the world wide web.

In 1993, George Gilder formulated the law in the way we know it today, but it is attributed to Robert Metcalfe.

In 1980, Metcalfe presented his law focusing on ‘compatible communicating devices’ , such as fax machines and telephones, as opposed to users.

It wasn’t until later when the internet was launched, that the law was updated to focus on users and networks, describing Ethernet purchases and connections.

It can't be denied that what Metcalfe was talking about it still fundamentally important today.

Take social media, for instance. With one user a social media site is nothing; add a billion and you’ve got yourself a platform where the potential for customer and user engagement is through the roof and this can be utilised as an essential marketing tool.

Moore’s Law

In 1965 Gordon Moore made an observation about digital electronic devices that still proves true today. He knew a thing or two.

He observed that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

Today, when people talk about the development of many digital electronic devices, such as quality-adjusted microprocessor prices, memory capacity, sensory and pixels in digital cameras, they talk about Moore’s law to aptly describe growth.

Moore noticed and recognised how quickly the tech industry is changing and developing. He was acutely aware of the exponential improvement of digital electronics in nearly every sector of the world economy.

This law can be used to hone in on the driving force of technological and social change, productivity and economic growth in today’s world.

In this space, it can be difficult to predict what will happen in the next six months, let alone a year or five years. Using Moore’s law can help to establish a strategy with two prongs - short term goals that can be set and met quickly, and a long term view that solves larger problems identified by organisational leaders.

This law is already used in the semiconductor industry to guide long term planning and set targets for research and development.

Edholm’s Law

Named after Phil Edholm, this law states the data rates of three types of telecommunication technologies, wireless, nomadic and wired network capabilities (wireline) are as predictable as Moore’s Law, doubling approximately every 18 months.

The law highlights how these three categories are related, and how their data rates will increase on similar exponential curves, with the slower rates trailing the faster ones by a predictable timelag.

It's proven to be accurate. In 1980, home access was about 1,200-bit-per-second narrowband modem, and 2001 consumer adoption of broadband faster than 1Mb/s was commonplace.

It also shows how as transport modes increase, applications can successfully move from wireline to nomadic to wireless.

Think about how streaming music has changed. By around 1998, it was available on a home desktop machine, and then by around 2003 music could be streamed through a laptop. By about 2008 cellphones could be used to play your slick beats.

This could mean a larger pool of potential users and the opportunity to adopt new approaches to target a larger pool.

Edholm notes the continued use of wireline depends on the consumer need of increasingly higher data rates, and at some point it may be no longer needed.

Various applications such as HDTV, high quality video conferencing, and into the future holographic imaging, virtual reality and immersive reality require more bandwidth and could keep the demand strong and wireline alive.

Some hypothesise wireline will meet the fundamental human limit (how many pixels can the human eye really see?), and at this point wireless will take over and telecommunications will become completely mobile.

Shannon’s Limit

Claude Shannon was a mathematician who helped build the foundations for the modern computer.

The ability to transform information, phone calls, music, video, into digital data and transmit billions per second is founded on this clever guy.

Dating back to 1948, Shannon’s Law (also known as the Shannon Capacity Curve) is the statement in information theory that expresses the maximum possible data speed that can be obtained in a data channel.

The law shows how Boolean algebra and basic thermodynamic principles can be applied to communications.

In doing so Shannon brought forth the idea that basic principles of binary or digital information can be related to fundamental physics laws.

He showed how to calculate the maximum rate at which data can be sent over a channel with particular bandwidth and noise characteristics with zero error.

For example, with a noisy channel the way to approach zero error is to add redundancy to a transmission.

To this day, Shannon’s Law helps communication scientists and engineers create faster, more energy efficient and robust communication channels.

This fundamental idea can be used alongside other ideas and methods to design sophisticated, energy-efficient communication systems and networks.

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