How will bandwidth invert architecture monopolies?
To sum it up: Data.
Bandwidth is quantified as the amount of data transferred per unit of time. Typically, it is measured in bits per second.
Thirty years ago, data was “transported” through physical media like the postal service. Now, there are myriad ways to transmit and receive massive amounts of data with just the push of a button.
Most firms and studios rely on the internet to conduct business. Critical business activities require internet connectivity, and its speed can play a major role in success.
What most people do not know is that there are two types of bandwidth speeds. One is upload, and the other, download. Upload speed refers to how quickly data is transferred to its destination. Download speed refers to how quickly data is received.
Usually, companies utilised low bandwidth services like 56.k modems to send information. To handle the increase in data usage these days, one can invest in gigabit-speed infrastructure. Firms still operate DSL and cable connections, but service providers allocate additional resources to support these low-level telco options.
It will not be bizarre to suggest that we spend more time on tablets and smart devices now than we do on PCs. As the demand from mobile and fixed networks shifts, so does mobile traffic. Which direction does it head in? To Wi-Fi networks.
End users are also migrating from PC applications to ones on handheld devices. So, some of the traffic previously queued on the mobile network, is now on the fixed network.
This traffic composition, however, is uneven. How even? TV was provided “over the air.” In recent decades, it has been relocated to a fixed network. The ‘narrow band’ (voice and messages) traffic on the other hand, has been transferred to the air (mobile networks).
Some of you will vaguely recall a little something called the Negroponte Switch. Well, this was it.
The Negroponte Switch was conceived by Nicholas Negroponte in the 1980s while he was working at MIT's Media Lab. He also said the following words —
“I've spent my whole life worrying about the human-computer interface, so I don't want to suggest that what we have today is even close to acceptable.”
What was Negroponte's point? Due to the accidents of engineering history, we had ended up with static devices. On one end, machines such as televisions received their content via signals travelling over the airways. On the other end, mobile and personal devices received their content via static cables.
He proposed that it would be a better use of the available communication resource if the two ‘traded places.’ That is, air routes for otherwise cabled connections (like telephones), and vice versa.
The "Negroponte-Switch" had a critical role in defining data transmission and storage. This goes unnoticed when we talk about digitisation, and software with industry-wide applications.
Negroponte observed something curious. He noted that at the start of any software development, information is concentrated. It is shared globally via airwaves, that is, bandwidth shared via tower and satellite transmission.
Since airwaves have a smaller bandwidth than fibre optic cables (aka your broadband service), broadband will always have the upper hand. Why? While transmitting signals through air we have to make sure that signals do not interfere with each other. Alas, there is then a limit to the amount of signals that can be transmitted through airwaves at a time. This is not an issue in broadband.
Consequently, as the world becomes more digital, it will become impractical to transmit large bits over airwaves. Heavy bits will then have to be stored and transmitted via broadband, with their origin on a cloud server.
With the evolution of usage, two things will happen. One, things we share on a large scale (music, television, and news) will be transmitted via internet broadband and stored in cloud servers. Two, things that are not multimedia heavy will be transmitted via airwaves.
Though this does not create much existential angst, it does force us to question the future.
Since most architectural software and functions are installed and run locally on everyone's screen, what, oh, what is to become of us?
The answer is in your daily data.
Examine the design or project functions you use on a daily basis. Peruse the information you share with others -- your clients, contractors, vendors, et al.
Is that information difficult to transmit phone-to-phone? Does the entire process require you to be within an earshot of one another? Nod once or nod twice, chances are that information will be cloud-based by the end of this decade.
This has serious implications for current architecture software and monopolies. How?
Everyone works on common design functions. If all of those functions move online, we will see a surge in new cloud-based design software. Software that is leaner on the cloud and transmits the most bits, wins.
This is not all. When local libraries are integrated into the cloud, they will be massive. The libraries that reveal the best end-to-end process, win. That is, the largest libraries that integrate design, manufacturing, installation, construction, and marketing processes will define the functions and use cases of software. Eventually, they will also standardise the architectural design industry's offerings.
It is time for a quick detour to Ikea (because why not?). Wait, put down the sunscreen and the mask, we are not going to the store (because why? #stayhomestaysafe #dontbeacovidiot). Just open a new tab.
Ikea provides smartphone and tablet apps that allow users to realistically put furniture in and around the area. The process is simple: the user sets the catalogue wherever the piece may go, looks at it through their smartphone, and voilà! Behold, furnishings. They can next experiment with colour and style until they find the 'one.'
Agreed, the app is not as sophisticated as putting OLED coating on walls and windows. But, it does leverage digital technology to make interior space modification simpler. Ikea shares that 70 per cent of purchasers do not know the dimensions of the room for which they are buying. This makes decor shopping, well, quite inefficient. With the advent of the app, Ikea customers no longer have to drag couches, carpets, and tables home for a vibe check.
Ikea is not the only company that offers a digital interior design experience.
AutoDesk made Homestyler accessible on the internet for free in 2010. The firm just rolled out an upgrade for iPad. While not as dynamic as the Ikea app, it allows users to ‘turn a single photo into a virtual design playground’. And, they can also see goods from manufacturers other than Ikea.
Ikea poses a greater threat to Autodesk in residential design than other competitors. As the world becomes cloud-based, Ikea's existing libraries and digitised processes will win the battle of transmitting bits to a large audience. What's more, Ikea will find it simple to convert its design process into bits of architectural software. These tools will probably be more user-friendly and case-specific, and thus, more widely adopted.
If digitised, a design library or the knowledge of process and execution, takes precedence over the software itself. It defines the design and use of that software on a larger scale.
Is it just us or do you see Autodesk and IKEA sitting on a tree any day now?
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About the Writer
Sana Paul is an undergraduate architecture student and writer at the Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, hailing from the cozy streets of Punjab. She has experience working at the India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha, and Rethinking The Future (RTF).
About the Editor
Nishtha Singh is an editor, writer and researcher in the fields of Philosophy of Language, Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). She has trained as an editor at the Seagull School of Publishing, Calcutta and is a graduate of the Department of Philosophy, and the Hansraj College, University of Delhi (DU), India.
About the Illustrator
Diksha Garg is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture Bhopal, hailing from Chandigarh. She is an illustrator, graphic designer and writer. She has received a citation for G-Sen Trophy and a Juror's Choice Award for Journalism Trophy by the National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA), India.