IBZL - infinite bandwidth zero latency - is a thought experiment that asks: what will happen when bandwidth (for connecting to the Internet for example) is so great, and latency so small, that it no longer matters? What will be the applications and services that become widespread? The IBZL programme was started by the Open University and Manchester Digital in the UK around 2010. 
Next Generation Access (NGA) was promoted by policy makers for future economic growth. Few examples are given for how NGA will be used, or innovations that may come about as a result of widespread access to NGA. A parallel can be drawn with the advent of first generation Internet access (which is often called "broadband" by policy makers) which created conditions for Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook and others. The most innovative aspects of these - open source knowledge, video sharing and always-on social networking - were not foreseen.
The IBZL programme used a process (Imagine/ Triple Task Method) to explore the potentially novel applications of NGA and provide some ideas as to the key components of the future inter-networked landscape.
Three elements are usually considered essential to a ‘next generation’ network:.
- NGA will provide a significant increase in the transmission speeds available to the domestic or small-business end-user. The speeds cited vary widely from 25 Mbit/s (e.g. What is Digital Region? 2009) to over 200 Mbit/s. The ‘Digital Britain’ report refers to ‘next generation service up to’ 40 Mbit/s, and more recently UK ministers have referred to 50 Mbit/s and faster. To put this in context, in early 2010, the Google Fiber plan was announced for experimental community networks operating at 100 Gbit/s.
- In contrast with currently widespread ADSL technologies, it is generally assumed that NGA will offer a step-change in upload as well as download speeds, reflecting the demands of increasingly user-generated content. For some, NGA bandwidth should be symmetrical, though others have a more relaxed view, such as OFCOM in 2009.
- NGA is widely taken to offer improved ‘quality of service’ (QoS). QoS here is taken to mean not only service reliability and availability, but also indicators of network performance including latency (the time taken for data packets to travel from source to destination), jitter (the variation in latency among data packets) and data loss (the loss of data packets due to network congestion). Latency, jitter and data loss are important aspects of the usability of applications such as Internet telephony or video, in addition to ‘raw’ bandwidth.
A way to develop NGA
The Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency (IBZL) initiative was proposed to identify new applications that will be made possible by NGA as it evolves and that may contribute to the continuing development of innovative digital industries. 'Infinite bandwidth' and 'zero latency' are not meant literally; they are a shorthand for networks where bandwidth and latency cease to be limiting factors. IBZL addresses a gap in policy and strategic thought, where relatively little attention has been given to what kinds of novel application are made feasible by networks which are relatively free of speed and latency capacity constraints. The IBZL process is intended as a means to explore and speculate on potential future technologies. To facilitate the process the Imagine methodology was adapted and applied as a form of future workshop for deep reflection on possible scenarios.
The first IBZL workshops were held in Manchester, UK in May and October 2010, organized jointly by the Open University Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology and Manchester Digital, a trade association of creative and digital companies in Manchester and the North West of England. They brought together invited public sector, private sector and academic participants, to imagine a digital future.
Since then there have been workshops in several parts of the UK, including some 'Phase 2' workshops where ideas from the 'Phase 1' workshops were developed further. An example is the 'Flying Shepherd' project, which emerged from one of the first workshops.
Five example outputs from workshops are briefly summarised below.
‘Always on social space’ - virtual spaces in which the connection is always on/perpetual, supporting the kind of occasional, informal, spontaneous, real-time social encounters (‘collisions’) that happen when people are co-located, between people living and working remotely. This would not only allow a new level of remote working and collaboration but also the sense of living in proximity with friends and relations could transform the lives of older people who need to stay longer in their homes as the population ages.
‘Intelligent matchmaking’ – bringing suppliers and consumers together optimally for business, social and educational interactions. Behind this would be a thorough analysis of organizations, products and people, made possible by next generation networks, in order to synthesize high quality informational and other connections.
‘Real artisans in a virtual world’ - the networked production of artefacts by artisans in multiple locations. Next generation technology could support real-time collaborative generation of product ideas followed by the process of design, development and distributed fabrication. This could turn the conventional trading pattern on its head with artisans in the developing world crafting products for “3D printing” in the developed world, effectively re-engineering (or at least, challenging) current craft value chains.
Peer-to-peer processor time-sharing - projects like SETI@home use the spare processor capacity of millions of personal computers to process batches of number-crunching tasks, co-ordinated among volunteers by a central ‘master’ application. Next generation networks could allow real time peer-to-peer sharing so that when an application needs additional capacity for processor-heavy tasks like video rendering it could have access to effectively limitless extra computing power.
Latency mapping - the evolution of next generation networks will be uneven, resulting in a ‘geography of latency’ and the disruption of ‘simultaneous time’. The kinds of networked application that are feasible between two network locations will be a function of a range of factors including spatial distribution, network infrastructure and the network of relationships between service providers. Latency maps would be an enabling tool to identify the kinds of applications possible within/between, technical/geographic, or commercial spaces.
- Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency (IBZL) project website
- Department_for_Business_Innovation_and_Skills (2009). Digital Britain: Final Report. London, Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Page 54
- INCA (2010). INCA Policy Briefing No. 1: Broadband Delivery UK - Industry Day, Independent Networks Cooperative Association
- OFCOM (2009). Delivering Super-Fast Broadband in the UK: Promoting investment and competition OFCOM
- OFCOM (2009) Delivering Super-Fast Broadband in the UK: Promoting investment and competition OFCOM
- List, D. (2006). "Action Research Cycles for Multiple Futures Perspectives." Futures 38: 673 - 684.
- BBC (2011) Flying shepherd drone takes to the skies above Cumbria