Mobilize: Nortel CTO John Roese

GigaOM Founder Om Malik just took the stage to grill John Roese, the CTO of Nortel, who promised a world of hyperconnectivity is already upon us and warned that infrastructure needs to evolve appropriately. It was a timely conversation given the recent news that Nortel will sell off its Metro Ethernet Networks (optical and 40G) business as a way to shore up rest of the company and focus on 4G and related technologies.

Om: Tough day?

Roese: Everyone else is having a tough day, too. Misery loves company.

Roese: Hyperconnectivity is now; the number of devices exceeds the number of humans involved in the experience. Collaboration around information is more valuable than the information by itself. Communication is becoming embedded fundamentally in everything we do.

Om: I’ve heard this before. Why now?

Roese: In Europe there’s 112 percent cellular penetration. In Italy, 1.47 cell phones per person. I don’t want to debate whether or not it’s going to happen; it already has happened.

Om: You talked on your blog about the impact of Kindle.

Roese: Kindle’s a great example of the new business model that forms when you take communication functions and embed them into a content device and change the business relationship where there is no relationship with a carrier.

Om: But as connectivity becomes like electricity, how do we really utilize it?

Roese: You have to see how people use it.

Om: But somebody’s going to try to limit it.

Roese: Good point. The wired world and the wireless world are not in sync. Today we’re faced with a dilemma — when an iPhone user uses so much more data and is now on a 3G network. Until we sync, the promise of the mobilized Internet is not going to come. We’re seeing an acceleration of next-generation wireless upgrades with Verizon and Sprint. While they aren’t here yet, they’re imminent. As we’re talking about the equivalent of cable and DSL in the cloud, in the air, we have the opportunity to layer on applications, and that model will be easier for carriers to allow because the applications won’t break the network.

Om: What will be the killer application for this 4G network?

Roese: The killer application in the 4G world is the fact that now you will be able to take every application that you’ve had in the wired world and deploy that in a mobile context. And then everything across the communication ecosystem will just be an Internet app.

Om: Do you think that will take place first in the enterprise?

Roese: Yes. The sexy technologies — social networking — are not in the enterprise today — but that’s an opportunity to mobilize the enterprise in a way that they don’t have to re-engineer what they have worked on land to work wirelessly. Suddenly the CIO has the opportunity to treat mobile as logical extension of the enterprise in the intranet as extended across the multiple

Om: I’ve heard talk that you’re backing away from the LTE relationships?

Roese: We’ve been very clear from day one that 4G world cannot work if the infrastructure is the same as the 3G network. There’s too many competitors trying to do too much in a vertically integrated fashion. As we are looking at 4G, it is very much about saying “play your position.” We do not believe that the current industry structure can work as we go into the 4G ecosystem. I think people took that as we’re backing away from it, but we mean it quite literally. We need to look to the Internet industry structure and the cellular industry structure to see what will work.