TRON Project Leader's Opinion

Ken Sakamura

The University Museum, The University of Tokyo

Right as I was writing this column, NTT DoCoMo had just announced that it was temporarily restraining new subscriptions to i-mode because i-mode troubles were continuously occurring at quite a rate. Why this i-mode trouble is occurring concerns various problems on each occasion. There are all sorts of things, such as the server software being out of order, insufficient firewall capacity, insufficient processing capacity of the packet switching systems, and load distribution. At the present point, NTT has not been able to completely determine the true causes. They probably will not be able to elucidate them that easily. This is because it is something based on compound causes, and because it does not occur all the time, rather it greatly depends on utilization peak and locality, which is the same for telephone congestion.

Though they are experts, it is difficult to completely grasp trouble at peak processing time in a distributed system. Since NTT DoCoMo says it is quickly executing all conceivable measures to cope, the trouble will probably disappear slowly. At about the time this issue of TRONWARE appears, the volume of subscribers at the i-mode center will reach 10 million subscriptions. Although I am not saying that it is all right for trouble to occur, we could say that this was an incident through which we were made to understand not simply that the number of subscriptions is great, but to what extent i-mode is actually being utilized. In fact, from the start of i-mode in February 1999, in only 1 year and 2 months, 6 million sets were signed up, and just recently subscriptions have been increasing at 100,000 sets per month. If we talk in terms of the rate of increase, this is greater than the penetration rate of personal computers and the Internet.

If one asks why it is spreading rapidly, it is of course because the telephone companies are striving for penetration based on enthusiastic marketing. Cell-phones are spreading not just for NTT DoCoMo, but also for DDI and J-Phone. The cell-phone market is increasing. We also got the news that number of cell-phone and PHS sets has surpassed that of fixed telephones. Looking at the latest cell-phones that come equipped with large liquid crystal displays, the resolution of the display is somewhat lower than that of the Palm, which is the best selling among the PDAs. The Palm is used as a scheduler, and so on. However, when it comes to the i-mode cell-phone, it can further be used as a telephone, it also serves as an e-mail terminal, and it is also equipped with a simple Web browser. This is is fairly close to a winner. It is clear from no matter whose eyes you look at it that it probably isn't necessary to boot up something along the lines of Windows 2000 on an expensive personal computer just to simply exchange e-mail or obtain a small piece of information.

The movement toward lighter and easier is probably a natural flow. At this point in time, as I have repeatedly stressed, the peak of the personal computer period has passed. Personal computers are not necessary if all you're doing is just connecting to the Internet. De-personal-computerization will probably progress even more rapidly. Various devices even more particularized for Internet access will appear, and around 2005, people connecting to the Internet with so-called Wintel personal computers will end up further decreasing. Moreover, as I always mention, it is necessary to move toward a true computer society through even more dogged infrastructure provisions and the establishment of rules for a networked society.

The TRON Project from well back has continued with its activities that advocate the important basic infrastructure for the age when computers are everywhere. In the present cell-phones, ITRON and JTRON are used as base technologies. One cause of the recent i-mode troubles was reported to be the breakdown of the servers. Unfortunately, the CTRON server operating system aimed at servers that support an extremely large number of processes is not being used in current servers. I hope that these incidents will serve as an impetus for pressing forward also with server operating system development where the kernel is a real-time operating system.

The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 63 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

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Copyright © 2000 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo