Definition

dumb network

A dumb network is one that provides the physical interconnection between nodes but not much processing to support signaling. The Internet is often cited as a dumb network relative to the public switched telephone network. The telephone system is considered an "intelligent network" because the intelligence required for operation is carried within the network, while the end devices (telephones) are simple devices. (Recent telephone control systems - Advanced Intelligent Network and Signaling System 7 - provide even more intelligence in the network.) The Internet takes the opposite approach: the network simply transports packets of data without needing to know anything about them and the end devices (computers, for example) contain the intelligence. This approach is sometimes referred to as "dumb network, smart devices."

George Gilder first proposed the idea that networks of the future should be dumb in a 1993 magazine article. Gilder claimed that "In the world of dumb terminals - whether phones, IBM displays or boob tubes - a network had to be smart. ... But in the emerging world of supercomputers in your pocket or living room, networks will have to be dumb bandwidth pipes." David Isenberg, in his article "The Rise of the Stupid Network," claimed that the intelligent network was based on an outdated model revolving around scarcity of resources, the prevalence of voice traffic over data communications, the primacy of circuit switched technology, and the necessity of organizational (rather than user) control of the network. Isenberg argued that, contrary to these propositions, infrastructure costs had greatly declined; many different communications technologies were operational over the Internet; data traffic was overtaking voice traffic; and that the Internet was, as a dumb network, putting more control into the hands of the user.

The need in some Internet applications for time-guaranteed delivery of packets (see Resource Reservation Protocol and Quality of Service) does introduce a new intelligence to what can still be viewed as a dumb network.

This was last updated in April 2007
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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