What is infrastructure?

The Wikipedia defines infrastructure as “the set of facilities and systems that serve a country, city, or other area, and encompasses the services and facilities necessary for its economy, households and firms to function.” Examples are roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electricity grids, and the telecommunications network. In general, infrastructures are networks. In our web page on the four industrial revolutions, we have seen that each of these revolutions included a network revolution. We now see that these were infrastructure revolutions. A new infrastructure enables new business ecosystems. Physical infrastructure can be divided in transport infrastructure (canals, roads, railways, air transport), communication infrastructure (postal service, telephone, radio, TV, the Internet) and utilities (water supply, the sewage system, electricity supply, city heating networks). We use a similar classification of platforms in connection platforms (transport and communication) and utility platforms. “Infra” means “below”, and many infrastructures are literally buried in the ground, so that you don’t see them. This points at an important property of infrastructures: We don’t think about them and assume that they are available everywhere and always, at the same high level of quality. Infrastructure providers do not receive prizes for always maintaining a high level of quality everywhere. Rather, users are surprised, shocked, and upset when an infrastructure service is not available. It may become an item for the daily news. Infrastructure services often start their life as luxuries used by the happy few and over time become more widely used until society cannot exist without them. Electricity and running water from the tap were luxury items in the 19th century but are critical infrastructures today. Similarly, when operating systems, email and social networks were new, they were used sporadically by a few early adopters.  Today they are infrastructures used by most people in digital society.