Metcalfe’s Law

Description

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2). First formulated in this form by George Gilder in 1993, and attributed to Robert Metcalfe in regard to Ethernet, Metcalfe’s law was originally presented, c. 1980, not in terms of users, but rather of “compatible communicating devices” (for example, fax machines, telephones, etc.). Only later with the globalization of the Internet did this law carry over to users and networks as its original intent was to describe Ethernet purchases and connections. The law is also very much related to economics and business management, especially with competitive companies looking to merge with one another.

Metcalfe’s law characterizes many of the network effects of communication technologies and networks such as the Internet, social networking and the World Wide Web. Former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission Reed Hundt said that this law gives the most understanding to the workings of the Internet. Metcalfe’s Law is related to the fact that the number of unique connections in a network of a number of nodes (n) can be expressed mathematically as the triangular number n(n − 1)/2, which is proportional to n2 asymptotically (that is, an element of Θ(n2)).

The law has often been illustrated using the example of fax machines: a single fax machine is useless, but the value of every fax machine increases with the total number of fax machines in the network, because the total number of people with whom each user may send and receive documents increases. Likewise, in social networks, the greater number of users with the service, the more valuable the service becomes to the community.

The value of a network V is given by the formula shown here.

Related formulas

Variables

Vvalue of a network (dimensionless)
aMetcalfe’s coefficient (dimensionless)
nnetwork nodes (dimensionless)