To make matters even more interesting, four emerging technologies identified by The Economist promise to render not only the next wave of so-called 3G wireless networks irrelevant, but possibly even their 4G successors. These technologies are: smart antennas, mesh networks, ad hoc architectures, and ultra-wideband transmission.
Of all the ideas, the one which may be most appealing is that of using mesh networks. Writes The Economist (June 20, 2002):
Proponents of mesh networks believe that they have found a way around the last-mile problem. At the moment, there are two main ways to provide broadband connections to the home: use either the local cable-TV network or a digital subscriber-line (DSL) from the local telephone company. DSL supercharges ordinary phone lines to enable them to carry data at high speed. But not every neighbourhood has cable access, and DSL works only for subscribers close to a telephone exchange.
The mesh-networking approach, which is being pursued by several firms, does this in a particularly clever way. First, the neighbourhood is seeded by the installation of a neighbourhood access point (NAP)a radio base-station connected to the Internet via a high-speed connection. Homes and offices within range of this NAP install antennas of their own, enabling them to access the Internet at high speed.
Then comes the clever part. Each of those homes and offices can also act as a relay for other homes and offices beyond the range of the original NAP. As the mesh grows, each node communicates only with its neighbours, which pass Internet traffic back and forth from the NAP. It is thus possible to cover a large area quickly and cheaply.
Connecting the Masses
Even as voice and data networks converge to an IP base, wireless technologies are the 10X force that are providing the fabric to build a real-time communications infrastructure. In the second half of the 1990s, telecom companies built up huge capacities by deploying fibre optics through their network backbones. Now, wireless networks are taking this bandwidth to the endpoints. In fact, they are creating endpoints everywhere users want to be.
When it comes to connectivity, emerging markets like India may have state-of-the-art LANs (at 100Mbps), but are woefully behind in WANs (wide area networks). Connections of 64-256 Kbps are considered high-speed for enterprises. Wireless technologies offer the leapfrog that is needed to bring the full force of the Internet, cost-effectively, to the desktop and doorstep.
Wireless can also make it possible to imagine connecting villages into the national grid. For centuries, the road and rail has been the only connector for the hundreds of millions of people who live in the hinterland. In the last decade or so, they have seen telecom and television become available. Now, in the coming years, a whole new world can be opened up with high-speed and cost-effective data connections. Computers, connected to the Internet at high-bandwidth, can bring forth interaction with a world which was available only through the travellers tales or television screens.
Next Week: Techs 10X Tsunamis (continued)