The Portable Internet

The ITU released an excellent report recently on “The Portable Internet.” From the press release:

A new set of advanced wireless technologies now promises to bring affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity to the masses. This set of technologies, and the market opportunity they create, has been termed the “Portable Internet”.

Portable Internet technologies promise to cut the cords to a wire-free future in which Internet access, for both fixed locations and users on the move, is supplied over the airwaves. The technologies that make up the portable Internet operate at short, medium and long range, according to the geographical range of their radio signals (see Figure 1). Short-range technologies, such as Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID allow low-power connectivity within a range of 30 metres. Medium-range technologies can communicate at least 150 metres from a hotspot (e.g. Wi-Fi, or IEEE 802.11b) and up to several kilometres, depending on environmental and regulatory factors. Finally, long-range technologies such as WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) and IMT-2000 (3G) have ranges that extend up to 50 kilometres from a base station, and provide near-nationwide coverage when offered as a networked service.

“Fixed-line technologies generally offer higher speeds while IMT-2000, also known as 3G mobile phone networks, offer greater mobility. However, there is a wide gap between these two and many see this as the prime market segment for new portable Internet technologies, especially in developing countries”, says Dr Taylor Reynolds, one of the authors of the report, and the project manager of the Digital Bridges symposium. This event, to be held on 10-11 September 2004 in Busan, jointly organized by ITU and the government of the Republic of Korea, brings together experts from around the world to assess the problems of measuring and bridging the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

While wireless local area networks (WLANs), such as those based on the IEEEs Wi-fi standards, already help plug this gap at the local level, a more significant technological advance is on the horizon with WiMAX (more correctly IEEE 802.16a, WiMAX is short for Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access; sometimes called “Wi-fis big brother”). These offer connectivity of up to 54 Mbit/s over a range of up to 50 kilometres. In rural areas, and other parts of the world that have no wired network, WiMAX could be the preferred platform for offering a wide range of voice, data and broadcast entertainment services.

Asia leads the world in the buildout of the Portable Internet. The report is a must-read not just for those in the telecoms business, but also for content and application developers — how would we do things differently in a world enveloped by high-speed networks? This is the New Net that is getting built around us. The focus of the Portable Internet will also be on the next users of technology – it is a world which, according to me, will have as its endpoints network computers and a “commPuting grid.” It is a disruptive technology platform and one that offers challenges and opportunities.

From the Indian perspective, I think we need to work on building out the Portable Internet — that should be the focus of the new broadband policy that will announced soon. Any rule or regulation that hinders deployment should be removed. India has the opportunity to lead and become a showcase for other emerging markets – at the same time creating opportunities for Indian companies globally.

So, read the report and then imagine what the world can be…! Here’s a glimpse of tomorrow by ITU’s Lara Srivastava, the report’s lead author: “Imagine a device that could store all your personal information, such as ID information and entertainment, including favourite music, photos and films. Add voice and videocommunications, and location-based information, and it becomes a very powerful communications tool. And this will not come without profound implications for society and lifestyles, both in the developed and developing world”.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.