January 23, 2003

Another Wireless Network?

The Washington Post is reporting today that yet another wireless technology is being tested in this country. EvDO (Evolution Data Only) is ten times faster than regular modems and faster than WiFi (the wireless networks available in many Starbucks and hotel lobbies).

In addition, EvDO can use existing cell networks. This has got the telecoms salivating. R&D is hard pressed in the downturned economy so not having to commit to a totally new infrastructure is appealing. This does not mean, however, that implementation will be cheap. New areas of the broadcast spectrum would have to be bought to accommodate increased traffic. And every cell tower would have to be updated. All of this to the tune of billions of dollars.

The system has already been implemented in Korea and some small cities here in the US. But it is still not a given it will see widespread deployment in this country. Verizon decided to spend $750 million on more airwaves for 50 of its markets in anticipation of this service. Yet for about $200 you can buy a WiFi basestation and set up your own wireless network. Many individuals across the country have done this allowing anyone to access them for internet connections. Starbucks, on the other hand is served by T-Mobile’s Hotspots, starting at $2.99 a pop.

The question remains, however, not just whether this new system will become a standard but how the traditional telecoms will approach its implementation and marketing. If, as in the past, they will see this as just another proprietary service, where one company’s customers have a problem connecting with those outside its own system, the idea of an untethered and unfettered network of people will remain elusive. However, if telecoms encourage open interactivity and third party product development (as the Japanese telecom that pioneered text messaging, DoCoMo, did), then the endusers will be the better for it.

Establishing peer-to-peer networks just about anywhere is the initial goal. Working to make sure the Net doesn’t digress into simply another broadcast medium (like television), where we’re being fed someone else’s (read only big business’) content is something to think about.

Related Story: Wireless Blogging With a Real-Time Twist (NY Times)

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