Democratized wireless

The brief description of the technology sounds like something from a science-fiction movie where the robots take over: Mitsubishi Electric Corp. says it will offer a wireless LAN technology that is self-organizing, decentralized, and capable of reconfiguring itself without the aid of access points and access servers.

Even the name sounds like one of those monsters from a Japanese movie. No, it’s not Mothra this time; it’s MOTERAN (Mobile Telecommunications Radio and Relay Network) that is threatening complete world domination.

To take some of the mystery out of it, MOTERAN is based on relay networks, which appear to be gaining traction in the telecom industry because, requiring fewer base stations and switches, they promise to lower the cost of deployment.

Mitsubishi is partnering with Detecon, the engineering and consulting affiliate of Deutsche Telecom, which holds the patent. These two companies will form a new one, tentatively called MOTERAN Networks, to deliver the technology. They plan to roll out the technology for on-campus corporate network use at first, then for home use, and finally for public-access hot spots and emergency backup networks. Eventually, the technology will also be used as a low-cost VOIP (voice over IP) solution.

In a nutshell, MOTERAN will allow any client PC or handheld with an IEEE 802.11x card or Bluetooth capabilities to behave as a relay point to communicate with the next terminal down the line and to use this terminal to move packets along to their ultimate destination.

As a result, any one of these devices could be the host for Internet access: One person subscribes to an ISP for US$20 per month, and everyone can hop across devices until they reach that host and log on.

It reminds me of the ’60s when everyone’s goal was to defeat the “establishment” through fairly harmless guerrilla tactics such as not putting a stamp on the envelope when paying a Ma Bell phone bill. Is this more dangerous? The ISPs might think so.

According to a July 1 article in The New York Times by Peter Meyers, AOL Time Warner is already calling it theft of service and has warned its cable subscribers “that operating wireless networks and inviting others to freely share them violated their subscription agreements.”

Glenn A. Britt, the president of Time Warner Cable, is reported to have said that he had no objection to sharing Internet access within a household but that he did not want it distributed to those outside of the household.

It may be called theft of service by some, but when establishment giants such as Mitsubishi and Deutsche Telecom are selling the disruptive technology, it makes it that much harder for providers to fight and for users to resist.

Which side are you on? Which side am I on? I don’t think taking sides serves any useful purpose at this stage of the game. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle, as they say.

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