A driving vacation is a great escape during the summer months. In the past, my going on this kind of vacation meant being out of touch, unless I called in from whichever hotel I was staying at for the night. With the expansion of wireless cellular services to more areas, keeping in touch has become easier, but by no means a sure thing. Now, keeping in touch is changing. Not because cellular coverage is expanding, but because Internet access is becoming more common.
During a recent driving vacation I noticed that Internet access along our route had become the rule rather than the exception. Not just in the major centres, but also in smaller towns and rural areas. In some cases it was easier to find public Internet access than it was to get a reliable connection for my cell phone.
This led me to some interesting observations regarding the future of communications. First, coverage in areas that are remote and not well served by cellular communications may be better served by broadband Internet connections and wireless data networks like Wi-Fi or WiMAX (once it’s more widely available).
Connecting the remote end user
Building this kind of infrastructure could be done by municipalities or other organizations and paid for either through the local municipalities’ business improvement associations, or via private organizations providing access on a fee-for-service basis.
This scenario is starting to play out in several places already, and in some cases is being challenged by incumbent telecom carriers who see this offering as a threat to their service. Widely deployed wireless Internet access would be a step towards providing a new “converged” infrastructure.
In this case convergence is not just the convergence of voice over IP on the data network — that’s a given for this setup. Convergence here would be a new converged device designed to act as both a cell phone and Wi-Fi (or eventually WiMAX) data tool that could use this new converged infrastructure. This device would seamlessly move between various cellular technologies (1X, 2.5G and 3G) and wireless data technologies like Wi-Fi or WiMAX. The device would always use the best access method possible at that moment for that location.
This is fundamentally different from a laptop with a cellular modem, which at best is marginally useful for VoIP. The new device would essentially be a dual-mode handset that several competing vendors are currently developing, based on new converged chipsets, with potential release dates around the end of the year.