As WISPs based in industrialize countries we tend to think in terms of what we are doing, the progress we are making and the applications we are employing our technologies for. There is certainly nothing wrong with that other than we can sometimes lose focus on the bigger picture – you know – what the rest of the world is doing and this is nothing short of an embarrassment.
The explosion in wireless technology has hit just about every corner of our planet. This is pretty spectacular considering that many countries have prohibited this modernization in an attempt to keep their telecommunications industry intact. This is, of course, providing they even have a functioning telecommunications industry.
Let’s take a look at some of these deployments, the changes they are making and what this might very well mean to us.
Bhutan – To be quite honest with you I didn’t even know where Bhutan was on the map. I had to look it up on Google. This little country decided they were going to put an infrastructure in place and leapfrog the telecommunications industry right into this millennium. If you take the time to read about what was accomplished in such a short time and for so little money I think you’ll agree that wireless isn’t just a way of delivering Internet content – it is an incredibly powerful technology that is slowly tipping over the giants of yesteryear.
Laos – As we all go through life I would like to think we try to leave this world a little better than we found it. Lee Thorne is doing just that. Lee set up the Jhai Foundation as a personal attempt to make right a wrong he didn’t create yet he felt responsible for. Whether or not this was something he needed to do really isn’t important – he did it and many people are benefiting from this project. You need to know that the benefit is not only felt in Laos but also right here at home where people like me sit in amazement and wonder how it might be possible to contribute in such a scale as Lee and his organization are doing.
Mali – Here’s another country I had to look up on Google. I felt relieved when I found out that Mali is located in Africa. I have always considered myself excused from learning the names of all the countries in Africa as they seem to change just as soon as you learn them. Once again we see people bringing useful technology to far away and pretty desolate places for next to nothing. This project has been nicknamed “BottleNet” because they build WiFi antennas out of empty plastic bottles that cost roughly about one dollar. This is a story you really need to read as aside from talking about all these projects and the good they are doing it also conveys exactly how big a potential market we could (and should) be working in.
All of this pales in comparison to the sleeping giant that just arose and will probably dwarf every other market we now play in. India has recently set a new policy that includes outdoor wireless. To put this in perspective India is a country that is poised to become the second largest economy in the world. Conversely, India’s telecommunications infrastructure are in a shambles. Currently, as I understand it, India has a telephone base of .02% of its total population. Estimates suggest that India will add 40 million subscribers to their Internet backbone in the next five years! While I am not going to predict how many of these subscribers will be connected wirelessly I can tell you that if even 10% buy WiMAX CPEs we are going to see a successful launch of the WiMAX standard – one that will make even the biggest critics eat their words.
I have had the pleasure of watching this field blossom from a very few people largely discussing a passing hobby to an international industry that could very realistically change the world. The best part is that we haven’t even begun to see the fruits of this labor. What benefits we will see when most (or all) of the world finally becomes connected? What new services will be offered? Will we be able to perfect real-time language translation? If we do will this help to ease international misunderstandings? Will we now be able to seamlessly do business all over the world, taking advantage of different skill sets and labor markets wherever they might be located? The even bigger question is will this be an entirely good thing?
I don’t pretend to have any of these answers but I do know that this revolution in the way we communicate is going to have massive ramifications in ways I don’t think we can even begin to anticipate.
One of the technologies I see radically changing our lives is Grid Computing. Many of us are familiar with SETI and some of the other applications that are now taking shape. What will happen when we can connect a million computers, ten million or even 100 million computers to tackle our most complex problems? While I won’t pretend to put forth a guess on that front I will acknowledge what Alvin Toffler said in his famous book over 30 years go. We are moving faster, much faster than we ever have before and the rate of acceleration is ever increasing. To those who are not keeping up this world will rapidly become a very complex and somewhat frightening place, I believe. It is time we all commit to working a little harder, a little longer and a little more diligently to understand what we are building. It probably wouldn’t hurt for us to take a page from Lee Thorne’s book and try to make an improvement whenever we can, God knows this world could sure use the help.