A Living Telecom Infrastructure

During the chaos that was 9/11 in NYC, mobile communications were a mess. The World Trade Center used to be an important hub the mobile architecture in lower Manhattan. Until mid-afternoon, it was virtually impossible to make contact with anyone, if you were relying on a cell phone.

In 2007, I became aware of the One Laptop Per Child project. Of particular interest to me was the mobile ad hoc networking technology the it employed, allowing each laptop to act as a node, routing packets to other laptops in the network without a need for a base station. Since then, I’ve been wondering how such technology could help our mobile communications networks.

In September 2007, the BBC reported that Swedish company TerraNet AB planned to use mobile ad hoc network (MANET) technology to create a “new way of making calls directly between phones, for free.” While free telephony is certainly attractive, what excites me about this development is the move toward a ‘living’ telecom backbone, once that can survive catastrophic events like the attacks of 9/11.

All systems have weaknesses. Take the power grid in the United States, for example. “Our analysis indicates that major disruption can result from loss of as few as two percent of the grid’s substations,” said Reka Albert, assistant professor of physics at Penn State, who led a research team studying the issue in 2004 (source).

Our telephony infrastructure certainly has similar weaknesses. I wonder how initiatives, like those undertaken by TerraNet, would revolutionize the way we communicate. I wonder how the broad dissemination of MANET technology would effect the survivability of our telephony systems. And I wonder why we’re not seeing more of this technology from major operators and providers.

TerraNet’s founder, Anders Carlius, had this to say to the BBC back in 2007: “One of the biggest things against us is that the big operators and technology providers are really pushing against us, saying this technology doesn’t work and it doesn’t have a business model.” I hope they’ve changed their minds over the last three years.

What do you think?

Image (c) One Laptop Per Child

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