Wednesday, September 15, 2004

wide area enterprise mesh

Doc: Nobody expects to pay nothing to operate in a free marketplace. But they don't want that marketplace conceived and run as a one-way piping system for pumping "content" from entertainment and publishing producers to the same consumers who have been soaking up "media" in the same manner for the past 50 years.

What smart cities and counties want is to create the conditions where enterprise can flourish.
I hadn't seen Doc's comment yesterday when I slapped together a bunch of links about wireless mesh, but surely he's got it right. And, "enterprise" need not be confined to media, i.e., to "content." Rather, in order for "content" to be truly enterprising, it must be freed from the constraints of the current model. I.e., instead of trying to tell Comcast or Fox how to run their business, we could be running our own. The best enterprise we little folk could aggressively pursue would be to produce, from the bottom up, a wireless mesh network, always on, durable and easily replaceable, of which we are shareholders and partners. As Clay Shirky sez:
There are two ways to build $10 billion in network infrastructure. The first is to get ten large firms to pony up a billion, and the second is to get 10 million users to spend a hundred dollars each. Wifi fits that second model, and has created an explosion of interest and experimentation that would be impossible to create in a world where the 2.4Ghz band was treated as property.
Then we'd begin to live on something other than a one-way street. There's a lot more to this, having to do with how we (mis)understand property, and how corporate media hegemony (mis)shapes our every waking thought.


Blogger phaTTboi said...

Not to dampen your enthusiasm for WiFi, Tom, as it certainly has its place in making life a little more convenient for laptop toters and coffee shop roamers. But the idea of a nationwide "mesh" built on 802.11x (where 'x' is the latest flavor of the 802.11 spec, currently 'g') is fraught with problems, and not likely to accomplish much of what you seem to want.

There are a lot of uses for 802.11x, and augmented by it's brother-with-bigger-intentions, 802.16 "WiMax", forward thinking types are building some comparatively large scale wireless campuses, sometimes called Metropolitan Area Networks. But these are "last mile" technologies, meant to increase mobility to the user, cut the Ethernet umbilical cord, and make establishing small scale local area networks cheap and easy. They do that well, and I'm personally glad to have a wireless router in my home whenever a visitor equipped with a laptop drops by, or when I want to read your blog out in the hammock.

But wireless technologies depend on the commercial ISP backbones, and the "big iron" routing structure of the larger Internet to deliver most of the end point utility mobile users really want. As a replacement for the pipes and routing sophistication of the backbones maintained by the major commercial ISP's, wireless isn't even a joke as a contender. Routing simply doesn't "scale down," nor does spreading lots of wireless access points around geographically "create" large scale bandwidth. Today's Internet is highly hierarchal, in terms of it's routing, a lot more like the voice phone system switching, than the original designers of TCP/IP envisioned. Router peering is so important to the hourly operation of the larger Internet, that regional power outages of any duration substantially disrupt normal Internet traffic for days, as we saw in the Northeast blackout of 2003.

It's the old story that you don't accomplish anything like the same thing by getting nine ladies pregnant for one month, as you do by keeping one lady pregnant for nine months... A wireless mesh would be good if the majority of people mainly wanted to browse or exchange data with the file systems of physically nearby neighbors, but that's not what most Internet users actually do. Instead, they are end point users, mainly wanting to interact with large, centralized server farms providing popular news and services like email and Web content, usually hundreds or thousands of miles away, and wireless mesh simply won't help them do that.

9/16/2004 9:45 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Your response is precisely and helpfully why I put my enthusiasms on this blog. However Big the Irons in the fire, I can't help but wonder if the "explosion of interest and experimentation" seen by Shirky and others, combined with some differently configured arrangements of capital along with the kind of ingenuity you demonstrated with baseball cap grommets, will induce lengthier felicities in more wombs. Who can say what novelties of speciation might ensue?

9/17/2004 7:02 AM  
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