July 24th, 2008

Watching waiting

Communication Channels

First there was word of mouth. Literally. Sounds were how news travelled - speaking, shouting, drum beats. In some cases smoke signals developed. And so did lettering. Soon tablets with the written word evolved into papyrus with ink stains.
With civilisation growing, the need to communicate with the farther reaches of a community and other communities is a recognised effort - one which has been addressed with every passing century by mankind.
We search for faster, better methods to pass news, communicate en masse and individually, all over the globe - wherever there is humanity (and sometimes even where there is not, but that can be classified as a different discussion).
Postal communication evolved soon enough but lasted a long time. Then came telegraphs. Radio was a boon for communication between large distances, though usually one-way it was also two-way in military and other closed groups.
Television opened the radio channel tremendously, and soon people were able to actually see other people, though in a one-way communication.
Telephones evolved soon enough and then mobile telephony took it to the next level with no need for wires. As did satellite.
Internet is the latest revolution to seize the world. It spans all over (or so we think) and enables micro-second communication. As fast as talking to each other - you can use it to type, send messages, talk, look at each other, one-way communication, two-way communication, anything!
But the internet is based on a cable network. Cable network was laid down when I was in school - it may have grown but its still not as simple as latching onto a radio wave somewhere in the ionosphere.

The US has the largest network of Internet cables. Most of the Internet resides there. That is where it started, and internet based business is also communicated from there. So, Internet usage is the best there, its a monopoly over communication of sorts. a first mover advantage, but one with high entry barriers. A country in Africa would rather solve its other problems than lay down communication network like underground cables.

So, what's next? Internet in itself may be a revolution, but its not a sustainable revolution. It can be only as fast as the fibre optic lines it bases itself on. An under-sea cable rupture and the service gets suspended. Its an unavoidable risk.

Hence developed wireless Internet networks.However, with the present infrastructure and capabilities, it has severe limitations. The best developed is Wi-Fi. As of now, it exists in communities, and is barely a solution. It is a power drain, has different frequencies in different countries, and most importantly, has a limited range. HSPA compromises a little on speed, though giving you mobility, but then at the moment it does rely on 3G networks.

But, in the future, 20 years from now, are we still going to use webpages to run everything on the Net? (Even google documents are web-page based)
Or, more important still, Are we still going to be using the Internet? Or will there develop better means of communication which do not involve carrying a bulky computer-like instruments around for connectivity.