A bit off-topic today, but it’s interesting to note the quickening convergence between cell and Wi-Fi, and the impact on data consumers like you and me. The distinction between fixed and mobile networks continues to blur.
Today, Wi-Fi is the “biggest deliverer of data to smart phones and related devices… with 33% of all traffic (vs. 18% for Verizon and 8% for AT&T)” according to an article in the Oct. 19th Wall Street Journal.
In most major cities, you have too many users of broadband floating too many bits across cell networks (even when you have four bars), thus clogging delivery speeds. Yet within range of your device are probably ten or twenty Wi-Fi networks. Within the radius of a single cell tower there might be dozens, even hundreds of Wi-Fi transceivers.
Mobile and fixed delivery are converging, most notably via the medium of Wi-Fi. Simply put: Wi-Fi uses unlicensed (by the FCC) spectrum and small circles of a couple hundred feet in diameter. A cell network uses licensed spectrum and larger circles (a mile or three). And those are really the only important differences, as Wi-Fi networks become increasingly “professional” in stature.
These networks lighten the load on traditional cellular networks, and expand the ubiquity of always-there data for everyone. Increasingly it’s possible to move between hotspots with a smooth data handoff. Soon, according to the Journal article, you’ll see a cable company “arranging with homeowners to open a public channel in their home Wi-Fi networks for the cable operator’s other customers to use.” In that example, notes the Journal, “Comcast could then contract with, say, Verizon to dynamically shift mobile data load from Verizon’s towers to Comcast base stations.”
So while Justice Dept. lawyers argue over the legalities and competitive nuances of a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, the technology progresses steadily onward. As is so often the case, the technical capacities will quickly outstrip the legal shackles (and the politics behind them).
The network is wide-open and ever-evolving, in order to meet our insatiable demand for broadband. And as usual, we expect innovation will trump all, lawyers notwithstanding.