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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Saturday, July 05, 2003

BobF at 2:40 PM [url]:

Searching for Dial Tone in Africa

G. Pascal Zachary's NY Times story is worth reading to get an understanding of what Voice over IP is really about. In the United States the current phone infrastructure works well -- at least within its design constraints -- so VoIP is nice but is typically seen as simply a way to get free phone calls. In Africa the impact is more dramatic -- it puts the definition and control of telephony into the hands for the users and gives many people their first reliable phone service.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

BobF at 4:47 PM [url]:

Faux Wires

One of biggest differences between the Internet and the phone network is that Internet did away with the concept of circuit. When you are connected to the Internet you are connected to all other sites not just the one you "called". Without the dependence upon a circuit implemented by a smart network, the packets are indifferent to the transport and packets can freely move across any mixture of wireless and wired segments using a variety of technologies. A traditional circuit can be used as a segment -- that just what a modem does. Programs use TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) to get the simplicity of a circuit while avoiding being dependent upon a particular transport. The basic Internet transport layer uses IP (Internet Protocol) packets. TCP is implemented above IP at the application layer.

Cellular telephony evolved from the traditional phone network and retained the concept of the circuit. It eliminated the artifact of the wire but retained the architectural limitations. The carriers have added its own features which make the network users very dependent upon the particular characteristics of a given provider's network. This is the antithesis of the Internet which minimized the dependencies by shifting the definition of the services to the edge.

The circuit is the basis for charging billing and therefore fundamental to the business model for the cellular companies whose goal is to maximizing billable minutes. Given the conflict between the cellular and Internet models it's no surprise that 802.11 hotspots implemented in the style of the cellular phone system are running into problems as I point out in Hotspots Cold Cells.

Monday, June 30, 2003

DanB at 4:39 PM [url]:

Bashing WiFi and the Broadcast Mentality

David Weinberger points to an article in today's Boston Globe that talks about the WiFi "Bubble Bursting". Yet another article saying WiFi is in trouble because people won't pay for access at the local coffee shop.

Sounds like the old "broadcast" mentality: Something isn't interesting or valuable unless it provides a service that a big company can charge for. It seems the fact that millions of people are buying and installing (at their own expense) WiFi for their own purposes and not just to charge others is completely uninteresting to these pundits. This is like the thinking that P2P could only be used for sharing things that would otherwise be sold mass-market. The fact that we'd want to share our own stuff is of little interest to these people. Of course, the fact that the market for "my own radio" -- i.e., cellular -- is so much bigger than broadcast is missed. The sharing of personal images with non-strangers will be huge, too, as it's been in the physical world. Millions of digital cameras are already being used with email. Likewise, me and my friends building our own "first 100 feet" and "first mile" into the Internet is more important than some big company building it and leasing it.

As David Reed likes to point out, automobiles were user financed purchases. We didn't turn the US into an automobile-centric society with taxis owned by the railroad companies. People bought their own cars for their own purposes, be it to visit friends, go "to the country" (an important, fun reason in the early days), tend to the sick (doctors were early adopters), shopping, commuting, etc.

What matters to WiFi is that it is solving a real need that people have (such as connectivity in places that are expensive to wire, and connectivity to mobile devices in a prescribed area) and that they are buying it and using it by word of mouth. The fact that some carrier can't figure out how to make money on it has no bearing on the fact that Linksys/Cisco et al can make a profit selling equipment to people who want to buy. WiFi isn't supposed to "compete" with being a cellular carrier that provides a service, any more than GM/Ford competes with Amtrak.

For more, see the Archive.

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