Technology

Future Tense — Always On

Readers of this site know that I’m a proponent of living an always connected lifestyle. My previous views on the subjects looked to applications that lived partly on the edge of the network and partly off it, a class of applications I called Hybrid Computing.

As broadband access to the net becomes more prevalent, those applications will increasingly shift to a net-only model. We’re already seeing this switch with applications like webmail or search, which are purely web-based. Similarly, applications like desktop search now integrate with an online component (for example, Google Desktop Search allows you to store documents on their server or services like Plaxo allow you to store data in an online repository and resync it with different devices) and move data back and forth.

As broadband access continues to increase, the important part is not just the speed (although it is an important factor since it allows for richer online experiences) but I would venture that the more critical part of broadband access is the always-on point. Because a broadband connection does not require to dial-in, it is increasingly becoming ubiquitous. Much as people do not think about the systems of filtration and delivery that provide water to their house or the systems of power generation and distribution that allow them to use electricity, the prevalence of broadband will decrease discussions of what is on the net and what is off it. Applications will just be there and a cloud of connectivity will exist around all of us.

To this end, two potential scenarios could play out: the first one would see the communication providers (telephone companies, cable companies, etc…) continue to provide different access points around the globe. However, another potential scenario could develop around the area of a mesh network that would tie all users together in a peer-to-peer network that would be managed by every single user. One could envision each computing device connected to the cloud to allow for some traffic to go through. Because the protocols that dictate internet based communications have been designed to distribute communications across a number of points (what is called, in more technical terms, packetized communication), one could envision a scenario where an increasing amount of communication would happen in areas independent of the systems provided by the communication providers.

The rise of always on, always fast communication can already be seen in some countries like South Korea, where such thing is considered so commonplace that few people bother discussing it. The United States, unfortunately, are starting to fall behind on this and, because large telecommunication providers are trying to protect their monopoly on access to the high speed lines, efforts to increase speed and coverage could be impeded. However, in the long run, something like a mesh network could make an end-run around the telecom companies, which would then put such decisions in the hands of users.

This is the second article in a 6 part series. You can read the following parts here:

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Future Tense — Intro
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Future Tense — IPzation

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