When I recently flew over a big city in the very early hours of the morning I was amazed how many lights I could see despite most people being sound asleep. Tiny dots of light everywhere. What struck me then is that in our society, electrical power is so important and cheaply available that wires are dragged everywhere. There's a light bulb every couple of meters, obviously far more than than there are cellular base stations in the city. While cellular networks as we know them today have mobilized the Internet and brought it to many places there are still many many places even in well covered cities inside buildings and also outside with inadequate coverage. But even in these places there's electricity for lighting and many other purposes. As the importance of the Internet continues to rise it made me wonder if at some point we'll see a shift towards networks that are built in a similar way our electrical grid works today: There's a wire with a small transciever at the end dragged basically everywhere.
Light does not come from a central place. Instead, individual small light bulbs cover a small area. So perhaps we'll see a similar evolution in mobile networks!? Obviously, that's easier said than done as there are significant differences between the power grid and wireless networks:
First, there's usually no unwanted interference between two light bulbs compared to two radio transmitters that are close together. Also, transporting electrical power through a cable is much simpler than a multi megabit stream of data. But then we've transported electrical power through cables for a century and more now and technology has evolved. Another big difference is while wireless networks serve the public, wires for electrical power are usually put in place because the owner of a building requires power at a location for his own purpose and not for the public. Even lighting in public places follows a different rationale compared to wireless networks. In this scenario someone is interested in iluminating a place, e.g. for security reasons. What interest would someone have to install Internet connectivity in the same manner? And another challenge that comes to mind is that while the light bulb doesn't really care who delivers the power, wireless Internet connectivity is supplied by a number of different network operators, so installing little devices that distribute Internet connectivity would either require installing different boxes of different carriers or a new sort of device that could redistribute the connectivity of different providers.
But coming back to the basics, extending electrical power to the last corner is what we do in our society and it is done at an affordable price for the individual. It makes me wonder if something similar can be done in the Internet domain, how it will look like and how long it will take to realize it.
One thought on “Electrical Power is Everywhere – A Model for The Future of the Internet?”
Electricity network has been growing for > 100 years, the web for about 30 😉
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