WiFi, the popular name for 802.11b wireless network technology is a registered trademark of 3Com. Just found that out today while holding their latest pc card with slick-looking pop-out antenna in my hands.
I’ve been a WiFi user for almost 2 years, having purchased an experimental set from a Dutch company in 1999 with a catchy name: No Wires Needed. They no longer exist (acquired by BigCo), but I do recall quite vividly how frustrated I got trying to explain to their COO the possibilities of this magic technology. I even bought their fancy directional hi-gain setup and wired 2 miles of the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. If you come to town, stay at the Pulitzer Hotel, which has shitty service guaranteed, but our WiFi reachees the canal side rooms easily. No password needed.
Many of these ad-hoc ‘Hippie Networks’ of peace, love and sharing have been cropping up everywhere. Not very surprising, there’s a lot of activity in this area taking place in San Francisco, known for technology and kind, sharing people.
This afternoon I reviewed a presentation we are giving to a chain-retail outlet in The Netherlands next week, one of the nicest slides in the flowerpoint was a comparison of wireless technologies. Conclusion: WiFi is fast, affordable and available now.
The big questions are obvious; will we be able to create the parasitic grid by opening our ADSL and Cable Modems to anyone who needs access in hope we receive the same courtesy when we need connectivity? Or will we wind up with over 500 WiFi subscriptions; lets see, what was my password for the starbucks network.. I’m sure Microsoft would love to ‘manage’ all your WiFi passwords in Passport.
Ofcourse we all want to hippie network to succeed, it’s the ultimate dream of any revolutionary. To bash the BigCo’s who thought, just because they could borrow billions of dollars to purchase UMTS and other 3d generation mobile licenses, they were guaranteed their ‘fair share’ of the wireless market. It would be poetic justice.
I believe the WiFi Matrix can be built, but we must base it on an exchange of something. I give, therefore I can receive.
In the networking world this type of exchange is typically called ‘peering’. Peering is what happens at the Internet exchange points, like MAE East in the US, Ams-ix in Amsterdam, Linx in London. All ISP’s connect to one or more exchanges in order to offer service to their customers. Through one of these exchanges is how data is routed from one network to another, you are reading this document because it traversed the network from our DataBarn to the Amsterdam Internet Exchange to a network with a presence at the ams-ix that either directly or indirectly connects to your ISP. This handoff is done from one network to another at the exchanges based on so called ‘peering agreements’. These agreements basically say that two networks, based on ‘equality’ will hand off data traffic to each other without ‘settlement’. Settlement is a BigCo telecomms word for payment and is based on counting minutes (of call time).
Peering agreements are great, especially if you have lots of them with important networks, because it costs nothing to transfer data to a network you peer with, otherwise you will have to purchase connectivity to that network through a network that does have appropirate peering. This is typically called ‘transit’. Already I’m getting a bit out of my league on all this stuff, but the bottom line is that the bigger the network you have and data you want to hand off at the exchange(s) the more peering agreements you can get and thus the more you can sell your connection to the exchange. It’s just like selling drugs, you keep cutting the stuff up until you’ve sold your basic pipeline 1000 time over. Oh, and it’s even more profitable if you make up some bullshit variable cost scheme to your customers..based on ‘burstable bandwidth’ and ‘top 5 percentile’ calculations.
The Really BigCo’s stay really big by peering with each other and refusing to peer with any of the smaller guys. There are only 9 or 10 Really BigCo’s, and they have a total lock on the market and the exchanges. You don’t peer with the BigCos, you purchase from them.
What I like about peering (yeah, there’s good news too) is that there really isn’t any counting of packets..AT&T doesn’t say to Sprint, “hey, you sent me less traffic than I sent you last month, pay up”. Nor do the smaller guys. Once you’re peering agreement is in place, it’s pretty much like a friendship ring. You belong to a club.
This would be the basic concept for phase one of the WiFi Matrix: A centralized peering database. You have connectivity available on 802.11b, register to peer with others when you need to use their network. Although far from trivial, centralized authentication must be possible with some simple software you download to your base-station that ‘talks’ to the central peering database.
But that’s only the start of the real revolution. Imagine we can build this Matrix, a grid that actually starts to overlap. If I can see your WiFi network from my house and you can see mine, we can then exchange up to 11Mb/s of data traffic. Very interesting if I’m on a different network that the other node. Create enough WiFi Pering points and we may find that our Wireless technology is best utilized for the getting data to the Home cheaply and perhaps even faster.
I find this scenario much more appealing than the current view on WiFi, which conjures images of semi-andorids roaming the streets with laptops, datagloves and eye-piece monitors.
We could actually beat the BigCos at their own game. Peer to Peer would have real meaning, desktop applications could control the entire networking grid. With the speed of the forthcoming 802.11a (45Mb/s) It could even sell transit services to those guys who used to have a monopoly at the exchanges…… [Adam Curry: CurryDotCom]