by Izaz Haque

ultrasoundIn just 30 years after its inception, one in two humans now carries a cell phone. Even in developing countries like Pakistan, half the population acquired cell phones in just the last four years. The adoption rate in developing countries is higher, as it makes tool that developed countries have, with in the reach of the common man. The wide open spectrum allocation allows for early adoption of the latest wide band technologies, that have trouble making it into the mainstream in the developed world. The Smart phones offer a cost effective computer to the people who could not otherwise afford a laptop or a computer. The cell phone is being increasingly used for governance, education and delivery of health services. The smart phone promises to be more transformational to computing than personal computer was to workstations. Companies like Microsoft, Google and Dell are jumping on the bandwagon.

Applications Galore

Getting tired of checking out the same old web site on your cell phone?

Well there are a few more choices [Caution! For everything I mention below, someone will be saying “been there, done that!”].

If you like music, try internet radio – great for the on-the-go highly mobile. Pandora radio is one of my favorites.

Listening to something that you like but can’t put a name to it, well, run Shazam on it – it will identify the song for you, which you can take straight to Itunes and have it load it up for you. Of course, you can also go to Lala and play it in real time.

There is of course, always, “an app for that”. Applications are everywhere and more than a billion were downloaded over last Christmas.

Want to tell your friends you’re in NYC, but too bothered to call and tell them? Not to worry, your cell phone can do that for you. Loopt can tell everyone you want that your cell phone is in NYC. It would be just like as in the old days – drop in unannounced to meet your friends.

Are you on Facebook? Facebook just topped Google as the most popular site on the internet. But are you on mobile facebook? 25 million of us are telling each other what they are doing at different times of the day from their mobile phones. A few years ago, social networking meant, say, playing bridge at someone’s house.

We’re constantly updating ourselves on a minute by minute basis. And connectivity breeds more connectivity. People are swapping their voice only cell phones for smart phones at a rapid pace. Be ready!

But how about playing a video game with someone in Pakistan? Or talking to someone on a video mobile phone. Everyone wants it (AT&T tried making a “picture phone” in 1969). Unless I’m thinking HD, my wrinkles and creases will go probably go unnoticed on a 3×4. AT&T has this cool application called “video share” where you can be talking to someone on a phone and watching a video of the scene at the same time. Visual is the desired experience.

The average American watched 182 videos on-line last month. Including (almost) grey haired people like me.

Wirelessly Connected Things

A new network is also emerging, euphemistically called the “internet of things”. This is the world where devices innumerable are communicating back and forth keeping our world humming for us. Your fridge ordering your milk from Stop and Shop, being a commonly mentioned application. From health monitors to smart meters to mobile coffee makers to video surveillance, everything is connected. Surely a lot of excitement to come! A huge business opportunity and your ideas needed! Apple just hired an expert in wearable computing. Maybe someone reading this can suggest some applications.

Fatter Pipes

If your current mobile broadband experience is, say, with today’s 2G or 3G networks (as it must be), it’s not all pleasant. If you’re lucky, you get to keep a connection, at say, 400kb/s (theoretical limits are higher!). Response times make the experience clunky and it just doesn’t feel like real time.

Help is on the way! The new buzzword in mobile technology is 4G or LTE. LTE (stands for Long Term Evolution) brings faster speeds of up to 5-10 Mb/s and even say, 150Mb/s if you’re sitting right at the antenna on top of the cell tower with a cell phone that has 4 antennas.

To put this in perspective, the new FCC blueprint for nationwide broadband envisions 4 Mb/s to every home.  Read about it here

LTE gives you more speed but also reduces the response times dramatically enabling real-time interactivity that feels like real-time interactivity. It also reduces the costs to the Mobile operator dramatically. The pipes are big and they need users and applications, so prices may come down. So send me the video in real time from the cricket match in London if you would. You can expect more visual, more connectivity, more interactivity.

The rest is tech speak.

Boston gets LTE in this year, courtesy of Verizon Wireless. It promises to be a “Perfect Storm”.

Too Much of a Good Thing

However, there is a flip side to all this excitement! When mobile bandwidth becomes cheap and ubiquitous, interactivity becomes real-time, and everyone is connected all the time to a machine or a person, even Star Trek looks clunky in comparison. You’re never alone and depression is passé’. A screen beckons you everywhere. People and machines knock at your consciousness every minute. Studies have shown that mobile usage is affecting sleep in teens. I’m watching a game on TV, have to leave the room, can continue watching on my cell phone.  Human beings will over time evolve bigger eyes and smaller brains. It all started with the Railroads and the Telephone, and the interstate highways. Let’s pray for a Mars mission in our lifetime. Beam me up, Scotty!

The author is a Telecommunications Professional living in the Boston Area.

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One Response to “How Wireless is Changing Us”

  1. Izaz Haque on March 19th, 2010 10:48 am

    Imran, you’re too generous. How about adding your name as a co-author….Izaz