Laptop users experienced the benefit of having anywhere-available broadband internet in the late 1990’s when a company named Metricom offered its Ricochet wireless internet in most American metropolitan areas. For about $70/month, laptop users could download at 560kbits/sec, about a third the speed of today’s high speed internet. The company went belly-up in 2001 due to a lack of customers, operating briefly after September 11 to assist with rescue efforts at the Trade Center site. According to industry pundits, “Never has a company failed so close to the brink of success.”
In many ways, the innovation and technology infrastructure of the $1 billion Ricochet network was ahead of its time. Even today, 802.11b wireless internet is still reaching the mainstream – a technology much less complex than Ricochet’s anywhere-internet. However, omnipresent broadband internet is again being touted as the next big service, with cellular companies this time leading the charge.
Technically, internet is already available anywhere there is cell-phone coverage – meaning that most of the United States is blanketed with coverage. However, the internet that is currently offered is sent over legacy cell phone networks, with transfer speeds similar to the dial-up internet of yester-year, with even worse latency. But the infrastructure of the new anywhere internet is quickly being developed and becoming an increasing reality.
The new internet networks are planned to be rolled out en-masse as early as next year, with the major carriers either currently testing or planning to test the service. The wireless internet will operate on the 3G wireless network, which will be introduced in conjunction with the next generation of mobile phones. The 3G network is an upgrade from today’s CDMA and GSM phone networks used by the American cellular carriers, and it is already available in many East Asian nations.
Cingular Wireless is currently the nation’s leading wireless provider, pending the approved acquisition of ATT Wireless. Cingular has recently signed a deal with Lucent technology to build their 3G network on the UMTS standard (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System). With the technology available today, this network will be able to deliver internet and data at up to 2mbits/sec, faster than the mainstream DSL and Cable offered nationwide. As internet demands increase, the same equipment will be capable of scaling to 14.4mbits/sec in transfer speed. The first Cingular 3G networks are scheduled to be tested in Atlanta this summer.
As wireless internet networks become ubiquitous in the world’s communication infrastructure, it will represent the first time in history when the flow of information will be unhindered, wholly accessible whether you are in downtown Manhattan or in Topeka, Kansas. Resources and information requiring hours of research to find for previous generations will be only a mouse click away.
We are entering a new frontier of communications in which we can tele-conference with associates around the world, or carry phone conversations solely on the backbone of the new internet. It remains to be seen how this new medium will be used – whether by traditional media to spread their views, by people and grassroots organizations to publish their causes, or by Christianity to do genuine good from the technology that has been given to us. It should be the hope of the church that this free access of information can usher in an era in which Christians can communicate, uniting the Lord’s body with the web’s digital thread.
By Roy Jones