What if anywhere you went, there was ultra-fast WiFi ? Just imagine the possibilities...
If there’s one chink in the armour of the movement that is the Internet of Things (IoT), it has to be the connection to the internet.
As you ponder your next amazing wireless IoT contraption, you’ve probably been wondering how best to connect it to the broader internet. There are a few options, but none are without their caveats and all have a cost associated with them (though you may be paying for it already, such as home broadband). If you’re outside your home or office, where WiFi is probably available, you can go for a 3G/4G/5G option, although this too comes at a cost.
It’s no wonder that Facebook, through their “Free Basics” initiative, which was released in India, tried to bring internet to the masses where it didn’t exist. While some would argue that connecting people who don’t originally have WiFi available is a great thing (especially if you make money from having users simply using your service, as is the case with Facebook), not everyone agrees. This was especially evident when the Indian government ruled that Facebook’s Free Basics programme was, in fact, illegal - yes, illegal!
Now from an outsider’s perspective, consider you’re a big telecommunications giant selling mobile data. Of course, nobody is ever going to feel sorry for you - you’re charging people $10 per gigabyte or some other rate equivalent to highway robbery, when all of a sudden a rogue operator comes along and gives the stuff away for FREE; that’s right, not cheap but FREE! No matter which way you slice it, that’s going to have a measured effect on the next quarter’s earnings for sure.
IF WE COULD GET PAST THAT...
Imagine for a second though, what would be possible if we did, in fact, have free WiFi all day long, anywhere we went. The benefits aren’t around streaming Netflix in public toilets (yes apparently people do that), but connectivity enables powerful things. Arguably, we already see some of the benefits of what’s possible when phones are connected via their mobile data - live traffic congestion maps for auto re-routing of GPS navigation, for one. These technologies are fantastic, but what most of them have in common is that they rely on a phone. The phone with the mobile data capability is the only constant two-way communication device to the internet. This means, that while using Google Maps for your GPS might be useful to avoid traffic, what if you’re using the factory GPS in your vehicle? Sure, it’ll probably get you there, but even if you plug it in to your car it probably doesn’t know where you are, what you’re doing, or have any other method to exploit the functionality available in a phone.
This is where universal WiFi would become an enabler of advanced functionalities.
If your car was in constant communication with the cloud, or better yet, the car in front then this would allow the car in front to tell the vehicle travelling behind - in a fraction of a second - that it’s just detected an obstacle ahead and has activated emergency braking, and that the vehicles following should also do the same. Alternatively it broadcasts to the traffic lights ahead that it is approaching. The traffic lights already know that no other vehicles are in the area, so it switches the lights to green, to enable uninterrupted passage (we’ve all been stopped at the traffic lights for no reason before).
Better yet, the self-driving car transmits telemetry data to all other vehicles in the area on approach to the intersection; and because the vehicle has telemetry data on all other vehicles, traffic lights aren’t even required! Pedestrians at intersections automatically alert surrounding vehicles of their crossing, so the vehicles themselves can mitigate collision, which means pedestrians can cross safely, just about anywhere (of course, traffic managing this produces an entirely different set of challenges).
Just imagine the power and potential impact of a fully interconnected network like this - and not just on the roads, but anywhere.
Of course, until we have a cheap, universal access platform, it’s going to take a commercial disruption to make this happen. Without it, internet connectivity is costly, it drops in and out, and is often deliberately switched off by users to avoid data charges, or perhaps they just prefer to stick to WiFi.
PERHAPS IT’S NOT THAT COMPLEX?
Okay, so maybe the solutions aren’t actually that complex. What about a computer that can switch on as you’re entering your office building? For an old Windows machine that’s a quality half-an-hour you’d save in the morning (we joke!). Or the coffee pot has already warmed itself up... or instead of reaching for the app to queue jump, it already knows you’re coming?
How far can these conveniences go? They’re virtually limitless.
Universal WiFi could do for IoT what the cloud did for the web. In the early days of the internet, with web servers hiding behind baud modems, websites were often offline. This was a result of any number of factors from someone tripping over the power cable, to modem dropouts. But once this high-speed mesh of hyper-connected, ultra-redundant, ever-resilient things created the cloud, it became just a thing that was there. Now, we’ve gone from 99% uptime, to 99.9% uptime, to 99.999% uptime, and beyond. We have all seen it. Facebook (also affectionately known as the place where everyone spends their free time online), goes offline for 30 seconds and it makes headlines on the local news! We have come to rely on these things as being a rock-solid, reliable part of our lives.
So, while WiFi in your toaster might seem like a pointless proposition right now, it never hurts to imagine the possibilities...