Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Wireless fusion a solution to rural gaps?

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An interesting article in Wired magazine documents how Willie Nelson, the US country outlaw artist, organises his broadband connections while on the road.

Essentially – and you’ll have to excuse the jottings of a techno-illiterate here – Nelson deploys an array of four wireless data cards fused via a small box into a single connection. The array seems to run on the same lines as batteries running in a parallel circuit rather than in series – each one adding to the capacity of the others: when one network runs slow, or weak, as a result of patchy network coverage, the other cards with spare capacity pick up the slack. At the same time, data packets routed around the web can be re-assembled much more quickly at the end point. This leaves the net surfing experience unaffected by slow connections or drop-outs, allowing a seamless, robust and fast connection.

Reading the piece – and I should acknowledge that it is a little advertorial in tone – I was struck (prompted by the comment of Nelson’s tour manager that ‘We rarely lose connection even in rural areas or if one card goes down’) by the potential such devices might offer rural areas in terms of broadband connections. In rural areas, fixed lines may either be absent or otherwise offer unreliable or slow connections as a result of distance from the exchange, while mobile networks also offer somewhat patchy connections as a result of network drop-outs or cold spots. Satellite may also not offer a perfect solution owing to usage caps and satellite’s own version of network contention (focusing on the numbers of users online and upload speeds to the satellite receiver).

The context for my thoughts here is quite clearly the Digital Britain commitment to universal access on the basis of a minimum connection speed of 2Mbps: such a device as used in Nelson’s tour bus may well assist with the delivery of that commitment in areas where a single fixed or mobile network may not be capable of doing so. Of course, this depends on a number of things, chief among them the precise coverage of rural areas by mobile networks: we need almost universal coverage by multiple operators. It also depends on prices – both of the device itself and wireless network cards – coming down further to make this a viable option in terms also of affordability.

Even if not a suitable device for individual homes, however, it may make sense in the context of establishing rural hubs, or data centres, offering more reliable and more speedy connections on a hot spot basis than may otherwise be achievable for individual, more isolated homes.


Written by Calvin

14/10/2009 at 11:37 am

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