Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wifi - the cell network for the rest of us

[Universities around the world continue to face a financial crunch as governments slash funding  in order to restrain huge debt loads.
  Many institutions are now looking at sharing services such as computing, data centers and other facilities in order to reduce costs. The Guardian has an excellent article on this subject on the work that JISC is doing in the UK in this regard.

 As I have blogged before I believe NRENs can play a new critical role in deploying new services that help universities reduce costs, but at the same time act as a force for disruptive innovation in transforming current telecom business and technology models for the benefit of society as a whole.  This means a whole new way of how NRENs operate and more importantly how their governance structure is designed.

NRENs used to be primarily focused on connecting institutions within a prescribed geographical region such as a state or province. But the continued internationalization of science, with the advent of Open Lightpath Exchanges and  user defined network is rapidly changing original rationale for the deployment of  NRENs.

Managing campus Wifi networks is probably one of the low hanging fruits for campus outsourcing  to NRENs and a service that can be leveraged nationally to fundamentally change the mobile cell phone market as we know it today.  NRENs such as JANET in the UK and SURFnet in The Netherlands and Nordunet in the Nordic countries are undertaking active steps  in this direction to build national wireless networks integrating campus WiFi with national 3G/4G services using their optical backbone networks .  These integrated wireless NRENs will allow universities to offer education anywhere, anytime to anyone. They will also enable the growing new research field of eInfrastructure integrating distributed Wifi/4G sensors integrated with clouds.

Right now the incumbents are actively looking at Wifi as a way to off load the huge data volumes from their existing 3G/4G networks. But their current thinking is to extend the current 3G/4G technology and business model to the WiFi market. But as we have seen from the history of the Internet, simplicity and low cost always wins out over complexity and over priced services. Ethernet and the Internet itself are classic examples of this approach.   WiFi is popular because it is simple and cheap (in many cases free).  Extending the cellco business model of outrageous fees for SMS, roaming and data charges to Wifi is guaranteed to be a dead end approach.

NRENs can take an important leadership role by extending the Internet model of simplicity and low cost to the wireless world by expanding their Wifi networks nationally using tools like Eduroam and partnering with communities or nations that have deployed open fiber networks. Australia and Amsterdam in particular are well suited to take leadership role in this area. Already both countries are undertaking technology development enabled by their open fiber networks to build distributed open and green wifi and BitTorrent-like nodes at each connected home and business.  This is how investments in open infrastructure enable innovation.  For more details please see the Tempo project in Australia and Herman Wagter’s  NetU project in The Netherlands.

Building Green Wifi nodes is critical, because not only do the incumbents charge outrageous prices for many of their services, they are also one of the major costs  in your home because of  the significant energy consumption of their set top boxes and routers –which equal or exceed the energy consumption of modern refrigerators.  – BSA]

Will universities share services?

Tips for University IT folk in managing Wireless LAN space

Wifi- it’s the other the cell network

Wi-Fi’s coming identity crisis

Netherands Pico and Wifi nodes in Amsterdam Fiber Network

Herman Wagter’s NetU device to enable WiFi or open micro WiFi/GSM cells

Tempo energy efficient Bit Torrent

Green Wifi

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