100 Megabits at the Edge

Guest Post by Robert Young: What happens when you have 100 megabits per second connections on the edge of the network? In your homes, or in your pockets, or in your cars – an always-on 100 megabit per second pipe that wirelessly networks your life. No, we are not talking about fast pipes to the Internet, but simple easy networks all around you.

Starting next year (2006), millions of people will begin to equip themselves with computers and portable devices capable of swapping files at a speed of 100Mbps, all wirelessly (WiFi/802.11n and UWB). Think about that… 100Mbps!! That’s about a hundred times faster than what the average broadband user in the U.S. is accustomed to today.

More specifically, what I’m talking about here is short-range computer2computer, device2device connectivity directly between people in close proximity of one another (think: Rendezvous).

This is different than peer2peer that goes through the Internet… unfortunately, the “last mile” bottleneck will continue to limit such high bandwidth connectivity for any activity that requires an Internet gateway for at least a few more years. Even so, off the network, truly “on the edge” direct connections will start to emerge.

To make the picture more complete, let’s also include the next generation of mobile phones that will be capable of direct phone2phone connections via lower-bandwidth Bluetooth, as well as wireless home networks and consumer electronics (e.g. UWB-enabled plasma TVs) that are coming to market that allow people to easily transfer any digital media directly from one device to another.

So what does this all mean? Put another way, what are the implications when millions of people start creating ad-hoc wireless networks among themselves? Well, if you zoom out to look at the big picture, the most obvious implication is the rise of truly distributed peer2peer networks randomly and serendipitously popping up in meet space that have absolutely no central points of control.

Imagine high school kids and college students all over the world sharing anything and everything that is digital every time they meet up, directly with one another. And as we know, whatever the kids do first is likely to be the future for the nearly billion others who will be similarly equipped.

What we’re talking about here is a bandwidth explosion on the edge, where the infrastructure will be funded and built by the people, for the people… all without any central planning or capital outlays by the Internet access duopoly of cable and telcos. And the realization of such bandwidth nirvana by way of grass-roots deployment will lead to “social computing” in the truest sense.

Until the Internet came along, PCs were not much more than isolated, glorified typewriters, calculators and filing cabinets. Then with the Internet, we turned our PCs into a portal connected to a vast new world of communications, communities, media, and shopping. Now, with the advent of people-powered wireless bandwidth on the horizon, our computers and electronic devices will open up to a new digital dimension of social interaction among groups of intimates, as well as strangers, but this time to facilitate us in our atom-based lives.

You see, to a large extent, individuals equipped with an abundance of bandwidth will “route around” the last-mile bottleneck perpetuated by the incumbents. So hang on to your hats (and copyrights), the ultimate “world of ends” is right around corner. Now, if you were an entrepreneur, how would you surf this monster wave?

Guest column by Robert Young, strategic adviser to WeedShare, a p2p mobile music distribution start-up