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Bringing Wired and Wireless Broadband Together

February 6, 2012 - 0 Comments

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

Wireless bandwidth has been on my mind a lot recently. Computerworld recently published my article, Wireless Bandwidth: Are We Running Out of Room?, which led to a stint on NPR’s “To The Point” on the topic. But until I tuned into one of the latest Broadband Breakfast presentations, The Wired Home and Wireless Policy – Convergence Legislation and Consumer Adoption, I didn’t realize that I’d been thinking about wireless in a way that technology people are supposed to avoid: in a silo.

I’ve reported on the Washington, D.C.-based Broadband Breakfasts in the past, when their panels have discussed issues such as rural broadband and the smart grid; I’ve also written about wireless spectrum here.

The speakers on this particular panel, which took place after a highly successful Consumer Electronics Show, were somewhat homogenous: four heads of industry trade association leaders, including Fred B. Campbell Jr. of the Wireless Communications Association International, Walter B. McCormick, Jr. of the United States Telecom Association, Grant Seifert of the Telecomm Industry Association, and Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association. Rick Kaplan, wireless communications bureau chief of the FCC, also spoke on the need for Congress to allow spectrum incentive auctions.

Holistic View of National Broadband Policy

Homogenous though they may have been, the association executives touched on an interesting concept: that we must think about wired and wireless networks together when it comes to both our national broadband policies and our deployments.

The TIA’s Seifert put it simply: “You can’t have wireless without wired.” The USTA’s McCormick added, “More than 99% of all wireless communications connect at some point with the wired infrastructure. The only way to have robust wireless is to continue massive investment in our fiber-based wired environment.”

The fact is, we’re becoming smarter about how both consumers and companies are using wireless. The WCAI’s Campbell noted, “There was a time when we thought 4G wireless would replace fiber to the home [FTTH], but as we move forward, we’re realizing they are complementary services.”

We’ve learned, for instance, that wireless sometimes doesn’t work all that well for rich media — such as high-fidelity audio and high-definition video. At the same time, both groups are becoming more comfortable with cloud computing, where data may be accessed by both wired (for computer backup to a service such as Dropbox, for example) and wireless devices (downloading media content).

Together: a Cohesive Networking Environment

Panelists referenced the concept of the Smart Home, in which appliances communicate either to a local server or router, which is then connected to the wired infrastructure, or wirelessly to a central server maintained by the manufacturer. Within the home, there will be a combination of both wired and wireless networks.

Consumers expect every screen to be both connected interchangeable, says Campbell, adding that the use of each screen will dictate how big a screen they need, so for entertainment, it’ll be a big screen; for content creation, it’ll be a monitor; and for mobile productivity, it’ll be a smartphone. But they’ll all work together, he says, citing the example of stopping a movie midway to go to sleep, and watching the rest on a tablet on your way to work.

The panelists insisted that it’s incumbent upon the U.S. to lead the way in figuring out how to ensure that wired and wireless infrastructure works well together. Grant Seifert said, “The countries in the Asia-Pacific region are paying attention to what we do in the U.S. market. India is rapidly growing [its infrastructure]. Africa is rapidly changing and going all-wireless. They’re learning from our mistakes.”

Simply put, it will take another kind of integrated effort to ensure the future the panelists envision: one with sound decision-making from both legislators and innovators.

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