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The Long Tail of Mobility: Connecting Trillions of People and Devices on the Human Network

October 5, 2006 - 0 Comments

In his book on changing economics of web commerce, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson illustrates how the Internet is changing the laws of distribution from digital products from entertainment (movies and CDs) to manufactured products Wireless networks are, too, growing a long tail, as billions, maybe even, trillions, of devices are being connected to an increasing pervasive and integrated array of wireless networks powering the mobility generation.Traditionally, networked devices have been high value, powerful computers of various sorts or very expensive mission-critical data access and retrieval devices such as bar coders (at $2K per pop). Over time, the largest number of wirelessly-networked, mobile devices will come from non-traditional forms, including billions and billions of RFID tags as well as hundreds of billions of tiny sensors providing small amounts of data into the network. Moreover, although these devices are not all on the same wireless network, there is no reason these networks cannot be federated.I believe as the number of mobile devices increase in the network, the value/cost of each device will drop proportionately to the amount of data they carry. To illustrate:- Millions of bar code scanners led by supply chain industries (manufacturing, distribution, retail): thousands of dollars- Tens-Hundreds of millions of laptops, riding the Intel Centrino curve: hundreds of dollars to a thousand dollars- Billion of cell phones (and over time, dual-mode, e.g., Cellular and Wi-Fi): tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars- Billions of Active RFID tags: dollars- Tens of billions of Passive RFID tags: cents- Hundreds of billion of sensors: ???What is driving this curve? An avalanche of new applications and services built on top small bits of information that are context and location aware. While we are some time off from an economics point of view, you can see the antecedents of this coming wave. A good example of this is a series of location-based services we built with partner Appear Networks for the Stockholm Subway, based on the contextual information such as time of day, job role, and current physical location. Based on this data, the solution is able to access the right information, which is interpreted and pushed out in real time to the right users, and to the right location. Federating RFID Factor and Sensors to the InternetToday most wireless networks connect people and computing devices, but over time, objects and new applications will come into the Internet. In particular, RFID and sensor devices: RFID has suffered deeply from the hype cycle, it is clearly coming and will play a key role in a range of applications. The work underway to create standards around RFID tags and networks are akin to the IEEE or IETF a few decades ago with the rise of IP networking. A catalyst for the growth of RFID networks is the emergence of cross-over approaches to networking RFID, including adding Wi-Fi networking to support RFID data collection.The wireless sensor industry, although in its infancy, has good momentum. One company that is pioneering in this is space is Crossbow Technologies that is today delivering wireless sensor solutions based on TinyOS an open source research project driven out of Berkeley. The Internet grew out of DARPA in the late sixties and it was only 21 years ago that the RFC for”subnetting” helped standardize the creation of a network of networks appeared. We have a similar opportunity in front of us with the emergence of so many powerful wireless technologies. We tend to see wireless networks”looking down” on to computing devices (by its nature, wireless networks are deployed from a height to provide broader coverage) To paraphrase Mark Twain,”the human being always looks down when he is examining another person’s standard; he never finds one that he has to examine by looking up.” We may have to look up to see the emerging possibility of a trillion wireless devices all connected to the human network

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