Mo Bility

29 06 2010

Ten years ago, I was doing a bunch of contract work for a San Francisco company. I had to get online pretty much seven days a week. As long as I could find a place to dial out, I was fine.

You heard me. Dial out. Back then we were tethered to land lines. Heck, even some motels back then were late to ditch their old PBX systems in favor of phones with real dial tones. It was the first question I asked at the front desk, not “Do you have any vacancies?”

Today, of course, we take it for granted that we are going to have internet access in most places, and wirelessly at that. But what about in our cars? I was somewhat surprised this had come up for discussion at USA Today. Turns out that many drivers are demanding in-car internet, especially younger drivers. Safety, of course, is a big issue in many people’s minds, but that could be settled by simply making the internet unavailable when the car is in motion.

Ah, but what about the passengers? What about the kiddos in the back seats who need something more than 10 DVDs to keep them company on the long drive to Disney? Must they, too, be in internet exile?

And does this mean we have evolved to the point that we think the internet should be available everywhere? As in an entitlement? Maybe so. Apparently, we just can’t live without it.

But while USA Today readers debate whether cars should function as mobile internet receivers and routers, consider that we already have such capabilities. Verizon”s MiFi Mobile Broadband Receiver is a 3G device that functions like most mobile wireless cards, except that it is also a mobile hotspot with the ability to support 5 devices.

Trip saved, thank you very much.

These devices are now on sale for $50 with a 2-year contract (up to $60/month, depending on data plan). It’s a great deal, because it is, in essence, exactly the same as any internet service provided in a moving car. Both systems would rely on cell signals and coverage. In other words, the ubiquity of the internet is completely dependent right now on cell phone providers and their towers. But Verizon’s product trumps an in-car system because it can go anywhere.

Like in your hotel room.

True, we still have not solved the driving-and-computing problem (or texting, Facebooking, etc.). No amount of laws or motion regulators are going to solve this problem. Only education will. Or seeing the remains of your friend’s car after he wrapped it around a tree mid-SMS.

Yes, these are but artifacts of a society still coming to grips with the power of mobility. We need it. We want it. We just have to learn how to use it responsibly.

Sure, some day cars might also become mobile hotspots. I’m sure that in my lifetime there will be complete 100% coverage (not just ATT’s “97% of Americans”). We will be able to go online anywhere. Anytime. Anyhow.

And I kind of like that. Sure beats looking for a land line. They’re so 2000 anyway.

Dr “Anyone Want To Buy A Modem?” Gerlich


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