“There will be a constant pressure for [wireless networking] speed and it will never cease.” —M. Kursat Kimyacioglu of Philips Electronics NV
We have four computers in our home. One desktop is connected to the router by cable. The other desktop and the two laptops are connected to the router wirelessly. The wireless networking on the laptop that is in the same room as the router works at least as fast as the wired networking on the desktop. But the other two computers are three rooms away and half a level down. The wireless networking on the distant desktop is somewhat slow, despite a high gain antenna setup. The old laptop … well … it’s so slow (not just with respect to networking) that we hardly use it for anything. I probably should sanitize it and dispose of it.
My current home network setup was the stuff of futuristic fiction only a few years ago. We would have thought we were in paradise had we been able to wirelessly transfer relatively small files back in those archaic days of the late 20th Century. But, as has been the case with almost all computing technology, once users get a taste of something, they only want it to do more, and to do it better and faster.
I have seen this throughout my computer programming career. When I first started programming, everyone was using various 3GLs. The buzz was that 4GLs were going to revolutionize software development. Users would be able to develop their own solutions and developers would no longer be needed. But the 1990s found the developer world flocking to Java, which was another 3GL. 4GLs turned out not to be all they were cracked up to be. Most 3GL development requires trained programmers.
Various other developments over the years have promised to eliminate the need for programmers, allowing users to develop their own solutions. What has happened to all of these promises? Surprisingly enough, many of them have come true. How many non-programmers accomplish tasks today that were once solely the domain of programmers? How many people develop and use spreadsheets and simple database systems? These things have become ubiquitous.
Rather than eliminating the need for programmers, however, the advent of these tools has only created a more insatiable desire for increasingly complex solutions. However large the circle of capabilities available to users today, they continuously yearn for something just beyond the edge of that circle. And the development world continually works to cater to those desires. Thus, the only thing that remains truly static in computer development is the desire for more, better, and faster.
The same is true in the hardware world. Every couple of years I read an article claiming that we’re about to max out on the technological ability to provide yet faster processing. But the tech industry continually finds new breakthroughs that prove the pessimists wrong. Users want faster processing, and the tech world provides it.
In networking, the next great thing that users want is the ability to wirelessly and instantaneously transfer large files. Say, for example, movie files. Users have become used to downloading high quality audio files from remote locations and immediately using them. Many users do this with low quality video files as well, but it takes longer.
Why can’t we decide we want to buy a movie from an Internet site and be watching it on the big screen seconds later? Why do I even have to pull out a DVD and pop it into the DVD player? Why can’t I just have all of my video files on a central server in my home, where I can select them and watch them anytime I want from any video device in the house?
As one would expect, the tech world is working hard to turn these concepts into reality. This AP article reports on efforts to use extremely high radio frequencies for small wireless networks. They can already transfer an entire standard DVD movie file in about five seconds. Right now the technology is brittle, as “signals don't penetrate walls very well and are too easily disturbed by passing people and pets.” Developers hope to overcome these problems within a year. They figure that they have to get their chip down to $5 to be competitive in the market.
But if this effort ultimately doesn’t pan out, that’s no big deal, because there are others that are working on accomplishing the same thing using different technologies. If we end up with competing technologies, the market will ultimately sort out which one (or ones) will be most useful on a broad scale.
And once we get to this point, we’re going to be in permanent nirvana, right? Wrong. Once users have the capacity to wirelessly and instantaneously transfer large files, they will want the capacity to do something else that is just beyond the then-current scope of technology. As it does now, the tech world will be busy working to deliver.
To paraphrase the quote at the beginning of this article, there is a constant pressure for better technology, and it never ceases. And the tech world never ceases stepping up to the challenge of responding to that pressure.