Friday, August 31, 2007

4G, BodyNet and future web experiences

It seems the buzz in the wireless world is over 4G: ubiquitous, fast, IP-based connectivity that doesn't care what it's carrying or who's carrying it. You'll hear the word "convergence" swirling around this, which might bring back ugly memories, but there was never anything wrong with the premise that phones, TVs and computers were going to meld into each other. The problem was with the notion it was all going to happen tomorrow, smoothly and using some particular favorite technology.

Convergence is happening, but by fits and starts, with mixed support from various industry players, over relatively long periods of time and in not-always-predictable ways. At least, I'll happily claim ignorance as to exactly how it will all play out.

Meanwhile, smaller-scale technologies like bluetooth and to some extent WiFi have helped decouple devices from each other. My phone -- a pretty basic model -- doesn't care whether it's using its builtin mic and speaker, my headset or the system in the car. I believe it also has some limited MP3 capability. This is just a taste of what Olin Shivers outlined in 1993 in BodyNet, though as always it's interesting to compare the vision with actuality.

Put those two trends together and assume that the market and we geeks will somehow make all this happen, and we could end up with a pretty slick setup. Everything is IP, so there's no such thing as phone service or TV service per se. It's all just bits. Peripherals like displays and speakers that today are just starting to be net-aware are net-aware by default. Transceivers like phones and routers use SDR (software-defined radio) to not care whether you're talking son-of-GSM, son-of-CDMA or something else entirely.

Here's a sketch of what it might look like. I make no claim of originality here. All the ideas are already in the air, and many of them already exist in some concrete form:

I'm at home getting ready to leave on a business trip. I'm listening to a radio news program (since it's news, it's probably live, but it could just as well be a playlist from my collection). In my pocket is something that looks more or less like a present-day phone or PDA. I slip on some sort of headset assembly with ear buds and microphone. My news program is still playing, but it's on the headset. The house speakers go mute as I leave.

I go out and get in my car. The thing in my pocket tells my car that it's satisfied that I'm with it -- maybe I pressed my thumb against it, maybe it uses some kind of magic. They use appropriate PK mojo to establish trust in one another. The car opens up and I get in. I have the option of leaving the sound in the headset (say, if I'm carpooling and the art of conversation has died) or putting it on the car speakers (as I do on this trip since it's just me).

I get a phone call. The audio stream pauses while I take the call and resumes when I'm done. The navigation system notifies me that there's a traffic jam on my usual route and suggests an alternate. I've only recently subscribed to this service. Just this morning, in fact. It wasn't a feature that the car's manufacturer planned for. Quite possibly the thing in my pocket is doing most of the negotiations behind the scenes and the car's navigation system is just following its cue, but I neither know nor care.

I get to the airport and follow the car's guidance to a good parking place. I'm not carrying a laptop per se. I'm carrying a keyboard/pad and display, though I contemplated leaving them behind. I get them out while I'm waiting at the gate and work on my presentation. They use the thing in my pocket for CPU, local cache and connectivity. At home, the system might use my router and non-mobile connection for better bandwidth or possibly because it's cheaper, but again I neither know nor care.

I get on the plane. The thing in my pocket tells the plane that I'm here. The plane knows I'm ticketed. The pocket-thing may also help me through security, but they may want better proof than a possibly-hacked piece of hardware. My keyboard and display are packed away because the ones provided on the plane are a nicer fit for that space. I board, settle in and finish up a last bit of work before I pick out a movie from my collection.

Another phone call comes in, the caller ID flashing on the screen. It's not urgent so I let it ring through. It's a short flight and I want some shuteye, so I pause the movie. The plane lands. I get off and follow the instructions from the voice in my headset to the train platform. Once I'm seated comfortably, I check my voicemail, deal with the call, then pull out my display and watch a bit more of the movie. Or maybe I'd rather just watch it on the small screen of the pocket-thing.

At the client site I pull up a desk, pull out my keyboard (because I like it) but use the display on the desk (because it's bigger and sharper than my portable one). It'll be a similar story at the hotel. I'll say hi to the staff, go up to my room, which will let me in on cue from the pocket-thing and lock behind me when I go. I'll watch the rest of the movie on the in-room gigundo-screen surround sound system. Nice perk, that. But first I'll call home and videoconference with the family, then do a little web browsing on the long-term effects of living in a constant radio bath.

Most likely, though, I'll still have brought a book along.

1 comment:

David Hull said...

Note to self:. Worth a follow-up