Permanet, Nearlynet, and Wireless Data
"The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order." -- Alvin Toffler
For most of the past year, on many US airlines, those phones inserted into the middle seat have borne a label reading "Service Disconnected." Those labels tell a simple story -- people don't like to make $40 phone calls. They tell a more complicated one as well, about the economics of connectivity and about two competing visions for access to our various networks. One of these visions is the one everyone wants -- ubiquitous and convenient -- and the other vision is the one we get -- spotty and cobbled together.
Call the first network "perma-net," a world where connectivity is like air, where anyone can send or receive data anytime anywhere. Call the second network "nearly-net", an archipelago of connectivity in an ocean of disconnection. Everyone wants permanet -- the providers want to provide it, the customers want to use it, and every few years, someone announces that they are going to build some version of it. The lesson of in-flight phones is that nearlynet is better aligned with the technological, economic, and social forces that help networks actually get built. The most illustrative failure of permanet is the airphone. The most spectacular was Iridium. The most expensive will be 3G.