Community-based networks

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Essays

As recently as last year, smartphone sales globally grew 14%, and while that growth has slowed this year, it is a growth rate on over a billion devices, meaning over 100 million new devices hitting the market per year. That is an extraordinary shift, invites a new paradigm for connecting our world that we are still just beginning to understand.

If putting a personal computer in every home enabled the creation of the Internet economy (Amazon, Google, Facebook), putting a personal computer in every pocket in the world is enabling the creation of a new economy as well. At the infrastructure level, we have seen the self-driving car race serve to develop a data transmission control protocol like TCP/IP. Indeed, microsatellites, fiber optic and ethernet cables, CCTV networks, and mapping services like Waze and OKHi, will continue to add robustness to the core infrastructure layer, as well. The application layer enabled by this infrastructure is hard to imagine today, but will soon proliferate as fast as ecommerce, search, and social did before. And there is still more coming.

Today, we still use a version of a cell tower framework developed in the 1940s and 1950s by Bell Labs (now part of Nokia, founded by Alexander Graham Bell) for connectivity. Most of the national carriers have base station infrastructure that they have signed long-term contracts for, or bought outright, and have amortized the cost of this extremely expensive hardware over 25 years of monthly bill payments. But we all have *supercomputers* in our pockets, and there is sufficient density of those computers that we can do interesting things not only at the application and transmission control layer, but at the infrastructure layer, too!

When Daniela Perdomo pitched us GoTenna, she spoke about a world where a piece of hardware that could fit into your hand, featuring two very simple pieces of hardware – a mesh radio and a BLE beacon – could be sold to create a communication network that was fully bottom-up, with no need for third party mediators or someone to “offer the service”. Of course, this is relevant for disaster resilience, but also for rural neighborhoods where base station cell tower infrastructure does not have the density to justify extending the service (see my partner and our friend Kunal on the topic: https://www.fastcoexist.com/3063688/why-clintons-promise-to-provide-high-speed-internet-to-all-americans-is-so-necessary). And finally, in cities like New York, where we are always looking for ways to make density and connection useful to all parties, we can create mesh networks for schoolkids, church parishioners, and co-op neighbors to communicate for free, in private, and on their own.

At Collaborative we are obsessed with technology enabling a better culture for consumers of all types. Connecting to the Internet is getting closer and closer to a basic human right with each iteration, and we love supporting infrastructure that makes it accessible to all. And the nerdy side of us believes that IoT is not only coming, but that we have been thinking too small, and it could be as big as the Internet, indeed. GoTenna satisfies both the geek and the humanist, so I’m supporting their Kickstarter, and hoping you do, too! 

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