Walking Wi-Fi

As the demand for internet-ready devices continues to increase, the pain of getting them a signal grows more acute.  Everything from e-readers to X-Boxes are fighting for a little bit of broadband.  Even convection ovens are online these days.  With the lid still on tethering for the iPhone, and other companies choosing to charge exorbitant rates for it, keeping all of your devices connected to the internet while on the move is a real hassle.

The engineers at Sagem Orga just debuted some new technology that will go a long way towards eliminating this dilemma.  Called SIMFi, they essentially took a regular old SIM card and embedded it with Wi-Fi broadcasting capabilities.  This enables users to transmit an internet signal wherever their cell phone happens to be.  Not only do they radiate a broadband aura, but their network follows them as well, making swapping files between devices easier than ever before.  Whether at home, the office, or the bar, users bring their bandwidth speed with them. If their mobile data provider offers super-deluxe extreme megaspeed connections, then they can share the wealth with friends.  It’s the new BYOB (bring your own broadband).

This development raises all sorts of concerns however.  The Wi-Fi spectrum is already very congested in places where people live in close proximity.  It’s not uncommon to find a hundred or more distinct signals in some college dorms or high-rise apartments.  Now add an additional Wi-Fi for every cell phone, and you’ve got the potential for signal interference.  Any significant public event would run in to the same problem.  Wi-Fi signals travel roughly three times as far outdoors, so being outside magnifies the issue considerably.  Your favorite urban park, public beach, or outdoor arena could be just as crowded as life in the dorm.  It’s already something that many residents living within their city’s downtown Wi-Fi limits deal with on a regular basis.  So needless to say, the FCC needs to snatch up some more spectrum and dedicate it to wireless internet for this to find its way into every cellphone’s SIM card.

The other major issue is that wireless networks are more vulnerable to intrusion.  The pick pockets of the near future may hack your network from a mobile device as they walk a hundred feet behind you (they may be sitting in their car outside your home already). Even without SIMFi, I find sniffing around my downtown Wi-Fi quite informative.  Between vulnerabilities introduced by Bonjour and other remote access software, there are usually a half-dozen poorly protected iPhones near my favorite coffee shop at any given time.  Don’t even get me started on the weaknesses of other mobile devices.  Alas, self-interest compelled me to take off my black hat on my 18th birthday, but there are certainly more insidious folk around.  I can smell them.  Introducing many individual mobile Wi-Fi networks forecasts a sharp decline in network security, unless proactive measures are undergone to reinforce them.

There is one other major hurdle in the way of this new technology becoming commonplace.  Mobile carriers already struggle to keep up with the data demands of their customer base.  Dueling competitors make battlegrounds out of television commercials, each accusing the other of having a more shoddy data network.  There is no way AT&T or Verizon is going to permit SIMFi broadcasting without making you give them your first-born child.  This will ultimately lead to more people jail breaking their phones, which is decidedly not in the major carriers’ best interests.  Currently, Telefónica is the only provider in cahoots with Sagem Orga to supply this service to customers, so it may be a while before US carriers are pressured into making a move.  If nothing else, however, this technology offers an interesting glimpse into the future of mobile networking.


~ by Wil Finley on February 13, 2010.

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