Friday, September 14, 2007

Mobile-to-mobile calls: the ultimate future of mobile telephony?

Our modern-day cell phones are more limited than walkie-talkies made over 40 yrs ago! Don't believe that? read on..
Consider these situations and locations: Bhuj in the Gujarat earthquake, regions around south Asia after the december-04 tsunami, Mumbai and rural maharashtra in the 2005 floods. There were people trapped & in need of food, medical attention at out-of-sight locations in all these situations, many of them had working cell-phones with them, but most couldn't call for help as the nearest cell phone towers were knocked out, there was no network coverage. Now, imagine this: what if all these people had, instead of the latest cell phones, a 30-yr-old walkie-talkie, ? This may not have all the hi-fi features, but at least you could contact anyone receiving the same frequency in a very wide area, with minimal battery power used! To be able to contact a far-away rescue team, giving them the exact location and number of survivors, could have really saved several lives. But how is it, that today's modern cell phones, with all their advanced technology, can't get you out of such a life-or-death situation when a 40 yr-old relic could have?

This is an unfortunate result of some bad telecom planning.. in the interest of keeping constant revenues, telecom infrastucture makes you completely dependent on the network and subsequently on a small bunch of fallible communication towers. Now, every cell phone out there surely has the basic technology required to communicate with other radio devices some kms away. Imagine this: in the event of a disaster, if people's cell phones could communicate with each other instead of depending on a network and relay messages effectively to the rescue teams. Even if there was only one working cell phone at every 1 km distance, relaying messages could mean connectivity with the most remote of areas! The potential benefits in times of crisis are so vast that you'd think why this hasn't been already applied, after all it would be the natural next step in communications after the walkie-talkie.

Unfortunately, with a business climate worldwide wanting to earn revenue on telecom, the phone-to-phone idea was given a silent burial. It's perfect capitalistic sense: by shackling the phones in the most complex of protocols, authorisation and authentication, the mobile communication towers would be the point of passing and hence of revenue. Imagine a normal everyday situation: two people sitting in adjoining buildings, just a wall apart, and they can't contact each other because the network coverage is low. Wouldn't it be much simpler if the two cell phones could just search for and communicate with each other? Thankfully some companies are waking up to the glaring hole in common sense.. read this news article from bbc.co.uk:
Mobile system promises free calls
As expected there's stiff opposition, without any foresight towards the above mentioned problems whatsoever, from service providers who know that with the revival of such basic techniques for communication, their revenues will surely dwindle. Just as well.. it's already ridiculous that we pay so much for services in an industry that's almost wholly automated! The service providers are literally reaping a harvest from their high revenues for sms's.. a service that's charged pretty disproportionate to its actual cost of operation. And since there's few employees, the major wealth goes to the few owners instead of the local populace. A capitalist's dream indeed!

Right now they're actually fighting tooth and nail for regulations (read: shackles) against VOIP which basically lets one make almost free phone calls anywhere using the internet, and popular free peer-to-peer applications like skype. Let's hope they don't win over the general interests of the people. I believe the next communication revolution is going to include the inevitable fall of revenues of major service providers with the proliferation of unit-to-unit communication. With the technology for effective peer-to-peer mobile communication ready, let's hope we get to see truly free phone calls in a few years!

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