The Real Benefit of Wireless: Less Stuff?

By Deane Barker on September 11, 2004

Florida is just getting hammered by hurricanes lately. After Frances rolled through, I saw a small note on the news that 90% of households were without phone service, but only 30% of mobile phone customers were down.

I got to thinking about that. The reason, I suppose, is that mobile phone networks just have less hardware — less physical stuff — to get destroyed. Sure, there are cell phone towers that need to stay up, but there aren’t miles and miles of wire that can go down.

I know that in some countries, people have given up on landlines completely because they’re so unreliable. For every foot of phone line that exists, there are a million different things that can happen to it. With a wireless network, you just have a finite number of points that you need to defend and maintain. That’s a lot more managable than thousands of miles of spaghetti strung all over the countryside.

Is this one of the overlooked benefits of wireless technology? Less stuff? We tend to look at wireless as giving us the ability to wander around. But is eliminating all that stuff even more important?

We moved offices about eight months ago. The space we moved to had a late-80s era token ring network running on coaxial cable. We’ve paid over $2,000 now to have someone come in and re-wire the place — physically pull wire through the walls, up over the suspended ceilings, etc. What a pain. If we had gone wireless, we wouldn’t have had all that…stuff.

To add insult in injury, one of the brokers in the office decided he wanted to move his desk across the room. Not a big deal for just the desk. But since the network is wired, there is another stuff to move. We’ll have re-string the wires and move the wall plate. It makes me hate stuff even more.

About five years ago, when I was building my house, there was a bit of panic one day when I realized the walls had gone up and I hadn’t arranged to have Cat 5 or Cat 6 run. I didn’t have network jacks in all the rooms. Now, who cares? A wired home network? How wasteful — all that…stuff in the walls. This is what we have wireless for, right?

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  1. I know exactly what you mean. Back when we built the house, I spent a lot of time running Cat 5 everywhere. Other than for phone lines, I’m hardly using any of it. There’s a wireless router in the basement that connects to my laptop, and that’s what I use most of the time.

  2. Wireless is definitely the way to go for data networks unless you’ve got huge amounts of data to move.

    I was in Cameroon (West Africa) for 3 weeks in January, and was really surprised to see how many people there use cel phones. I can’t tell you how strange it was to see someone wearing traditional African garb walking through a crowded market talking on a cel phone!

    People there have pretty much given up on the landline phone system (government run, expensive, unreliable, poor service, long lead time on installations, etc…), and several companies have taken the opportunity to build a decent cel network, and so far it’s booming. The average annual income is only about $1200, but people apparently see having a phone as a priority.

    Since the postal system there is about as good as the landline phone system, there is no monthly billing for service. The phone users pay up front for any number of minutes with a given company, and a code is entered into the phone for the time. If you move to a different service, the company supplies you with a different chip that plugs into the phone. I’ve seen a few companies here offering similar services.

  3. Not to mention the environmental advantages of having less stuff. Imagine the damage we do the countryside by stringing up phone lines all over the place. I know that they piggy back on powerlines quite a bit, but if a village somewhere can generate its own power, and use sat or cell phones, there’s a really nice environment benefit.

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