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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sharing multiple mobile broadband connections - possible already

About a week ago, I wrote about the exciting possibility for the new WiFi Direct technology to enable sharing of multiple mobile devices' connections via WiFi. I also noted that this would further help to reduce the historic link between "subscription" (ie SIM) and "identity", which I have long felt is one of those areas where MNOs have taken their role for granted unrealistically.

I wrote "I'll bet one of the most popular will be some form of bandwidth-sharing or load-balancing between multiple phones or other products. I can think of numerous "reasonable" use cases here, eg de facto user-driven "national roaming" to work around coverage blackspots. I'm sure there will be some cool connection-sharing iPhone or Android apps, as well as ones for PCs"

Well, I was wrong on one score - the first connection-sharing app is for Symbian S60, not Apple or Android. I saw a presentation by Joiku this morning about their new JoikuBoost Beta, which does precisely what I had been talking about, multiplexing together multiple data connections, on multiple devices, potentially via multiple operators, and creating one super-fast WiFi virtual hotspot. This can either be open or secured. The technology could also be used by a single device to effectively combine two or more separate HSPA connections (or even HSPA and LTE and/or WiMAX I guess, if devices with suitable OS's become available).

Given what I wrote yesterday about doubling up HSPA channels to compete with LTE... well, it looks like a radio network standard might not even be necessary. Now I think about it, this is even a good way to combine two separate frequency bands - have one phone on 2.1GHz and one on (say) 900MHz, and you've suddenly got the perfect indoor/outdoor solution without all that cumbersome messing about with handoff.

The ramifications of this type of technology are huge - I can see it eventually enabling users to create their own ad-hoc shared meshes, bridging operators, frequencies, radio technologies, tariffing plans and so on. There's no reason that it shouldn't incorporate dongles and MiFi-type devices with Linux or other OS's as well.

Not so much "dumb pipe" as "dumb aether". I think this could be truly disruptive in time.

I think there's probably 100 enhancements you could do in software to optimise, set up groups, manage power, share costs equitably between users and so forth. There's also some fairly horrible things this could do to operator business models - although it potentially also enables congestion problems to be mitigated by the cross-operator load balancing functions. In a way, it's software-defined radio at the application layer. Exciting/scary stuff....


Arun Demeure said...

Dean, I basically agree with you but I'd just like to point out that Direct WiFi isn't expected in devices before 2011. So if LTE fully delivers and is on time (big if, see your previous post) it seems to me that's more of a 'problem' for LTE than HSPA+, many things coming together to make offerings dumber in that generation it would seem...

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks Arun - although WiFi Direct isn't essential for the type of scenario I've highlighted, it would just make it easier.

I am just really fascinated by the idea of "operator diversity" or "bearer diversity" at the application layer. It's certainly not as technically-elegant as "antenna diversity", but has much greater potential to disrupt existing business models.