Saturday, February 12, 2005

The PC ----> Premises Computer

Access to the Internet to it is an understandable farce, and the nascent architectures reflect expedience as each provider’s main consideration to date. Thus we see phone companies recycling their old phone lines, cable companies delivering everything over cable, wireless companies by wireless, electric companies over electricity lines. Soon the railroads may lay track to every home. All to get at the information superhighway – did I miss the Dept. of Highways?

Each of these parties promise the help of the fibre optics gods, but there is hardly any fibre in Canadian homes at this juncture. And we will never need more than one good feed, any more than we need two gas companies.

This has eaten up the last decade at least, after small ISP’s had hijacked much of the public phone system, before their smug owners could decide what to do about it, and belatedly grabbed it back.

So one would expect that some progress is finally being made, but no, we are presented with plans such as Ontario’s, to place smart electricity meters in every home by 2010, at a cost of $1 Billion. What’s wrong with a meter that can reward you for turning down the heat, and saves money and power through astute management? Oddly enough, the problem is that in this instance they are not delivering the Internet with it. Doh!

This is a mistake in network architecture. Simply put, they are not paying attention to the givens for this problem.

The first is right-of-way. The companies bringing wire services, be it television, telephone, or net access are using telephone poles on which to string their cables, as they have always done. Also using poles are the electrical utilities, and usually these poles are separate along every street, despoiling every thoroughfare in the nation.

If we look closer at physical right-of-way, we see that the electrical companies actually retain the prime right-of-way everywhere. They also enjoy the cross country power corridors along which run their high tension lines. Why did we build a second set of poles? On both sides of the streets? Ouch!

Now consider each building itself. The electrical companies, indeed all of the public utilities for gas, water, heat etc. must monitor, measure and bill their customers. And so we see this initiative in Ontario to install smart meters, which is short-sighted.

These meters have to contact headquarters with their readings, and what better way to do that than to use the Internet, back out over the same wires? Well, that's not what is planned. Instead, these meters will talk to the electricity company by wireless. And so the hodgepodge, piggybacking continues...

Enter the Premises Computer

Let’s redefine what we mean by PC - this is a panel computer that replaces your fuse box, the building or suite’s electrical panel. This is just a compact industrial PC that can be fitted with individual cards in it, such as you can insert into any home desktop computer. That was the advantage of the IBM PC, and has been ever since – an open architecture that is cheap, standard, and very well understood with wide adoption.

This is given number two: that every building will some day have such a panel computer to control its functions – utility delivery, security functions, as well as providing Internet access at high speed over the electrical utilities’ right-of-way. You begin to see the congruencies.

With high-speed Internet, we have a conduit for television and telephone services, in addition to raw access to the Web. Most of those ugly telephone poles can forever be removed. These panel computers will also function as WiFi receivers so that both the people using that building, and those just passing by shall be able to access the Net at full speed and wirelessly. Cell phones disappear in the city - if you can “see” a building you’re connected with a simpler WiFi phone.

Separate channels on this computer will be reserved for the use of the utilities, third parties, entertainment, communications, and security companies. The building’s users and the general public will enjoy the highest possible speeds at the highest number of points. Like the street in front of your house, anyone can use it.

At some point, high speed net access will be taken for granted, as heat and water is now in every building, and we shall no more worry about bandwidth than we do now about what voltage and amperage is in our wall outlets. The human eye can only see so many frames per second, and once we have that, the job is done.

Where are the Nortel engineers when we need them?

775 words

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