Well, it looks highly unlikely. You need roads to travel, you need wires and towers to communicate.
Suppose you have a real good off-road SUV, one of those behemoth that can also cross rivers. May be you caould go from A to B without having to use a road.
Ah! I hear you saying. You might be able to do so but it would take much more than using a nice paved road and it will cost you a fortune in gasoline. Right. But what if you are in the middle of nowhere, let’s say in the Australian outback. What would be quicker AND cheaper: get the behemoth or build a road?
I guess I made my point. By having a sufficiently smart and flexible car you can make do without the road infrastructure.
Let’s turn to communications. The very first telephones were sold without any infrastructure to plug them on. You would buy a (pair of) phone and you would ask somebody to lay a wire (actually 4 of them) to establish the connection. Luckily a full blown infrastructure was put in place, with a lot of investment and over a long period of time, and today we can easily connect our phones. Then cell phones were invented and the connectivity perception moved away from the users since the last part was via “air” and most of the times the towers were hidden to the user’s sight.
Nowadays, and more so tomorrow, terminals, like cell phones, are very powerful devices that can morph into a network node. In perspective they can become the network. Clearly I am not thinking that the big backbone will disappear. On the contrary, They will become even more capacious and will extend to metropolitan areas to what today we call the backhauling. But the distribution network may fade away under the pressure on the one side of the extended backbone and on the other side on the take over by terminals.
Terminals may communicate one another whenever they are sufficiently close, and for data communications. From an energy standpoint it is cheaper to compute than to transmit and energy dissipation grows at least with the square of the distance. So if two terminals are closer one another than they are close to the antenna connected to the backbone it makes more “energy wise” sense to communicate with one another, one acting as a bridge towards another terminal (and so on) or towards the backbone antenna.
In this perspective the future network will be a composite of dynamically connected nodes and such a network will also be a set of connected information. Quite a different view from today hierarchical structure. It will be much more like a “natural creation” rather than an engineered one.
In order to make it happen we need a lot of research (and it is going on today) and the vision to let the market evolve.
What is LightSquared from LightSquared on Vimeo.
I should say that this post was prompted by looking at Lightsquare, a 7B$ initiative by Harbinger aiming at creating a wireless coverage in the US deploying 40,000 antennas as access point. I would consider this as a first step towards the flat network of terminals I am suggesting. It seems to me that 40,000 access point can really sustain a US wide network only once terminals will play also the rle of network nodes, extending the reach of each access point.
A closer example of this vision “in the field” can be the Serval project,
being deployed in Australia where cell phones play the role of towers to provide connectivity to areas not covever, creaitng a network by themselves with one (or more) cell phone acting as gateway when it happens to be within coverage of a network access.