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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Swarms and the Wireless Revolution – Connecting the dots


Swarms have existed since the beginning of the Earth among various types of species, from insects, to fish, to birds. More recently, “swarm intelligence” has been applied to everything from airplane gate routing to guerilla marketing with “swarmteams.” Swarms can be a large number of animate or inanimate things massed together and usually in motion.
If you think of wireless networks as connecting a virtual mass of users and networked objects, allowing them to converge around specific places, ideas, or activities in a semicoordinated fashion, this is, in fact, a swarm. This is a concept beyond the “convergence,” “interconnectedness,” and “pervasiveness” we have seen in information networks. Not only are swarms interconnected and pervasive, they also include a collective behavior and purpose that is not captured in these other concepts. It is this underlying characteristic that also makes it so difficult for organizations to see the early signals of this new paradigm.

The illustration here shows a number of wireless technologies and social networking that enable swarms among networked users, much like the coordinated activities of bees around a hive.
Wirelessly enabled swarms have occurred in recent years, such as the throngs of disgruntled citizens in the Philippines who tried to take over government buildings using text messaging to coordinate their movements.2 However, the current wireless networks do not support “swarming” as a natural occurrence due to limitations in interoperability, location awareness, device intelligence, and capacity. The newest fourth generation of wireless technology, or 4G, overcomes these limitations, opening the possibility of swarming as a routine occurrence in both professional and social situations.


First, let’s try to define 4G wireless, the catalyst for the Digital Swarm, to the best extent possible, given that it is still a fuzzy, evolving collection of technologies and concepts. Several potential 4G standards are emerging, including WiMax and LTE (Long-Term Evolution). However, the commonly accepted goals are that 4G will allow typical users to get over 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to their wireless device anywhere they go. This is more than their home oadband connection and even more than a large office building does today. Users also would have smart devices that can provide the most appropriate services based on their “presence” or specific situation. his would allow 4G users to download HD movies in seconds; engage in virtual-reality business and entertainment applications; and get real-time, rich media related to their unique context and location. Sounds appealing, to say the least! But 4G is just an enabler. The intersection of this technology platform with other social, economic, political, and technological effects will enable the Digital Swarm.

The key insight here is 4G wireless will marry incredibly high speeds anywhere you go with contextual awareness to create an immersive, “user-centric” wireless experience.

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