Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Strengths of a One-Way Network

Yes, it was cold! But the Norwegian DAB transmitter didn't mind.
The bombs in Boston shocked us all. More than anyone else, it shocked the people in Boston, especially those near the finish line or those who knew someone they feared were near the explosions. So, what happened? Everybody wanted to get information or get in touch with loved ones. At the same time. The result, as James Cridland recently wrote about in a very important blog post, was that mobile networks and some Wi-Fi spots went down. Too many people were trying to get through, essentially overloading them and causing a collapse. It furthermore didn't take long until the authorities ordered the mobile networks switched off as they feared that more bombs would be detonated remotely.

Let us recap.
1. Too many people tried to use the mobile networks. As a consequence they stopped working.
2. Mobile networks were allegedly shut down by the government and would not start working again even when less people tried using them. This has later been denied. 
3. People were left with broadcasting, primarily radio, as the only means of information.


"Good old radio" was there to save the day. But haven't we long heard that broadcasting is bad, old-fashioned and long past its due date? And that the internet will take over, because it is very flexible and opens up for two way communication, as opposed to the one-way dinosour of broadcasting. "In fact, everything will be distributed via the internet in the future! We just needs to make it a little faster." Or so, they claim. Because who wants to watch or listen to something at the same time as everyone else when you can choose and personally decide when to consume your content of choice?

In Boston, everybody.

Everyone affected and everyone interested wanted the available information as soon as it was available, at the same time. Those with broadcasting receivers (in this case, primarily FM radios) got their much sought after info. Those without such receivers got nothing. A smartphone without a connection is as dumb as your high school calculator.

Broadcasting is a means of distributing information through a separate one-way network. Being a one-way only network has long been held against it, but turns out to be another neglected strength. Why?

1. Information is broadcasted through a separate network, unaffected of the internet.
2. Such a network can handle an infinite number of simultaneous users.
3. You will as a broadcaster know your costs, no matter how many people who consume your content. In case of  internet distribution there is a costs per user, so a huge success in terms of viewers or listeners can actually bankrupt you as you have to pay for every one of those.
4. It is a one-way distribution method which is virtually hack free. It will never be taken down by a (democratic) government, but on the contrary always be kept on-air. After all, it will in case of emergencies be the preferred means of getting information. Just as it is on any normal day.
5. Broadcasting can still be combined with the internet to enable two-way communication, but via a separate channel.

A perfect invention

I can only reinforce the words of Cridland; The future of radio and television delivery is not only IP, broadband and broadcasting work perfectly in combination and are there to complement each other. To fight for one technology over another is counterproductive, why not work together by demanding mobile phones that support both?

Broadcasting obsolete? Absolutely not. Some inventions are incredible and do exactly what they were designed to do. Perfectly. The wheel is another example.