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The Wireless Chain
May 8, 2011 - 8:15pm

Reading Aerotropolis got me thinking about supply chains, cold chains (how food and flowers travel market to market), and lately the wireless chain. Not sure if I'm coining a term here, but the "wireless chain" is the degree to which a person can move from place-to-place with uninterrupted access to wireless Internet.

On a recent trip to D.C. I had Wi-Fi on the bus to the airport (free - sort of slow), at Logan airport (free and relatively speedy), at my hotel ($15 for 24 hours, good speeds), and at my conference destination (EDUCAUSE offices - free and fast!). No wireless Internet on JetBlue or in the cab.

I don't have a 3G, 4G, or HSPA+ cellular modem, or a Boingo account, so I'm limited to free Wi-Fi hotspots or to paying to log-on (such as at Hilton hotels). Logan Wi-Fi requires users to either watch a short video (a BMW ad) or fill out a survey before getting access to wireless. According to JetBlue, Ka-band satellite wireless internet is coming in 2012. Kayak lists a number of airlines that today offer Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet.

Just as global supply chains are critical for the functioning of modern economies, robust wireless chains are essential for mobile productivity. The work that I do requires constant internet access. Course management systems, synchronous meeting tools, and web based editors all require a fast, always-on broadband connection.

The hours spent waiting for my plane at the airport, or in-between meeting times at the hotel, turn out to be some of the most productive work hours of the week. With no phone calls to answer and no meetings to attend, business travel combined with wireless access extends, expands, and even improves upon the ability to get work done. Without a broadband web connection, at breaks in the wireless chain, productivity dies.

Why should the wireless chain be so critical for our work? Is it really that important to read and send the next e-mail, do the next google search, or spend another hour working in the online course? Can't breaks in the wireless chain be used to work on documents or read those articles you've been meaning to catch up on? Is the feeling that work is impossible without internet access really a manifestation of some sort of connectivity addiction, a symptom of our shortened attention spans and inability to focus a single task for extended periods of time? If the internet goes down at work, does work stop until the web comes back?

Is the study of "wireless chains" the next big academic research project waiting to happen?

Do you have a cellular modem or a hotspot account? Recommendations?

How many days traveling a year justifies this investment?

What's the longest you can go offline without transitioning into "non-work" mode?


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