UN talks Internet to villages; electricity can wait

The UN is going to hold a meeting to talk about wireless networking in the Third World, with help from The Wireless Internet Institute:

On June 26 , 2003, the Wireless Internet Institute will join forces with the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force to host “The WiFi Opportunity for Developing Nations” at UN Headquarters in New York City. The conference will create the conditions for informal dialogue and brainstorming among industry practitioners, government representatives and international development experts. It will feature plenary sessions and structured brainstorming workshops to establish strategies to overcome obstacles as well as develop environments favorable to the broad deployment of WiFi infrastructures. Conference conclusions will serve as a blueprint for national consensus-building programs, spectrum-policy reform and infrastructure deployment.

Maybe now that Hans Blix is out of a job, he can inspect Third World nations for strategies to overcome obstacles to Internet connectivity, like, um, no computers and stuff. At least that’ll keep him out of real trouble.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m trashing the UN, not WiFi. I love WiFi, and not just because I invented most of its MAC protocol for Photonics back in 1992 (beacons, segmentation, RTS/CTS, and addressing). WiFi is a great solution to the “last 100 feet” problem, but it’s not a backbone or wide-area mesh solution, because: a) there aren’t enough channels in the 801.11b spectrum for that, and b) 802.11a doesn’t go far enough. So we need some better solutions to the infrastructure problem than 802.11, and we even need better solutions to the “last 100 feet” than the standard allows. As originally designed, the MAC supported the kinds of Quality of Service mechanisms needed for telephony, but the trio that shoehorned the standard dropped this feature, and now we’ve got a mess on our hands.

So 802.11 is nice, but it’s time to go to the second generation before we get too hog-wild about implementing it everywhere. And you already knew that anything the UN’s up to these days is likely to be crap.

And just incidentally, if there’s no such thing as RF interference (as David Reed and David Weinberger claim), then why should the FCC free up more channels for WiFi?