Re-Inventing the Radio

Re-Inventing the Radio

| 3/22/2012 1:23:04 PM

Something’s awry with the calendar here in the central USA. In mid-March we’re supposed to be freezing our tails off and wondering if Spring will ever really arrive. Instead, we’ve leapfrogged straight into summer. We’ve already been blessed with two straight weeks of weather suitable for flip-flops, baggy shorts and hideous Hawaiian shirts.

I don’t know who we have to thank for it; solar flares, El Nina or Al Gore. But we Midwesterners know a good thing when we see it. We’ve stumbled eagerly out into the sunlight like troglodytes abandoning their caves, with our pasty-white legs gleaming and our barbecue tongs held at ready. Our gutters are already cleaned out, our lawns have already been mowed and bicyclists are darting everywhere you look. It was a quick change, but we’ve adapted to it with enthusiasm.

It’s easy to adapt to a welcome change in the weather. We’ve all seen nice weather before and we know exactly what to do about it. It’s the changes you haven’t seen before that can be confusing. Adapting to them can take years, decades and even generations.

Back when radio was being developed, for example, nobody really knew what to do with it. It was clearly a nice upgrade to the telegraph, and folks jumped on that idea immediately. But even though audio broadcasting became possible very early on, it was quite some time before it occurred to anyone that you could make huge piles of money by broadcasting advertiser-sponsored sports, news and entertainment. In fact, about 20 years elapsed before somebody finally aired the first radio commercial and showed the world how to (quite literally) make money out of thin air.

The technology had been there all along. But the modern radio station couldn’t be invented until someone made the necessary mental connection. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean that people automatically know how they’ll use it.

More than a century has passed since Maxwell, Tesla and Hertz got the ball rolling, and we’re still discovering new uses for wireless technology. The last few years alone have produced dramatic progress in the most promising of today’s wireless technologies: Wi-Fi and cellular. Do you want someone to manage your infrastructure for you, letting you leverage their massive investment in technology? You can do that. A small monthly fee will buy you space on a cellular network. Would you prefer to manage your own infrastructure? You can do that, too. Wi-Fi makes it easy.

Here at B&B Electronics we’re adapting to these changes with enthusiasm. Wireless and cellular are clearly where the action is, and we’ve plunged right in. Just a few months ago we expanded our talent pool and extended our product line by acquiring Quatech, the Wi-Fi M2M specialists. And just a couple of weeks ago we acquired Conel, top players in the cellular M2M space. We not only have the resources we’ll need to adapt to the changes; we’ve put ourselves in a position to lead the way.

It’s going to be exciting. Wi-Fi chip sets, for example, keep getting faster and smaller. And their power requirements are dropping at the same time -- energy harvesting and multi-year battery apps will soon be ubiquitous. As it becomes easier and easier to integrate Wi-Fi into our equipment we’ll soon reach a point where we’ll expect just about everything to have Wi-Fi connectivity. We’ll be surprised and disappointed when we run into something that doesn’t.

And when it comes to cellular, just follow the money. In the US, cellular is already a $160 billion industry. The total number of cellular handset subscribers is actually larger than the total population. Carriers are looking elsewhere for growth, and they’ve set their sights on the machine to machine space, or the “Internet of Things.” The continued build-out and upgrading of this managed wireless infrastructure will lead to tremendous improvements in automation, safety and productivity.

Adapting to this unexpected summer weather has been fun. Adapting to the new wireless technologies will be fun, too. We’re only beginning to discover all of the possibilities.

What’s your gut telling you about wireless? Unbridled enthusiasm or skepticism? Share your opinion. I’d love to hear what you think about where -- after more than 100 years and counting -- the Wild West of Wireless will take us next.

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