A Brief History of Everything Wireless

How Invisible Waves Have Changed the World

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Lockdown in Spain

2020-03-17 [Petri]

As the world is getting in terms with the new, global threat from the coronavirus, the final effect on the overall economy is still unknown. But as restaurants, cafes and many shops are closed and airlines dramatically cut their capacity, it is clear that we are talking about an economic loss counted in trillions worldwide.

It will probably take years before we will be back in the situation we had just a month ago.

Here in Spain, like in some other countries, the movements of individuals are now severely restricted in order to minimize the spread of the virus: you can go and purchase essentials from those shops that remain open, visit pharmacies and banks, take the trash out, walk your dog, go to work or visit relatives in need, and of course, visit hospitals and health centers in case you are personally affected. All other movement is deemed unnecessary and you can be fined for doing it.

The blow that this will cause to a service-oriented economy like what Spain has will be a harsh one.

Yet, in some areas the work environment is still business as usual:

In our case, we were already quite used to teleworking: we have several 100% remote co-workers and many of us had taken the habit of working from home at least one day per week. Therefore, in my case, adapting to this situation has mainly been an exercise in finding a pleasant enough chair or sofa corner on which to sit through the working day.

Frequent video conferencing has been a daily exercise already before all this recent hassle started. Just the volume of daily virtual interactions has gone up.

Videoconferencing has some basic gotchas that newbies do not always know: decent audio equipment (preferably headphones that make echo cancellation logic unnecessary) and muting when you are not talking are the essential ones. Intercontinental connections where some participant is not muted and using just the laptop audio can deteriorate beyond useful, as the echo cancellation can’t cope with long and constantly changing delays from various sources.

But these basic things are usually learned after a couple of consecutive interactions with such issues.

The connectivity we have in this day and age is a blessing: all this interaction would have been impossible without the ubiquitous access to the Internet. Of course, there are still many lines of work that need physical interaction with materials and people, but if you are producing software, your work continues pretty much as before, lockdown or not.

For those workplaces where this kind of remote work is now a new experience, the results may turn out to be interesting: teleworking may actually get a major boost through this "forced experimentation". It’s true that video conferencing often loses some subtle cues that you can detect in a face-to-face situation, but if you are dealing with your co-workers that you know well, this is much less of an issue.

Artificially inhibiting this kind of alternative practices that were legally forced upon the workers would be a major faux-pas: therefore there are now news that ISPs that used to have transfer caps on their networks are now removing them. In addition to the fixed Internet limit relaxations, my mobile operator even gave an extra 5 GB of data transfer on their 4G network.

Although I did not personally need it, it was a nice touch and made me appreciate my wireless service provider more.

Download caps are more prevalent in the US than here in Europe, where fixed connectivity nowadays is often impeccable. I'm getting 200 Mbps via fiber, and the same connection could be upgraded all the way to a 1 Gbps, with no caps whatsoever.

My data bottleneck is actually my cheap in-house Wi-Fi router, which effectively tops at just below 100 Mbps.

This is fast enough for all of my current needs on my laptop, and my home server is using a fixed cable connection, maximizing the access speed.

As for the Internet companies, going back to capped deals may turn out to be very complicated: if their networks did not saturate due to the unexpected boom in teleworking, what actually was the reason for those caps in the first place?

Greed is the obvious answer...

Naturally, working in total isolation from human contact is not fun for long periods of time, even for those of us with Finnish genes. And being able to go out in the open can be a major aspect in personal well-being. Hence the current strict limitations on movements in public may feel overly restrictive.

But at least on this first day of lockdown, even the Mother Nature appeared to be on our side: the weather here was one of the nastiest this year, only second to the horrible storms that occurred at the end of January. It was cold (13°C), windy, and rain was mercilessly pouring down. I had very little interest in going out, so the fact that the beach was closed does not really matter.

Of course, in a day or two we have another gorgeous Spanish spring day, and the view from the balcony window is not as miserable as it was yesterday. But come rain or shine, the fact that we can do our business via wired optical cables as well as the via 4G wireless connections as a backup will do its part in softening the economical impact, even when our personal movements are restricted.

Thanks again to all those scientists and engineers that have participated in making all this possible over the past 100+ years.

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You can purchase A Brief History of Everything Wireless: How Invisible Waves Have Changed the World from Springer or from Amazon US, CA, UK, BR, DE, ES, FR, IT, AU, IN, JP. For a more complete list of verified on-line bookstores by country, please click here.

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