Mobility

Peter Cochrane's Blog: 7/7 shows we need more networks

Diversity really works!
Editor's note: This blog was written on 7/7/05 at 18:00(BST) but is only being posted now due to extenuating circumstances at silicon.com's London offices yesterday.

A hotel close to Lambeth Bridge, London

On 9/10 I flew out of Boston on a flight that was hijacked the next day. By 9/11 I was stranded in Seattle watching the horrific NY episode roll out in the full knowledge that the likelihood was that I had just lost a friend or two. This turned out to be true but was not confirmed for another two weeks. Many of my American friends lost much more, and I watched as the nation tried to come to terms with the unprecedented attack. Everything essentially stopped, people just didn't know what to do or what to expect.

For me the morning of 9/11 saw a flurry of SMS and email messages that simply read: 'You're not flying are you, dad?'. Voice calls on fixed and mobile phones were impossible but the internet and text services came to the rescue. I was able to get through, give all my family the reassurance they craved, and camp out for a week in a Seattle hotel until flights back to the UK resumed.

Today is 7/7 and I am in London. Yesterday I passed through Liverpool Street Station and close by two other locations that a few hours ago saw at least 33 people killed and more than 300 maimed and injured. And again I received another flurry of 'Are you OK dad?' SMS messages. This time however the entire mobile network went into overload and I was unable to reply by text - but curiously, the fixed line network was 100 per cent perfect, as was email. So I detect a change in the balance of capacity and use of our networks.

The good news is that during both tragedies people could communicate by one mechanism or another over different networks using different devices. I have always felt that safety and security is always enhanced by diversity. Could a single integrated network cope with every situation? I don't know but I suspect not!

The fact that we have just one very dominant OS and Office Applications Suite has clearly increased risk and unreliability for computing systems across the planet. Before we plunge headlong into the creation of a single, all-dancing, all-singing superhighway we need to think and model carefully!

I was in a meeting when the first bombs exploded today, and as the news reports came in, I watched a silence spread as people thought of those poor souls who left home with a happy life this morning. And I watched, and participated, as the mood lifted, the meeting continued, and so did life in the street outside. But then, in the middle of the afternoon, we had to evacuate due to a suspected bomb in the (all glass) building.

I joined the throng of people walking out of the city, heading to the peripheral stations and buses, phones in hand, calling and texting. The mobile network was back to normal, and so was the mood. The conversations I overheard were on one topic, and with one overtone - stuff the terrorists!

Our species is remarkable, and to misquote a line from a movie I saw sometime in my past: the thing I like about the human race is that they are at their very best when things are at their very worst. So too I think is our technology!

What I haven't heard is a single conversation about mobile phones cooking your brain, repetitive strain injury or screen induced eye-strain. All I have heard and seen is the milk of human kindness and concern projected over vast distances by every mode available using whatever network was available at the time.

In this bar, in this hotel, dozens are grouped around a TV watching the news reports, phoning and texting home. And everyone is sparing a thought for those who cannot!

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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