Wireless Systems Design

Wasting Away In A World Without Wireless

As I was trying to think of a topic to write about this month, my mind wandered off into contemplating what this world would be like without wireless. A heavy duty, "what if" brain exercise for sure. Maybe discussing, or even thinking about, something that is not real is a huge waste of words, but it does make you appreciate what wireless has given us. If you work in wireless as I do, we should all demand more respect in the future. The rest of the world should just thank its lucky stars for wireless engineers.

Where I ended up in this process is trying to decide which wireless devices I really couldn't live without. There are many to choose from, of course, but which wireless conveniences would make life the most difficult, inconvenient, or unbearable? Before you read on, list three wireless products you would miss the most.

If you are not sure where to start with this worthless rainy Sunday afternoon, on-the-couch type of activity, first make a list of all the wireless devices you own. So it’s going to take you a while. Whatever. Just writing down all the wireless gadgets you use on a regular basis should open your eyes anyway. I did this one time for an introductory wireless class I was teaching in college. It surprised me. And when my students did this as an opening class exercise, I think they had a different view of wireless than they did before as well. Who would have thought?

Anyway, the really interesting part of this exercise is figuring out the ones that impact your life the most. Try to stick with the three that would cause you the most excruciating pain if you did not have them.

Let's start with broadcast radio. Sure we can live without it, but just think about what it brings: near instantaneous news, weather, and traffic info. Talk radio. And music. As old as it is, radio is still a major information and entertainment source. And it’s mostly free. Yet millions also pay for satellite radio.

How about TV? Radio is big, but TV is humongous. I cannot quote the latest statistics, but you’ve all heard how many hours of TV the average person watches TV every day. A huge number. God forbid we would have no TV and be forced to...take a deep breath...READ! Talk about your major entertainment and information source. Where would we get the latest news on the war in the Middle East or Jessica Simpson's latest boyfriend? Yet TV—with all its insipid programming—is a major waste of our time. Should we give this one up? We could learn a new language or musical instrument. Like that could happen.

There are many short-range wireless devices that really add to our quality of life. I think most of these things were created because we are just flat out lazy. Garage door openers and remote keyless entry on cars come to mind. The new wireless tire pressure gages in cars are pretty nifty, but a real splurge. What about those automatic infrared (IR) urinal flusher thingys? Those are wireless. Maybe these are a keeper because so many guys are just too rushed or too "manly" to flush. But we could probably give up the automatic faucets and paper towel dispensers.

What about cell phones? Here is where we get into some real emotional issues. In asking my wife and daughter about this earth-shattering question of wireless worthiness, the cell phone was the number one keeper. As for me, I love cell phones. Like TV they have really had a huge impact on our lives, both good and bad. I saw a woman yesterday drive her Lexus SUV up on the curb while she was thumbing her Blackberry. No one was hurt, but I had to swerve to miss getting bumped. Talking on a cell phone is one thing, but accessing your email with a Blackberry or Treo is something else entirely. What's the matter with these people? Grow up.

The point is that cell phones are only a part of this problem. People do all sorts of stuff while driving like smoking, shaving, putting on makeup, eating a Big Mac, working their way through a cold six pack, or swatting at a misbehaving kid in the back seat. Add a cell phone to the mix and watch out. My brother claims to have seen a weathered cowboy-looking guy frying bacon on a hot plate on the front seat of his old pickup in heavy Houston traffic. Well, maybe not, but frankly it wouldn't surprise me if it were true.

I have already personally observed two rather severe car wrecks caused by women talking on cell phones. I am not picking on women here, but by just pure observation it seems most of those talking on cell phones while driving are women. Government studies have already confirmed that talking on a cell phone while driving is equivalent to drinking while driving (see “Keeping Connected Sometimes Means Turning Off Mobile Media” at www.elecdesign.com, ED Online 12456). I hate the thought of legislation to ban cell use while driving. Many states already have. Just what we need, more bloody laws. And who is going to obey them anyway? We have laws against driving while drinking and speeding but guess what, we do what we want anyway. And oh, by the way, those hands-free kits are a joke. Hands free or not, you are still talking and not paying attention. Sorry for the diversionary rant.

Yes, cell phones are great. But you know what, we got along fine with pay phones for decades before. And I suspect that over half the cell phone calls from cars are just idle chatter. You could live without this. Besides, you can still get a CB. On second thought, I better back off on this one. Having a cell phone in an emergency is a great thing. And with the E911 systems mostly in place, your carrier can find you wherever you are in an emergency.

What is your view of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi? Major wireless products. I use them both. But thinking back, I seem to remember doing pretty well without this convenience. Some people speak of such wireless products as giving us an amazing freedom to roam. Cell phones and wireless laptops only tie me down to my employer, email, customers, family, etc. Show me the freedom. No wonder everyone is so stressed out. Take a break.

Anyway, wireless is virtually all good news. None of us are anti-wireless for sure. We owe our jobs to it. And given the billions that the wireless carriers and manufacturers bring to the economy, what's not to like? Like many other things in our modern civilized life, wireless brings us conveniences and benefits, many of which we would not want to give up.

Well, you get the picture. Where did you end up? What is your most valuable wireless device? Mine? The TV remote control. Probably the best wireless device ever invented. Who wants to get up off the couch to change the channel or volume, especially when there are 200 marginally viewable channels of TV to surf through? Paraphrasing one the favorite gun owner's slogans, I will give up my remote when you pry it out of my cold dead hand.

Now go design some new wireless thing.

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